Photo of Dan Connor
Grade
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  • 6'3" Height
  • 233LBS. Weight

Overview

Joe Paterno's first perfect season came in 1968, his third year of coaching the Nittany Lions. Ever since, the Penn State coaching staff has produced an incredible number of NFL-quality linebackers who had success at the next level.

From Dennis Onkotz in 1968 to Paul Posluszny in 2006, Penn State boasted 16 linebackers garnering All-American first-team honors, with Onkontz ('68-69), Shane Conlan (1985-86), LaVar Arrington (1998-99) and Posluszny ('05-06) receiving that prestigious honor twice.

At the end of his standout '07 season, Dan Connor became Joe Pa's Sweet 17th.

In addition to his All-American selection, the PSU middle linebacker was the recipient of the Bednarik Award (top defensive player), was a finalist for the Butkus Award and set the school record with 419 career tackles while his 145 tackles in 2007 led the Big Ten Conference and ranked seventh in the nation.

Connor comes from a family of football players. The Crime, Law and Justice major learned from his older brothers and became the third sibling to play in the collegiate ranks. Jim played football at Boston College and Mike played at Lehigh. But even before he stepped on the field at Penn State, Dan Connor earned national attention.

At Strath Haven High School, Connor was a consensus All-American, and the four-year starter was selected the nation's top prep linebacker by Parade. He earned first-team All-American accolades from USA Today, Super Prep and numerous other media outlets. The 2003 Associated Press Big School Player-of-the-Year, Connor was named first-team All-State three times. He also earned All-Region, All-City, All-County and All-League honors.

The captain and MVP of his team, Connor also won the Maxwell Football Club's prestigious Jim Henry Award as the Philadelphia Area Player-of-the-Year and was the Philadelphia Inquirer Southeastern Pennsylvania Player-of-the-Year as a senior. He totaled 4,556 rushing yards and 77 touchdowns during his prep career. Defensively, he made 451 tackles, 18 sacks, 16 interceptions and six fumble recoveries.

As a senior, Connor rushed for 1,807 yards on 251 carries, for a spectacular 7.2-yard average, scoring 28 touchdowns. He was instrumental in Strath Haven winning the 2000 Pennsylvania Class AAA state championship and played in the AAA state title game in 2001 and '02. He played in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl in 2004 and also lettered in basketball and track, where he participated in the high jump, javelin, discus and shot put.

Connor enrolled at Penn State in 2004, appearing in 10 games while earning four starting assignments.

After lining up at outside linebacker most of the season, the Freshman All-American shifted to middle linebacker for the season's final three games, leading the team in tackles in each of those contests. In 558 plays, he finished second on the team with 85 tackles (50 solo), adding a sack, 4 1/2 stops for losses and an interception.

During the 2005 offseason, Connor was charged with making prank phone calls to a former PSU assistant coach. Joe Paterno suspended the linebacker in August for his involvement in the incident, keeping him out of the lineup for the team's first three games. He started six of the nine contests in which he played, posting 76 tackles (38 solo), 1 1/2 sacks and 5 1/2 stops for losses, to go along with eight quarterback pressures from his right outside linebacker position. He also recovered a fumble that he returned for a score.

In 2006, Connor gained national attention for his exploits on the football field, walking away with All-American and All-Big Ten Conference first-team honors. He combined with fellow All-American Paul Posluszny (116 tackles) to become the first Penn State tandem since Andre Collins (130) and Brian Chizmar (110) in 1989 to record more than 100 tackles in a season.

The right linebacker started all 13 games, participating in 908 snaps. He finished second to Posluszny with 113 tackles (70 solo), adding five sacks, nine stops for losses and three forced fumbles. He also deflected a pair of passes and intercepted two others.

Connor and Posluszny will be forever linked. The two star linebackers squared off against each other in the 2002 PIAA Class AAA championship game. Posluszny, then a senior, led Hopewell High School to a 21-10 victory against Connor's Strath Haven team.

Posluszny later served as Connor's host for his official visit to Penn State. Both broke into the starting lineup as freshmen at Penn State, albeit a year apart. "If you ask me, I'd say Paul's better," Connor said. "If you ask him, he'd probably say the opposite."

Connor joined Posluszny as one of three finalists for the Bednarik Award in 2006, as Connor became the 13th Penn State linebacker to earn first-team All-American honors under Paterno. He was the 77th Penn State player selected a first-team All-American.

Connor moved back inside to middle linebacker as a senior. He finished seventh in the nation in tackles and led the conference with a career-high 145 stops (69 solo). He delivered 6 1/2 sacks with 15 stops for losses and two fumble recoveries. He also picked off a pass and deflected six others. He would record at least 10 tackles in eight contests, giving him 20 games during his career that he reached double digits.

Connor started 36 of 45 games in which he played at Penn State, including 16 contests at middle linebacker. He holds the school's career record with 419 tackles (227 solo), produced 14 sacks for minus-101 yards and 34 stops for losses totaling 141 yards. He recovered three fumbles, returning one 18 yards for a touchdown and had three forced fumbles. He deflected eight passes, gained five yards on four interception returns and registered one safety.

Analysis

Strengths

Positives: Has good upper-body thickness, broad shoulders and a big back with good definition in his arms and chest (lower-body frame needs further development)...Possesses good speed and initial quickness, doing a nice job of breaking down and tackling when in space...Shows good mobility to slip blocks and good change-of-direction agility moving down the line...Has enough speed and toughness to be effective containing the inside running game...Intelligent and instinctive player with the vision and instincts to locate the ball through trash...Hard worker in the weight room and has really matured in his training and has taken on more of a leadership role since his 2005 off-field incident...Plays with good aggression and, while he is not a vocal type, he does have command of the defensive squad on the field...Has a good knack for recognizing blocking schemes, getting his hat right into the action to wipe out draws and screens...Locates underneath targets and has enough mobility to slip through blocks and disrupt the pocket...Reads plays quickly, getting in good position to make the play before blocks develop...Can slip blocks and deliver a blow to the ballcarrier...Uses his hands well to bounce off blockers and jam tight ends at the line...Will not hesitate to take on lead blockers and shows better toughness playing inside the tackles than on the edge...Usually in position to make inside plays and, while he is not stout at the point of attack and has some problems getting over trash, he plays with good leverage and knee-bend when he keeps his pad level down...Uses his hands well to control short-area receivers and can generate good leverage on the outside when he uses his hands to defeat blocks...Possesses the speed and burst to make plays while moving toward the sideline, as he hits with good pop, keeping his head up and wrapping with his arms...Needs to be more fluid is his sideline pursuit, but he plays downhill well and has the ability to play well in the flow in attempts to get to the ball...Not really a big hitter, but is a reliable tackler who can break down and will face up and wrap tackler working in space...Has enough hip snap to turn on the ball in flight and can locate underneath targets, but compensates for a lack of explosion out of his breaks by taking good angles to the ball...Shows good timing and anticipation on the blitz, but needs to develop a variety of moves...Is frustrated when his initial move fails, as he does not always find the rush lane, making him more of a contain than a press type...Times leaps to break up passes, reading the quarterback's eyes well to react to the ball in flight. Negatives: Has adequate muscle mass but good definition, and shows just marginal thickness in his calves and ankles, making it questionable whether he can plant his foot and anchor vs. a strong double team...Not physical in his attempts to shed blocks and needs to improve his overall strength and use his hands better, as he struggles to take on and shed blocks when working in-line...Has the lateral quickness to work down the line, but lacks the second gear needed to chase and is much better in the box...Lacks natural hands for the interception and must deliver his punch with more force...Can extend for the ball away from the frame, but prefers to use his body to catch...When he takes a straight shot into the backfield, he shows good timing on the blitz, but he lacks an array of moves to execute if his initial one fails...Bit top-heavy and can be driven off the ball because of a lack of a good anchor at the point of attack...Needs to stay lower in his pads and use his hands better to avoid cut blocks...When he gets high in his stance and keeps his hands outside the framework, linemen can wash him out...His narrow base causes him to struggle shedding blocks vs. the bigger blockers...Lacks fluidness in his backpedal and takes false steps in transition, making him a bit of a liability handling receivers outside the short area...Better playing between the tackles, as he doesn't have the timed speed to get to the corner to force the outside running game back inside...Has had off-field issues in the past and while he has matured, teams will want him to show that he is accountable off the field...Adequate blitzer, but he will need to develop better pass-rush moves rather than just a straight-forward charge, to be successful doing this at the next level...Has decent strength, but he gets into trouble when he looks past blockers to the ball. Compares To: PAUL POSLUSZNY-Buffalo...These two have been mentioned in the same breath for so long, you'd think they were a package deal. Posluszny has better range, but Connor shows the same nose for the football. Both are better off playing inside, but taking on offensive lineman at the point of attack isn't a strength. Connor does an excellent job of breaking down in space and is quick to get a bead on the ball. He has enough of a burst to close on plays in front of him and does a good job of bouncing off blocks vs. the smaller opponents. He's just adequate as a blitzer, but if he plays in a system that lets him position first rather than attack the ball, he will be highly productive.
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Grade Title
9.00-10 Once-in-lifetime player
8.00-8.99 Perennial All-Pro
7.50-7.99 Future All-Pro
7.00-7.49 Pro Bowl-caliber player
6.50-6.99 Chance to become Pro Bowl-caliber player
6.00-6.49 Should become instant starter
5.50-5.99 Chance to become NFL starter
5.20-5.49 NFL backup or special teams potential
5.01-5.19 Better-than-average chance to make NFL roster
5.00 50-50 Chance to make NFL roster
4.75-4.99 Should be in an NFL training camp
4.50-4.74 Chance to be in an NFL training camp
No Grade Likely needs time in developmental league.
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