Anytime a team has as a great season, there are bound to be some changes -and Penn State isn’t any different following their impressive 2016 season.
Some of the changes are expected, like seniors graduating. Some aren’t, like players entering the NFL Draft -as is the case with a pair of Penn State players. Jan. 16 is the deadline to declare for eligible underclassmen.
But for the players that decide to leave, there are others who decide to stick around, and Penn State has a few of those, too.
We’ll start with the underclassmen who are leaving for the 2017 NFL Draft. That list includes receiver Chris Godwin and defensive end Garrett Sickels.
Godwin, a junior, led Penn State in receptions (59), yards (982) and touchdowns (12) this season. Needless to say the sure-handed Godwin will be missed by the Penn State offense, having led the team in receptions and yards in his first two years as a starter.
It's been a pleasure. pic.twitter.com/PnH168XdZE
— Chris Godwin (@CGtwelve_) January 6, 2017
With little else to prove at the college level, the decision isn’t too big of a shock, especially after Godwin lit up USC with nine catches for 187 yards and a pair of touchdowns with plenty of NFL eyes watching at the Rose Bowl.
Penn State will replace Godwin much like they replaced Allen Robinson before him: with depth. After Jacksonville grabbed Robinson in the second round of the 2014 draft, Penn State saw DaeSean Hamilton burst onto the scene with a team-high 82 catches for 899 yards in 2014. Then the Lions saw Godwin -then a freshman- torch Boston College in the Pinstripe Bowl, setting up his breakout 2015 season.
The Nittany Lions once again have great depth at receiver with Hamltion, Saeed Blacknall, DeAndre Thompkins, Juwan Johnson and Irvin Charles all returning next season. All of those players have flashed their potential over the past two years and could emerge with more playing time, much like Godwin did in 2015.
Sickels, also a junior, led the team with 13 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks in 2016. Sickels emerged as the Lions’ best pass rusher this season after the departure of Carl Nassib from a dominant defensive line in 2015. Sickels’ play in part turned the defensive line into a strength over the course of the season, where it was expected to hamper the Lions after three players from the 2015 line were drafted. The New Jersey native played his best game of the season in the upset of then No. 2 Ohio State, where he wreaked havoc on the Buckeyes’ backfield all night.
— Garrett Sickels (@Sickels_90) January 4, 2017
As far as his NFL decision goes, it’s clear that Sickels and the coaching staff didn’t quite see eye-to-eye. Sickels was suspended for the first half of a couple games in 2016 by coach James Franklin. Sickels was a beast in 2016, and has a 6-foot-4, 250-pound frame that projects well to the NFL. His size, speed and quickness off the edge will no doubt be of intrigue to NFL scouts.
Much like receiver, the depth of the Nittany Lions along the defensive line has been tested in recent years. Three defensive linemen were taken in the 2016 draft, but defensive coordinator Brent Pry was able to turn Evan Schwan, Sickels and a host of other players into a solid front unit in 2016. He’ll do the same next year, where he’ll replace at least two starters with Sickels’ move. Torrence Brown and Shareef Miller figure to step in considering they were backups last season, but don’t count out Shane Simmons, a four-star recruit who redshirted last season. Simmons has the athletic ability to impact right away as a pass rusher in place of Sickels on known passing downs.
While both players will certainly be missed, Penn State got good news when two other draft eligible players decided to stick around Happy Valley for their senior seasons. Safety Marcus Allen, who led the team in tackles in 2016, announced on his Twitter account that he would be back in 2017 as well as linebacker Jason Cabinda, who announced he would be returning also via his Twitter about a week ago.