If someone polled Penn State fans on which linebacker they’re most excited to see in 2023, most would probably say Abdul Carter.
Last season, the Philly product finished his first college football regular season with a team-leading 6.5 sacks. He also finished second on Penn State in tackles with 55 (35 solo). Additionally, Carter led the squad with 10.5 tackles for loss, tied for eighth in the Big Ten.
Barring anything unforeseen, the only questions about Carter’s play seem to be: How good can this guy get, and how high will he go in the first round of the 2025 Draft?
With the success Carter’s already had and his tremendous upside, it’s easy to sometimes forget about Penn State’s other linebackers. But defensive coordinator and linebacker’s coach Manny Diaz has another guy who might go in the first round a year before Carter. His name is Curtis Jacobs.
The 6-foot-1, 238-pounder isn’t quite as flashy as Carter. His game might not jump off the screen like the speedy Carter’s.
That’s not a knock on Jacobs. Carter’s one of the most exciting players in college football.
But make no mistake; Jacobs can play. He ended last season– his second as a starter– as a unanimous All-Big Ten Honorable Mention. He finished third on the team in tackles (52), tied for fourth in sacks (four). He also had a 47-yard pick-6 at Rutgers.
How good can Jacobs be? Well, according to an article by ESPN Draft Analyst Matt Miller about under-the-radar 2024 prospects who excite scouts, Jacobs could be one of the first players selected, not just amongst linebackers, but overall, per an AFC GM.
“Turn on the 2022 Penn State tape and you’ll see a handful of defensive starters who could make this list — and plenty who could be top-50 picks in next year’s draft,” Miller wrote. “But Jacobs stands out in a big way, and there is some excitement in the scouting world to see his follow-up performance in 2023.
“One AFC general manager who has done a surface-level viewing of the top 2024 prospects said Jacobs might be the most underrated player in the nation. “[OL Olu Fashanu] gets all the praise there, and he’s great, but Jacobs might be a top-five player in the class when it’s all said and done.”
Now, going in the top five would be a thrill for Jacobs. But he knows he has work to do to get to that level. More importantly for the short-term, he wants to help Penn State achieve its goals in 2023. Those goals include winning the Big Ten, getting to the College Football Playoff and winning a national title.
“I try not to have an opinion about it (draft projections),” Jacobs told reporters in a media session after Penn State’s Lift for Life event this past Thursday in Holuba Hall. “That’s one of those things for me where you never get too high, never get too low. I just want to play my game and let that be decided when it’s draft time. That’s a great thing to hear, great compliment, but I have to put the work in for that to be a reality.”
Self confidence isn’t an issue for Jacobs.
“I know where I can be as a player,” he said. “I’m up there with the best guys in the country. It’s just about showing it every day.”
What allows this Nittany Lion to see him self as a Lion on the field? For Jacobs, watching clips of two of the greatest basketball players of all time helps him believe he can be one of college football’s best.
“It’s just my mentality as a player,” Jacobs said. “I watch a lot of Kobe and LeBron stuff, and you have to believe that first before you can show it.”
What has Jacobs learned from the “Black Mamba” and “King James?”
“Just their preparation,” Jacobs said. “How you can become a great player, just looking at greats. Just the way they work every single day. That’s how they did it. It isn’t how they played. It’s the work they put in that allowed them to play like that.”
Jacobs and Carter makeup of what could be college football’s top linebacking duo this season, and Jacobs is excited about that.
“I’m excited about this whole lineup,” he said. “Every linebacker in the room has potential to be great. It’s just untapped. We have to put that work in.”