By: Thomas Frank Carr
Beat Writer/Draft Scout
With only two former Nittany Lions being invited to the NFL Combine, Penn State’s pro day on March 16th is critical several reasons. Here is the list of participants and what they will need to show on Thursday.
Chris Godwin: Route Running/Agility
Godwin turned heads at the NFL combine in a way that no Penn State player has in a while. His 4.42 40 yard dash showed teams that he has the deep speed to go with impressive physical stature and great strength. However, Godwin did not look good in all of his routes while being thrown to at the combine. His greatest weakness is that he’s stiff and doesn’t get in and out of breaks well. A good showing from a route running perspective will show teams that he can overcome that limitation and create separation at the next level.
Garrett Sickels: Hip Flip
What is hip flip? It’s not a cool new dance that the kids are doing (How old do I sound?). It’s the ability to turn your hips and run like a defensive back. Sickels will likely be targeted by 3-4 teams that are looking for a pass rushing specialist in the mid-rounds. He has to show that he’s more than that and can cover in space well. Sickels did a very good job of this at the combine, but showing it again wouldn’t hurt. He’ll likely want to improve on his 4.90 40 yard dash as well.
Malik Golden: Ball Skills
This is a tough one. Golden is really fun to watch on tape. He’s tough, flies around the field and makes great plays in the flat on running backs. He was asked to do a lot last year, including cover backs out of the backfield and line up in the slot. He handled all of it quite well. The one area he struggled in was zone coverage. As a safety, that’s pretty big. Golden has to sharpen up his deep coverage and not let players get behind him. This is hard to replicate in a drill but showing ball skills and the ability to track the ball in the air would help quite a bit. I think he’ll surprise a few scouts with his movement skills and should have a good day.
Brandon Bell: Speed
Bell ended the season on an emphatic note that showed what his game is all about; making plays. Bell was injured on an interception of Sam Darnold in 3rd quarter of the Rose Bowl that he returned all the way inside the five yard line. Whether it was that play, or the sack where he leapt over a blocker in the Big 10 Championship game, Bell has found a way to affect the game around him with his presence in a big way. However gifted he is in that way, he has to show on Thursday that he has the wheels to keep up in the NFL. On tape Bell doesn’t show the speed or acceleration necessary to play outside linebacker in the NFL. Coverage drills will be important as well to show that he can move in space and backpedal. The senior linebacker was exposed at times by more athletic players across the middle. If he can do that, he has a shot to be drafted.
Evan Schwan: Pad Level
Unlike Sickles, Schwan has the frame to line up at defensive end in the NFL and hold the point of attack. To do that he needs to show teams that he has the fundamentals of the position. This includes bag drills and footwork drills while in a ‘football position’. Being in a good football position is like that Shakira song; hips don’t lie. Schwan was a one year starter at defensive end who didn’t have a huge sack total. He’ll have to prove that he can do everything else really well in order to make a team.
Nyeem Wartman-White: Pretty Much Everything
This one is rough. Where do you start? You have to feel bad for Wartman-White, who is one of the more thoughtful and introspective players you’ll find. His injury history is going to be a huge part of his draft stock. If teams don’t think he can stay healthy, they won’t pay much attention to him. Tape on Wartman-White is limited because of those injuries so he has to show that he can A) Run B) Move in other directions besides a straight line and C) Play linebacker. That’s a lot to do so physical tests will be the biggest hurdle for him to start with.
Jordan Smith: Run fast, Jump High
Smith didn’t crack the lineup until his senior year. Teams likely won’t be paying much attention to him unless he does something outstanding. If he were to test out of the building physically, that changes things. Not much but it begins to make scouts think of players in terms of special teams at the very least. Smith will have to likely post a sub 4.40 40 yard dash, jump higher than 35 inches and have excellent agility and acceleration tests to get attention.
Brian Gaia/Wend Laurent: Lineman Stuff
Gaia had some infamous moments in 2016 but was lauded as the rock of the offensive line for a team that made the Rose Bowl, Laurent was a reserve lineman who wasn’t the best option amongst three freshman and a sophomore reserves. It will take quite a bit of a show for them.
Tyler Yazujian: What You’d Expect
He’s a long snapper so snapping the ball is going to be really important.