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Projecting best NFL players: Ranking PSU’s top 5

Which current member of the Penn State team will go on to have the best NFL career? This is always a fun question, and a neat way to look at how the players are performing in college compared to their potential at the next level.

For this exercise, I’m using two criteria:

1: I’m only including players who will be playing for PSU in 2021, not outgoing guys such as Pat Freiermuth, Jayson Oweh, Shaka Toney, etc.

2: I’m not including incoming freshmen who have yet to play at all, such as Landon Tengwall or other recent signees. I’ve got to see them do something on the field in college first before I’m going to project their pro potential.

With that said, here are my rankings for the top five NFL prospects on the current Penn State team.

Comment below if you agree or disagree with any of the picks.

Photo by Penn State Athletics: Joey Porter Jr.

1: CB Joey Porter Jr.

He has everything you need to be a future star defensive back in the NFL. The redshirt freshman is 6-foot-2 and 193 pounds, he’s fast, strong and a good tackler.

He looked really good in coverage at times while starting seven games this past season, and at other times he showed his inexperience and got beaten. That’s to be expected from a first-year starter in college football.

Still, Porter has tremendous potential and will be in college at least two more seasons, so he’ll have a chance to get much, much better than he is right now. He played in eight games in 2020 and had 33 tackles (24 solo), four pass breakups, two tackles for loss and one sack. He didn’t have any interceptions, but those will come.

Porter came to Penn State as a 4-star recruit, so he’s been a standout his whole life. He also already has a lot of name recognition — which, let’s face it, helps with hype and awards, etc. — from his famous father, who played in the NFL from 1999-2011.

I see Porter looking to turn pro after his junior season (2022), if he develops as expected, and could be in line to be a first- or second-round draft pick. With his size and speed, he could be a standout in the NFL for a decade, playing the vitally important position of cornerback in a pass-happy league.

Photo by Penn State Athletics: Rasheed Walker

2: LT Rasheed Walker

I thought long and hard about putting Walker at No. 1, but ultimately gave Porter a slight edge. Walker, though, has a chance to play a long, long time in the NFL, for several reasons.

First of all, he’s a left tackle, one of the most important positions in football. If you’re good there, you can enjoy a fantastic career in the pros. Remember how a lot of Penn State fans thought Donovan Smith struggled at times in his college career? All Smith has done is go on to start all 94 games he’s played in over the past six years for Tampa Bay, and he’ll be protecting Tom Brady’s weak side in the Super Bowl this week.

Walker has a chance to be another Donovan Smith.

Walker is 6-foot-6 and 310 pounds, so he has the kind of size you want at left tackle. He’s also shown to be very good early in college, earning a starting spot as a redshirt freshman and starting all 22 games over the past two seasons.

He will be a redshirt junior this fall, then likely will turn pro and very well could be a first-round pick. He probably could have entered the draft this year and gone in the second round, but he decided to come back for one more season of college.

Pro Football Network ranked Walker the No. 4 tackle available if he had gone into this year’s draft and had this to say about him:

Rasheed Walker started 13 games this past season as a true sophomore, leading one of the nation’s most prolific offensive lines at Penn State. Walker, despite starting for the first time, showed veteran technique and already looks the part of an NFL tackle.

His hands are arguable the best in the class, and his play shows a high football IQ. A physical specimen at 6’6″ and 320 pounds, Walker is a strong athlete giving him a myriad of physical tools to call upon. Walker still needs to develop as a run blocker though. He struggles to provide movement off the line scrimmage, an indication that he needs to improve his lower body strength.

Photo by Penn State Athletics: Parker Washington

3: WR Parker Washington

OK, we can have a good debate here about the top potential pro receiver on the Lions. A lot of people would say Jahan Dotson, and that makes a lot of sense.

I’m a big Dotson fan, both his play on the field and the leadership he showed off the field this past season.

But I’m gonna lean Washington here, for now. Both will have a chance to change my opinion this season.

James Franklin told everybody Washington had “elite ball skills” as one reason why the true freshman earned a starting job for the season opener.

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Washington had only two catches for 12 yards against Indiana, then caught four balls for 73 yards against Ohio State in week two and a breakout game with eight catches for 70 yards and two TDs in week three against Maryland. He had a season-high nine grabs for 93 yards at Michigan.

Washington, a 4-star recruit, finished with 36 catches for 489 yards and six touchdowns. No, his numbers were not as good as Dotson’s, but again, Washington was a true freshman still learning the college game.

There’s a lot of projection here, but I can see Washington (5-foot-10, 205 pounds) having an explosive season this year in Mike Yurcich’s offense. Then, when Dotson is gone next year, Washington will be the No. 1 receiver, and if Yurcich is still around, I can see Washington being one of the top receivers in the nation as a junior.

Photo by Penn State Athletics: Jahan Dotson

4: WR Jahan Dotson

Once again, I really like Dotson. He’s a gamer who makes big catches and showed these fantastic skills against Ohio State’s Shaun Wade, a first-team All-American. Wow.

Dotson (5-foot-11, 182) became the first PSU receiver to ever have two 70-yard TD catches in the same game, doing so against Illinois in the season finale. He also led the team with 52 catches for 884 yards and eight touchdowns.

I cannot say anything negative about Dotson, who has great hands and should become a very good NFL receiver. I just have a hunch Washington will be a tad bit better in the pros, but it’s really a coin flip for me.

Photo by Penn State Athletics: Jaquan Brisker from 2019. He wore No. 1 this season.

T-5: S Jaquan Brisker

Underrated by just about everyone this past season, everyone except Pro Football Focus, which named him a first-team All-American. Here’s what PFF said about him:

Brisker went from Lackawanna Community College to first-team PFF All-American in just two years.

No FBS safety recorded a better PFF grade while in the box, and Brisker quite easily displayed the best tackling of any player at the position, as he missed just one of his 60 tackle attempts on the year.

That strong tackling and play against the run down in the box, as well as his playmaking in coverage (seven play on the ball, five passing stops), led Brisker to a Power 5-best 85.6 PFF grade.

Brisker (6-foot-1, 212) could have turned pro, and it appeared he would when he accepted a bid to the Senior Bowl. But the former 4-star recruit decided to return for another year of college, and look for him to make a big impact while getting a lot more attention this fall.

As for his pro potential, when you’re a safety, you must be a terrific tackler. Go back and re-read the part about what Pro Football Focus said about his tackling ability.

Photo by Penn State Athletics: Caedan Wallace

T-5: OT Caedan Wallace

A redshirt freshman in 2020, he started seven games at right tackle and showed good improvement. A 4-star recruit, the 6-foot-5, 313-pounder has tremendous potential and will be a mainstay on the line for the next 2-3 years.

Wallace is still young and raw, so there’s a lot of development left. But he’s already played a lot of football and will play a lot more, giving him plenty of time to emerge as a star.

Wallace could end up at left tackle in 2022 if Rasheed Walker turns pro, as most expect he will. If indeed he does go to the left side and enjoys a strong college career, well, as I said about Walker, that can be a path to lengthy and successful run in the NFL.

I could be underrating Wallace big time here, but I couldn’t go any higher than No. 5 right now because he’s still so young.

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Cory Giger is a 15-year veteran of the Penn State beat and a journalist with 28 years of experience. He has won more than 100 state and national journalism awards during his career, plus he's a voter for the Heisman Trophy in football and Wooden Award in basketball.

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