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March 10, 2003
Lion Kings
by Warren DeLuca

The Penn State Nittany Lions could have as many as four players selected in the first two rounds of this year’s NFL Draft. DT Jimmy Kennedy is the top defensive lineman available as well as being generally considered to be in the top handful of prospects regardless of position. The consensus has DE Michael Haynes and RB Larry Johnson among the top players at their respective positions and WR Bryant Johnson (no relation to Larry) in the second tier of receivers. asked Ray Fittipaldo of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for his thoughts on the prospects from Penn State.

HPF: Jimmy Kennedy looks like he’d be a great fit in a 3-4 defensive line due to his size and ability to control the line. What else does he bring to the table?

Fittipaldo: He’s a guy who is going to push the pocket and create some havoc in the right system. He was constantly double-teamed in college, so his numbers were never impressive, but he had the respect of opposing coaches. The reason DE Michael Haynes had such a great year, many believe, is because Kennedy was taking up two defenders and Haynes was left one-on-one with a tackle. For a big man, Kennedy has great athleticism.

HPF: His past conditioning problems are often brought up in discussions of his weaknesses. Do you think those are behind him, or could they resurface once he gets a big contract?

Fittipaldo: I don’t think so. He was very serious about his conditioning this season. He was close to 400 pounds as a freshman. He actually weighed about 310 or 315 for this past season, which was lighter than what the coaches wanted. He said he dropped the weight because he felt like he needed to make more plays, but he was probably thinking about his NFL future, too.

HPF: So do you think he will become an elite NFL defensive tackle, worthy of a top-three draft pick?

Fittipaldo: That’s a hard one. I see him developing into a very good NFL player, but how many interior defensive linemen end up being a top-three pick. Yes, there was Joe Greene, but there was also Dan Wilkinson.

HPF: Kennedy’s linemate, end Michael Haynes, is also a top prospect. What are Haynes’ strengths and weaknesses?

Fittipaldo: Haynes never had the work ethic before this season, so there is a perception that he is someone who doesn’t know what it takes to compete in the NFL. What he does have going for him is tremendous athleticism and speed on the corner. He did very well in the postseason all-star games, but it will be interesting to see how he does without Kennedy.

HPF: How well do you think Haynes would fit as a 3-4 defensive end?

Fittipaldo: He’d be a good fit in the 3-4 because he is athletic. He’s big too, so he’d be able to push the pocket. He’s more than a speed rusher.

HPF: RB Larry Johnson exploded as a senior, rushing for more than 2,000 yards. How would you assess his pro potential?

Fittipaldo: I think he has great potential in the right system. He would be perfect for a one-back set that has an established line and good players around him. He could flourish in such a system. But you also hear that he’s not great with a fullback and that he’s a little slow to the hole, which would be bad if he has a young line in front of him.

HPF: What pro back would you compare him to with respect to running style?

Fittipaldo: Johnson likes to compare himself to Eddie George. He has that upright, straight-ahead style. Johnson learned this year that he didn’t have to run anyone over, but he is definitely a power back who looks for contact.

HPF: WR Bryant Johnson is also getting a lot of attention. What do you think of his upside?

Fittipaldo: Bryant Johnson will be a good pro receiver. He was sort of the forgotten man late in the year with Larry Johnson’s emergence in the offense, but he can run and he is a great athlete. He had trouble as a freshman and sophomore catching the ball, but he turned it around and had very good junior and senior seasons.

HPF: Do you think he has the speed to get separation on the NFL level?

Fittipaldo: He’s not going to be a burner, but he can run. If Joe Jurevicius can be a productive player in the NFL, then Johnson can, too.

HPF: C Joe Iorio, OL Gus Felder, DT Anthony Adams, and DB Bryan Scott are also considered prospects. How would you rate the pro potential of each of these players?

Fittipaldo: I hear teams are looking at Adams as a mid-round selection. He’ll be a solid pro for a number of years. He can plug up the middle and be grunt worker. Scott has loads of ability, but never really seemed to live up to his potential. I think he can play in the league. I’m not sure about Iorio and Felder. Felder struggled as a junior and appeared slow on the outside as a tackle. I don’t think there’s any way he can play tackle in the NFL, maybe guard. Iorio is smallish for a center, but he was a four-year starter and is a smart player who gets the job done.

Ray Fittipaldo has been at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette since 1997 and has covered Penn State football since 2000. He also covers college basketball. We thank him for his insights. Jimmy Kennedy Jimmy Kennedy Home Return to Houston Pro Football