After a weekend in which five former Penn Staters heard their names called by Commissioner Roger Goodell during the NFL Draft, six more Nittany Lions have found homes in the professional ranks. Let’s break down each player and their chances to make their respective squads.
Steven Gonzalez: Arizona Cardinals
Gonzalez hopes to find a spot in a rotation that includes multi-year starter and former standout Penn State center A.Q. Shipley (Shipley’s own future with Arizona is uncertain with the soon-to-be 34-year old being a restricted free agent). The Cardinals allowed 48 sacks a year ago, and with rising second-year player Kyler Murray, are hoping to strengthen pass protection. Given Gonzalez’s size, strength, and versatility, he should be able to compete for a spot in the rotation. Unfortunately for Gonzalez, Arizona drafted Josh Jones in the third round (although he is a tackle), and also picked up another lineman in Andrew Dickinson. It is difficult to make an NFL roster as an undrafted lineman, so time will tell whether Gonzalez will see the field when the season begins or not.
Garrett Taylor: Buffalo Bills
Taylor used his solid 2019 season to grab a spot on the Bills. Buffalo’s secondary is quite full, and added former Panther and Redskins cornerback Josh Norman in free agency, and cornerback Dane Jackson in the draft. Taylor has a shot to compete for a reserve safety position, and could add length and athleticism to the league’s sixth-ranked pass defense. Playing time is probably not in his future next season, but he could contribute on special teams and provide depth on the active roster.
Jan Johnson: Houston Texans
Johnson’s journey to the NFL has been a remarkable one, rising for run-on to Honorable Mention All-Big Ten, to signing with Bill O’Brien and the Texans as an UDFA. Johnson heard directly from the team’s linebackers coach prior to the conclusion of the draft, but was not selected during the seven round extravaganza. He joins a unit where two linebackers (Zach Cunningham and Benardick McKinney) have played the vast majority of snaps inside, so he could be very important in terms of depth. However, it is more likely if Johnson makes a squad, it will be on special teams. Given his work ethic and penchant for bucking the odds, fans shouldn’t count him out.
Nick Bowers: Las Vegas Raiders
Bowers didn’t get the playing time and targets that other tight ends received in college since he played alongside Mike Gesicki and Pat Freiermuth, while also battling injuries. As a result, he went undrafted and signed with Las Vegas after the draft. The Raiders have seven tight ends on the roster, so it is extremely unlikely he finds a place on the active roster, but may make the practice squad.
Dan Chisena: Minnesota Vikings
Chisena’s story is well-known to Penn State fans. The Vikings drafted two receivers, signed another after the draft, and also got Tajae Sharpe as a free agent prior to the draft. Dan has an outside shot to make the roster as a receiver, but it is more likely he finds a spot as a gunner on special teams. Thankfully, Chisena is used to being a longshot.
Blake Gillikin: New Orleans Saints
The Georgia native returns to the South with Who Dat Nation (along with Juwan Johnson, Tommy Stevens, and everyone’s favorite former coach, Phil Galiano.). The Saints’ current punter is Thomas Morstead, who averaged 46 yards per boot in 2019. Most teams don’t carry two punters, so it is likely that Gillikin has been brought in for competition purposes against the 34-year old Morstead. Having said that, Morstead is under contract through 2023, so Gillikin most likely won’t make the active roster. Gillikin could ultimately use the preseason as a tryout for other teams before finding a home elsewhere.
What do you think? How many UDFA Nittany Lion alumni will make an active roster in the NFL?