Whatever happened to Penn State and 'Linebacker U'?
Over the past five NFL drafts, Penn State has had exactly zero linebackers selected. Believe it or not, this is not worst such stretch since BJP (before Joe Paterno was head coach). Not yet, anyway.
But it easily could become the worst down period for PSU linebacker play in the past 50 years. If senior Koa Farmer doesn’t max out his potential and work his way into the tail end of the 2019 NFL Draft, the worst such period (2001-2006) will be matched and almost assuredly surpassed in 2020.
Seven straight years without a linebacker going anywhere in the draft? At a place once known as Linebacker U? Say it ain’t so.
So there’s quite an onus on true freshman Micah Parsons and the other young guys in the linebacker room to turn things around. Fair or not, that is where things stand.
Penn State’s defense has not been a total disaster over these past five seasons. The scoring defense ranked 7th in the nation in two of those campaigns, including last year — after which three defensive backs got drafted. The Lions have survived rolling brown-outs through the position groups in the wake of the sanctions. Now it’s time to return to full power across the board.
Let’s face it: linebacker is the glamour defensive position in football, and glamour sells. Glamour and success bring in the next wave of top recruits. If the Penn State defense ever becomes as fun to watch as the offense, then the Lions are right there with Alabama, Clemson and Ohio State. What is needed is the defensive version of Saquon Barkley.
I’m hoping Parsons can be that guy. The scouting information suggests it’s possible. At 19, he already has the size at 6-3, 240. And he was rated a top 10 overall talent in the country, as high as No. 5 by one recruiting service. Coach James Franklin has committed to playing him, and it wouldn’t be a huge surprise to see him break into the starting lineup sometime during the season. He had 4 tackles, all listed as assisted rather than solo, against App State.
Whether it’s Parsons or someone else, someone needs to become the first Penn State first-round NFL linebacker of the millennium, the first since LaVar Arrington went No. 2 overall in 2000.
The smoke-and-mirrors routine that has gotten the Lions within an eyelash of the Playoff the past two seasons won’t last forever. Sooner or later, disparities catch up with you.
LBs picked in NFL Draft, 2014-18
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Penn State has had four NFL first-round linebackers: Arrington, Shane Colin (1987), Ed O’Neill (1974) and Dave Robinson (1964). Jack Ham and Matt Millen are among seven second-rounders, the more recent of the group being Sean Lee (2010) and Paul Posluszny (2007).
If the Lions are truly to reach the heights James Franklin has in mind, Penn State needs to add names to those lists. It might not happen this year or next, but hopefully some such players are already on the squad and will get the ball rolling.