Projecting Penn State's 2021 NFL Draft Prospects

By Matthew Filipovits on April 27, 2020 at 8:58 am
Oct 19, 2019; University Park, PA, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions cornerback Tariq Castro-Fields (5) celebrates a defensive play with teammates against the Michigan Wolverines during the second quarter at Beaver Stadium.
Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports
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Penn State had a strong performance in the 2020 NFL Draft with five players selected, as well as Tommy Stevens who was a grad transfer to Mississippi State. It was the third straight year in which at least five Lions were drafted, the longest such stretch since 1991-1993. 

However, it's looking like that streak will be pushed to four years, as the potential crop of 2021 NFL Draft prospects from Happy Valley looks like it could be one of the strongest groups in years.


Micah Parsons  (Jr.), Linebacker

Micah Parsons would have likely been a first-round pick this year had he been eligible. Entering just his third third season of playing linebacker, he's the best defensive player in the Big Ten, and might just be the best in the country. Assuming he declares for the draft at the end of next season, Parsons will surely become the first Lion defender to be chosen in the first round since Jared Odrick in 2010.

Projected: First Round

Pat Freiermuth (Jr.), Tight end

If Baby Gronk had gone pro this year (which he could have), he would have had a shot to be the first tight end off the board. Instead, he will have another season of film for scouts to dissect. A terrific pass catcher who also excels as a blocker (both in-line and in the open field), Freiermuth was built for the modern NFL. He could easily find his way into the first round in 2021, assuming he declares as expected.

Projected: First Round

Shaka Toney (RS-Sr.), Edge Rusher

The fifth-year senior is expected to be the next in a long line of dominant defensive ends in Happy Valley to finish his career with a flourish. After playing second fiddle to Yetur Gross-Matos in 2019, he will look to build on last year's 6.5-sacks, and catapult himself to the top of the edge rusher rankings. After starting his career as a pure pass rusher, Toney has also taken huge steps forward as a complete player on the edge, which will only increase his value come draft day. His speed and experience will be huge selling points for NFL teams.

Projected: Third Round

Journey Brown (RS-JR.), Running Back

The Journey Brown hype train is starting to pick up some steam. With blazing speed, surprising toughness, and improving hands in the receiving game, Brown will show that he is one of the most complete backs in college football next season. Should he achieve what he is excepted to achieve in 2020 and opt to declare early, it's not unreasonable to see a scenario where he's one of the first running backs off the board (though Travis Etienne, Chuba Hubbard, and Najee Harris will prove tough competition).

Projected: Round Three/Four

Michal Menet (RS-SR), Center

Heading into his third season as a starter, Menet is the leader of Penn State's offensive line. He would have surely heard his name called in 2020 had he declared, but he could improve his stock even further with the help of new position coach Phil Trautwein. For as good as Menet has been, there's another level waiting to be reached. If he puts it all together, he has an outside chance to be Penn State's highest-drafted offensive lineman since Donovan Smith (second round in 2015), but more likely settles in as a mid-round selection.

Projected: Round Three/Four

Lamont Wade (Sr.), Safety

Lamont Wade's draft stock will be a fascinating story to follow over the next year. A former five-star prospect with all the athletic ability in the world, he has all the tools to succeed at the next level. He's a smart player who has taken huge strides as a safety and has greatly improved his tackling. He also showed towards the tail end of 2019 how disruptive he can be as a playmaker, particularly against Ohio State where he forced three fumbles. The biggest knock on him will be his size, as he stands at just 5'9. His versatility will be a plus, however, as an NFL team should feel confident using him as both a safety and a nickel corner.

Projected: Round Four/Five

Tariq Castro-Fields (Sr.), Cornerback

TCF looked well on his way to being an NFL Draft pick before an injury-plagued 2019 season. Still, the former four-star prospect tied for the team lead in interceptions and passes defended, while leading all corners in tackles. Fans know he wasn't at his best over the latter half of the campaign, but if he can return to his pre-injury form, he should make it four straight drafts with Penn State corners selected. And unlike John Reid, Castro-Fields will have size (6'0) on his side.

Projected: Round Four/Five


 

Other Names To KNow

Will Fries (RS-SR), Offensive Tackle – Fries' stock as an NFL draft pick will likely come down to whether or not a team thinks he could one day play on the left side. Having spent nearly his entire career on the right side, Fries has provided mostly steady play, but to this point likely hasn't stood out enough to warrant being drafted for that role. A year of improvement as a run blocker, however, would go a long way.

Antonio Shelton (RS-SR), Defensive Tackle – Shelton is a massive human (6'2, 315 lbs) and performed well in his first year as a starter on the defensive line. Though he ceded many snaps to PJ Mustipher, he showed why the coaching staff was high on him heading into the season. If he continues to improve in his final season, he could easily fill the role of a run-stuffing nose tackle in the NFL.

Jaquan Brisker (SR), Safety – Set to be Wade's running mate in 2020, Brisker showed flashes of greatness in 2019, though he'll have to take more strides next season to become an NFL prospect. The JUCO transfer was able to make the transition to the D-I game fairly quickly, though, perhaps signaling that he will continue to improve at a rapid rate. He has solid ball skills and is a good hitter– both important traits in today's NFL on the back end.

Sean Clifford (RS-JR), Quarterback – Clifford will look to build on what was a solid debut as a starter, and will do so with a new offense that looks to be very well-suited to his skillset under Kirk Ciarrocca. If he's able to improve his accuracy down the field and continue to grow as a decision-maker in the RPO game, his numbers could be in for a huge bump in 2020. Barring a Heisman-level performance, he'll likely be back for his final season in 2021, but anything is possible.

PJ Mustipher (JR), Defensive Tackle – Of all the players on defense, Mustipher might have the highest ceiling of the guys not named Micah Parsons. Next season will be his first as a full-time starter, and if he's able to produce at the same rate he did as a rotational piece, the NFL could be too enticing to pass up as a true junior.

Jayson Oweh (RS-SO), Edge Rusher – The man expected to be the next Yetur Gross-Matos, Oweh is finally in line to start next season. Fans have been treated to his speed in a very limited role to this point, but he's fully expected to grab hold of a starting spot now that his mentor is off to Carolina. Should Oweh convert his freaky athleticism into full-time production, he'll be one of the top edge rushers in the 2021 draft, should he declare.

Rasheed Walker (RS-SO), Offensive tacke - After redshirting his first year on campus, Walker was plugged in on the left side of the line and more than held his own for much of the season. While a big step would likely be required for the former top-50 prospect to declare for the draft after just two seasons of action, Walker has all of the potential in the world to do just that.

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