Is there a defensive player in recent memory who had a weirder career than Deion Barnes? After coming to Penn State as a pretty highly-regarded recruit, he killed it as a freshman, fell off the face of the earth as a sophomore and had a big bounce back year as a junior. While we all expected him to have a monster senior campaign, he bounced and left for the NFL, where unfortunately, he went undrafted.
Still, Barnes leaves a gigantic hole at defensive end heading into 2015. So much so that the position is arguably the biggest position of weakness on defense heading into this year. Who is going to fill his shoes? We try to figure that out in the final edition of this series. Let's get bold and italicized.
Which player is going to replace Deion Barnes in 2015?
Devon: Carl Nassib, probably by default. Since he went undrafted (and now finds himself a long-shot to make an NFL roster), we can now say what's been obvious since he announced the decision in late December: Deion Barnes never should have left early for the NFL draft. Even though he had a solid, though decidedly unspectacular junior season, he was always the sort of tweener better suited for the college game. And, selfishly, he turns Penn State's defensive line from a position of prodigous strength to one that's tremendously stout in the middle, but weak on the edge. It was always going to be hard to replace the run-stuffing capabilities of CJ Olaniyan, but Barnes left Penn State without an edge rusher. Anyway, Nassib seems like a guy who's probably maxed out his potential--though, to be fair, the trip from walk-on to highly visible, albeit situational, pass-rush specialist (with good size and a terrific motor) is an impressive one on its own. Evan Schwan should also find some reps opposite Garrett Sickels, as should the raw Torrence Brown, but none can be expected to match Barnes' junior-year production.
Matt: It does not seem like that long ago Garrett Sickels was one of the anchors of that Class of 2013, that stuck together through the mess of NCAA sanctions. Now in his third year on campus, and second on the field after a redshirt season, Sickels has a huge opportunity to realize the potential that had every major program in the country offering him a full ride out of high school.
In limited time in 2014, Sickels showed the flashes of strength and speed that made him a highly sought recruit. Now, two full years removed from high school, and with a wide open depth chart at defensive end, it would seem to be his time to take control of one starting spot. With guys like Austin Johnson and Anthony Zettel inside, he should have plenty of chances to do just that.
Cari: The easy answer here would be Garrett Sickels, who saw limited time last year and has climbed to the top of the depth chart. But I'm going with the unexpected--redshirt freshman Torrence Brown, whom many of us expect to be atop the depth chart by midseason. Could he have a breakout year ala Barnes did in 2012? It wouldn't be out of the realm of possibility, especially with opposing offensive coordinators and lines rightfully focusing intently on the monsters in the middle of the Penn State defensive line.
bscaff: Deion Barnes was, in Bill Parcells parlance, "just a guy". Sickels has a better first step and runs a better arc. Schwan is stronger at setting the edge. Nassib made more plays last year, on a per snap basis. Torrence Brown and Curtis Cothran have meaner sounding names. Barnes and Olaniyan recorded 15 (in 2013) and 18 (in 2014) tackles for loss in two seasons together on the edges. Ten BSD bucks says the starting 2015 defensive ends, whoever they are, finish north of 20.
Dan: Sickels would seem to be the guy, though it's very encouraging to hear the positive outlook on Brown's career. It's a luxury as a Penn State fan to feel pretty confident that the front seven will work itself out year-in and year-out.
Tim: I really think this is Garrett Sickel's time to shine. Barnes' unexpected early departure will allow Sickels the opportunity to see significant game action and prove himself as the pass-rushing threat that earned him a cool four stars from the recruiting services. Carl Nassib seems poised to step up, as well. The fact that James Franklin has stated he and his staff are no longer concerned about the defensive line after spring practices is enough to give me confidence that replacing Deion Barnes will not be such a herculean task.
Bill: I, like Penn State's coaches, am really high on Carl Nassib. Look at his numbers as a reserve last year: 12 tackles, two tackles for loss, one sack, one forced fumble, one pass breakup. In really limited action buried behind Barnes and C.J. Olaniyan, that's not a bad year at all.
Now, at 6'6", 270 lbs., I think he is going to be the biggest beneficiary of the whole "defenses need to use three or four linemen to stop Anthony Zettel and Austin Johnson" thing. He should be able to manhandle tackles and/or tight ends and/or wide receivers and/or running backs when they take him on 1-on-1 en route to a breakout year. Add in the fact that Bob Shoop says he's a beast – honestly, if Bob Shoop says it, it's right – and we could see Nassib on an All-Big Ten team (second or third, probably) at the end of the year.