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From Happy Valley to the NFL: Four Nittany Lions Drafted on 2023 NFL Draft Day 2

After cornerback Joey Porter Jr. fell out of the first round of the 2023 NFL Draft, no Penn State players were taken on day 1. But it didn't take long for that to change, as Porter went to the team he was meant to play for, the Pittsburgh Steelers at the 32nd overall pick, where his father became a legend. While there were teams calling about trading up to the first pick of the second round this year, the Steelers decided to stay put and draft the hometown kid. Porter was the first of three former Nittany Lions to be drafted in the second round. Tight end Brenton Strange and interior offensive lineman Juice Scruggs went back-to-back at the end of the round, to the Jacksonville Jaguars and Houston Texans, respectively.

The Texans traded up to get Scruggs, which is a little interesting since he likely would've been on the board quite a bit later. The Jaguars traded back before landing Strange, who may have been available a little later as well. Either way, they are still very good players and Penn State has shown over the years how well they can develop solid players for the NFL. Then, in the middle of the middle of the third round, the San Francisco 49ers traded up to draft safety Ji'Ayir Brown. Let's break down each of these players and what they bring to their new teams.

Don't try to be your dad, Joey

Porter Jr. has a lot to live up to, with his father Joey Porter Sr. being a legendary linebacker and spending the first eight years of his 13-year NFL career in the Steel City. There's going to be a lot of pressure on him to live up to the massive expectations put on him because of his father. But all he really has to do is be himself and play the game he loves to the best of his ability. Growing up around the game should really alleviate that weight off his shoulders as he is used to all the noise and has probably heard it all his life.

Porter was my top-ranked player on the board going into day two and the Steelers would have been idiotic to pass on him. Trading back for more capital, in a sense, would have been nice, of course. But when you have a top player at an obvious position of need right there for the taking, you can live with the draft stock that you already have. Porter is a very physical and technical press corner with great playmaking instincts. He will provide Pittsburgh with an immediate starter for their secondary, as Levi Wallace is only a midlevel starter and Patrick Peterson is 33.

Not so Strange to Tight Ends

Happy Valley is starting to become Tight End U, with the team's last three starting tight ends - Mike Gesicki (2018), Pat Freiermuth (2021), and now Strange - being drafted in the second round. Strange is a bit of a do-it-all tight end, as he has great pass catching abilities and can pack a punch as a blocker. In the introductory press conference to the Jaguars, Strange stated that he can be put anywhere and is comfortable playing H-back and fullback on top of traditional tight end.

It was a shock for Strange to go to Jacksonville, as he didn't have any pre-draft contact with them. But he said that he is very excited to get started, calling the Trevor Lawrence-led offense "an up-and-coming team." Strange is also excited to get to work with newly franchise-tagged tight end Evan Engram, who the former Nittany Lion has admired since college. Engram is more of a receiver than traditional tight end and the Jaguars are lacking in the tight end room. So Strange, although potentially higher ranked tight ends were on the board, is a great addition to the squad.

Bring the Juice

Scruggs going in the second round was much more of a surprise than Strange, as he was locked in as a day 3 pick by every draft analyst in existence (including yours truly). Strange was expected to go by the third round. The Texans traded picks 65, 188, and 230 to the Eagles to move up to get him. Perhaps with the second round run on centers, Houston didn't want to wait, as Wisconsin's Joe Tippmann and Minnesota's John Michael Schmitz had gone off the board prior. It is a pretty strong fit, as well. Scruggs brings the ideal strength, size, and "juice" - pun intended - that the Texans need to protect C.J. Stroud. He also only allowed one sack last season for Penn State. He has the versatility to play the guard positions and can push to start immediately at center over Scott Quessenberry.

Can't breath with no Ji'Ayir

The 49ers shortened the wait for their first pick in the 2023 draft, trading up with the Minnesota Vikings to snag Brown in the third round. The versatile safety jumps off the tape with his tremendous instincts and ability to always make plays on the ball. He is consistently making a quick diagnosis of the plays and attacks the ball. Even if he doesn't start right away, he can make an impact on special teams, while being versatile to play nickel and safety when the time comes. Tashaun Gipson Sr. will turn 33 this year, so the depth is a good bet for San Francisco, and he won't take long to get his shot to start on defense.


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