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NFL

Saquon Barkley gets attention, but Penn State has deep group at NFL Combine

Joe Rutter
| Thursday, March 1, 2018, 8:48 a.m.
Penn State tight end Mike Gesicki celebrates after catching a second-quarter touchdown against Maryland Terrapins on Nov. 25, 2017, in College Park, Md.
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Penn State tight end Mike Gesicki celebrates after catching a second-quarter touchdown against Maryland Terrapins on Nov. 25, 2017, in College Park, Md.

INDIANAPOLIS –- Saquon Barkley is the biggest name in the Penn State contingent that is attending the NFL Combine over the next five days.

A top five pick and consensus first running back off the board, Barkley has little to prove when he meets with teams and undergoes testing at Lucas Oil Stadium.

The same can't be said for the rest of the Nittany Lions entourage. Seven other players are in Indianapolis and will use the combine to try to open the eyes of NFL talent evaluators. For many of those invitees, they'll seek to improve on pre-combine projections that rank them as third-day selections –- or undrafted free agents.

The Penn State attendees include safeties Marcus Allen and Mt. Lebanon's Troy Apke, inside linebacker Jason Cabinda, cornerbacks Chris Campbell and Grant Haley, tight end Mike Gesicki, and wide receiver DaeSean Hamilton.

Gesicki is projected to go in the second round, according to NFL.com rankings. The rest are projected lower, with some potentially going undrafted per the league web site.

ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr. recently called Gesicki the fourth-best tight end in the draft.

"He could be a solid second rounder with a good workout (at the combine)," Kiper said.

Kiper has the Hamilton graded in the third round with a chance to move into the second with a good performance at the combine. NFL.com has the 6-foot-1 Hamilton graded as a fourth-round pick.

NFL Network talent evaluator Mike Mayock said Hamilton's stock has risen since the end of the Penn State season.

"In a 14-day period, with the East-West game, and the Senior Bowl, he helped himself as much as anybody in the country," Mayock said in a recent conference call. "I thought he got better every day, which says a lot, and coaches love that, the ability to process information and then execute it on the field the next day.

"The East-West game helped him, and then he came off the Senior Bowl. So, he went from a third-day afterthought to somebody that's potentially now a third-round pick."

Allen, the godson of Hall of Fame running back Curtis Martin, is projected to go in the fourth round by NFL.com.

"Marcus Allen is a safety that's great in the box, will strike you, will get after people in the run game," Mayock said. "I think he's got some range in the pass game, and I think he can cover running backs and, to an extent, tight ends. I think the more athletic a game gets, I think he's going to struggle, but I think he's a starting safety in the NFL."

Added Kiper: "Allen was inconsistent as a tackler, but he throws his body around and has decent enough coverage ability to be a fifth-round pick."

Among the remaining Penn State players invited to the combine, Campbell has a sixth-round rank. Apke, Cabinda and Haley are slotted as seventh rounders or undrafted free agents.

The 6-2 Apke didn't start regularly at Penn State until he was a senior.

"He's a guy that I think is going to run fast," Mayock said. "I think he can play special teams for a period of time to earn himself time to learn how to play the safety position. I think he can also play some dime linebacker."

Cabinda, 6-1, 234 pounds, caught Mayock's attention at the East-West all-star contest.

"After every snap he came off the field, he went up to the defensive coordinator and had a conversation," Mayock said. "'When the slot goes in motion, what is the check?' He's a true pro. He comes prepared to play. I think he's a two-down player with some physical limitations that's going to make a living on special teams."

At cornerback, Campbell started all 13 games as a senior and has decent size at 6-1. Haley was a two-year starter, but he is only 5-9.

"I think Campbell is a long press corner, not as good off (the line)," Mayock said. "It's going to be the teams that want to press, and he's got to run well. That's kind of the question on him. … And I'd love to see Haley sneak in a good (40) time, too, because he's a good football player."

Joe Rutter is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at jrutter@tribweb.com or via Twitter @tribjoerutter.

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