I wouldn’t want to play poker with James Franklin because he kept his cards close to the vest regarding the status of several NFL draft-eligible starters ahead of the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl against Ole Miss. However, when the pregame availability report came out, we learned that Olu Fashanu and Kalen King joined Johnny Dixon and Chop Robinson as opt-outs.
Robinson was the first to announce that he would not participate in the New Year’s Six Bowl game when he first declared for the draft. On Friday, Dixon joined him as an opt-out, and now Penn State will be without two other key contributors.
Fashanu already gave the Nittany Lions 12 more games than expected. Many anticipated that he would enter the 2023 NFL draft after a stellar junior season, but he returned to finish his degree. He is once again projected to be a top-10 draft pick and he is preserving that status and his health today.
When Joey Porter Jr. opted out of the Rose Bowl last season, Kalen King emerged as Penn State’s top corner and he impressed in the win over Utah. King came into this season with high expectations and first-round draft stock, but a poor performance against Marvin Harrison Jr. and Ohio State hurt his stock.
However, King appears to feel secure in his status as the draft approaches and is opting not to use this game as a final audition for NFL teams. With King and Dixon out, Penn State will be without its top two cornerbacks. Daequon Hardy has also declared for the draft, but is playing against Ole Miss today and will be elevated to CB1.
Hardy played 335 snaps this season, over 150 less than Dixon and King, and he allowed 20 catches for 201 yards on 40 targets in coverage. Cam Miller and Zion Tracy will also be expected to contribute in the secondary.
Ole Miss comes into this matchup with three receivers who posted 700 yards receiving this year, so quarterback Jaxson Dart could have a big day in Atlanta.
On the offensive line, Fashanu will be nearly impossible to replace, but the Nittany Lions have a bevy of talented young offensive tackles. The good news on that front is that Cedric Johnson, Ole Miss’s top defensive end also opted out and will not play today.