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APTOPIX Citrus Bowl Football

Kentucky safety Davonte Robinson, left, stops Penn State running back Miles Sanders after a short gain during the first half of the Citrus Bowl on Tuesday in Orlando, Fla.

Four Penn State juniors made known their intentions to turn pro Wednesday.

On Thursday, another one added his name to the list.

Running back Miles Sanders, who rushed for 1,274 yards and nine touchdowns after getting the starting job in 2018, announced via Twitter he will also be entering the NFL Draft.

“Miles is a student of the game and made the most of his opportunities when his time came,” Nittany Lions head coach James Franklin said. “We are very proud of Miles and how he has grown during his entire Penn State career. We are looking forward to seeing what he can do at the next level.”

Once the top running back recruit in the nation when he committed to Penn State in 2016, Sanders was ranked as the No. 6 running back prospect in the 2019 Draft by ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. in his November rankings.

“This decision was not an easy one,” Sanders wrote in a statement released by the university. “I truly believe this is the next best step for my future.”

Evidently, others shared the sentiment.

Franklin said at varying times over the past few years that he typically counsels players considering early NFL entry to stick around the program for an extra season unless they are certain first- or second-round picks. However, none of the five players who declared over the last few days — Sanders, offensive linemen Ryan Bates and Connor McGovern, and defensive linemen Kevin Givens and Shareef Miller — is guaranteed to go that high, according to the more reputable mock drafts that can be found online.

Since he took over at Penn State in 2014, Franklin has consistently done two things differently than his two immediate predecessors, Joe Paterno and Bill O’Brien. He has pitched players on academics, selling them on the prospect of graduating within 3½ years. He also made an effort to get as many recruits as are able to enroll in January.

Only one of the five Nittany Lions who declared this week enrolled early, McGovern in January 2016; and while several are said to be within a semester of attaining their degrees, only Bates enters the draft process with a diploma in hand.

So, many fans and national media types spent their Thursdays wondering if there’s a reason five draft-eligible players at Penn State would decide to leave the program en masse.

For what it’s worth, players said they were all individual decisions, made for varying reasons. Some had family financial considerations they were weighing. Others may have figured the difference between staying in school and leaving early would make financially was negligible. McGovern, for instance, is rated as the No. 1 guard prospect in the Draft by Kiper, and it’s obviously difficult to return to school and improve on that ranking.

Either way, Penn State has seen its share of players leave early during the Franklin era. Most significantly, Saquon Barkley left after his true junior season and ended up being the second overall pick in 2018 by the New York Giants. Receiver Chris Godwin also left after his true junior season and went in the third round in 2017. A year earlier, quarterback Christian Hackenberg and defensive tackle Austin Johnson left with a year of eligibility remaining and were second-round picks. Hackenberg is currently out of the NFL.

At the same time, a handful of players who could have left early chose to stick around for their senior season, likely with improved Draft results. Tight end Mike Gesicki parlayed his senior campaign in 2017 into second-round money in the ‘18 Draft. Safety Troy Apke and receiver DaeSean Hamilton wound up fourth-round picks last year, and safety Marcus Allen went in the fifth, all after deciding to return for their senior campaigns.

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