With respect to the upcoming 2009 NFL draft, Aaron Maybin wasn't even a blip on the radar screen to begin the 2008 NCAA football season. In fact, he wasn't even the most talented defensive end on the Penn State roster.
Sitting fourth on the depth chart meant that the talented red-shirt sophomore would likely be the second man off the bench in the rotation. Highly touted seniors Maurice Evans and team captain Josh Gaines were essentially guaranteed the starting positions, and Jerome Hayes was considered the third best DE on the squad. But Maybin's pipe-dreams (pun intended) of becoming a starter were answered in the form of an Evans' suspension and an unfortunate season-ending injury to Hayes.
And Maybin certainly made the most of his opportunity.
While Evans sat out his four-game suspension, Maybin registered six sacks and seven tackles for loss. He proved to be a disruptive force coming off the edge, and his stock rose with every jaw-dropping hit. After Hayes' went down in week two, Maybin started in every game except the heart-breaking loss at Iowa.
Coincidentally, that Iowa game was one of only four games this season that Maybin failed to record a sack (12 total). His other sack-less games came against Illinois, Michigan State and USC.
His speed and versatility make him very attractive at the next level. One major advantage that Maybin has identified coming out this year is the lack of NFL-ready DE's. He could be an immediate impact player at outside linebacker, but he also has the frame to put on some extra weight and play defensive end in a year or so.
His versatility is also his weakness. Projecting the impact of a player without a clear position is extremely difficult. Some scouts have him projected in the top ten (#6 on McShay's board,) while others aren't sure if he'll crack the first round.
No matter which way Maybin goes, he has some work to do in the weight room.
The knock against Maybin is that he struggled against big athletic linemen. In the four games that Maybin failed to record a sack, the right tackles that he faced averaged a whopping 6'5" and 313.5 pounds. Furthermore, three of those four teams were ranked in the top 25 at the end of the season; a clear indication that he'll need to improve against NFL talent.
If Maybin is able to add some weight and maintain his speed, he could be a very good DE in the future, but I suspect he'll be taken in the first round as an outside linebacker. As an OLB, he could step onto the field as soon as next year.
He has work to do but his ceiling is extremely high, so the question becomes, "Will he reach his potential in the NFL?"
In recent years, Penn State defensive players selected in the first few rounds have certainly proven their worth at the next level. Courtney Brown, Tamba Hali, and Jay Alford have been contributors in the NFL and Paul Posluszny (once considered undersized and not talented enough) has been very successful in Buffalo.
I expect Maybin to do well in the NFL and could see him going to a team looking for an immediate impact pass rusher somewhere in the middle of the first round. He might struggle with the talent leap early on but he has tremendous ability and a "Joe Pa" work ethic. He has surprised many people during his short journey at Penn State but not himself. Maybin is confident and that should translate into success at the next level.