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Penn State OL Donovan Smith to declare for draft

Penn State’s most experienced offensive lineman, left tackle Donovan Smith, has decided to declare early for the NFL draft.

The 6-foot-5, 340-pound redshirt junior started 31 career games and was the line’s only returning starter in 2014. He graduated earlier this month.

“After achieving one of my life goals of receiving a degree from The Pennsylvania State University, I feel it’s time to continue the pursuit of my dream of becoming an NFL player,” Smith said in a written statement. “The past four years have been a physical and emotional roller coaster, but ultimately made me a better man.”

The move came as a surprise to OurLads.com NFL draft analyst Dan Shonka, who once scouted for the Philadelphia Eagles, Washington Redskins and Kansas City Chiefs. This draft is loaded with offensive tackles and, as a result, Shonka didn’t project Smith moving on so soon.

“Either he got some bad advice or didn’t do his homework in regards to the offensive line this draft – or he thinks he’s better than he is,” Shonka said. “We haven’t done our due diligence on him yet, but he’s probably a late third to fourth-round guy, unless he surprised the heck out of an offensive line coach.”

Former Penn State offensive guard John Urschel, who started three games this season for the Baltimore Ravens, said in February 2013 that Smith was the “best physical talent I’ve ever seen” – even over four-year NFL starter Stefen Wisniewski. The Nittany Lions’ staff also told him, back in high school, he reminded them of No. 5 overall pick Levi Brown.

Smith was a good lineman for Penn State, but he never quite lived up to those lofty expectations. He was a preseason candidate for the Outland Trophy, for example, but didn’t even earn honorable mention on the All-Big Ten team this season. He was also part of an offensive line that surrendered 44 sacks this season.

Regardless of where he ends up in the NFL draft, he was still valuable to a Penn State team short on experienced linemen. With his departure, Penn State will be forced to plug in another newcomer – possibly four-star signee Paris Palmer, the No. 2 junior-college tackle in the nation – while likely moving Andrew Nelson to Smith’s spot.

“We want to thank Donovan and wish him all the best at the next level,” James Franklin said. “We appreciate his contributions to the program and his dedication to earning his degree this semester, doing so in three-and-a-half years.”