When Jesse Luketa heads to the 2022 NFL Draft, he’ll hope to continue a proud tradition of Canadian imports making their way to the league. The Penn State linebacker traded Ottawa for Pennsylvania as a high school kid, with the transition paving a way for a successful college career. Does Luketa’s scouting report reveal the skill set to succeed at the highest stage?
Jesse Luketa NFL Draft Profile
- Position: Outside Linebacker
- School: Penn State
- Current Year: Senior
- Height: 6’2 3/8″
- Weight: 261
- Wingspan: 78 3/4″
- Arm: 33″
- Hand: 10 1/4″
Jesse Luketa Scouting Report
Tamba Hali, Paul Posluszny, Sean Lee, NaVorro Bowman, Micah Parsons. Penn State University has a rich pedigree of producing NFL-caliber linebacker prospects, and the Nittany Lions are at it again in 2022. Luketa and teammate Brandon Smith are primed for selection when Roger Goodell puts the Jacksonville Jaguars on the clock in April.
The Canadian export has defied expectations to reach the precipice of the NFL. But what is it about Luketa’s NFL Draft scouting report that indicates that he could hear his name called at the NFL’s annual selection event?
Although he doesn’t possess particularly dominating size at 6’3″ and 247 pounds, Luketa has an interesting physical profile. He reportedly measures in at 32 3/4″ arm length with 10 1/4″ hands. This length and hand size are apparent when you turn on the tape, and it allows the Penn State LB to be disruptive in a number of ways.
This is particularly apparent against the run. Luketa uses impressively quick, powerful, and technical hands to disengage from blockers with ease. His length allows him to swipe his way through gaps and advance on the ball carrier with dangerous intentions. He scrapes well along the line and shows impressive ability to diagnose against the run. When he gets to the ball carrier, his length allows him to take down his man even when he appears out of reach.
An explosive lateral athlete with impressive run-stopping ability
Luketa’s ability against the run is aided by an impressive athletic profile. The headline of this is exceptional lateral agility that allows him to effortlessly bounce from gap to gap. There are multiple examples on tape of him embarrassing interior offensive linemen with his ability to teleport from one spot to another. It’s safe to say that the Penn State linebacker is an explosive lateral athlete.
He also possesses decent play speed and an incredibly hot motor. Luketa routinely hustles to the ball. If he hasn’t been able to stop the ball carrier at or behind the line of scrimmage, you can find him leading the chase downfield.
While Luketa’s play against the run is the highlight of his tape, he is able to be disruptive in the passing game as well. As a pass rusher, he is powerful enough to overwhelm interior offensive linemen. The Penn State LB plays with a low pad level, giving him the advantage in the leverage battle. He is also able to ghost under bigger offensive tackles with some evidence of bend to his game.
Luketa also provides effective coverage. His length helps in this regard as does his athletic ability to mirror and stick close to wide receivers in man coverage. He can backpedal as well as a DB, with fluid hips that allow for effective transition. Finally, the Penn State linebacker showcases high character and leadership qualities. A team captain in high school and at Penn State, Luketa also volunteers with the Salvation Army.
Areas for improvement
Luketa has some impressive elements to his NFL Draft scouting report. An impressive run stopper with disruptive ability in the passing game, he has the opportunity to elevate his stock at the Senior Bowl. At present, he projects as mid-Day 3 selection, with some areas for improvements and limitations impacting his ability to ascend any higher.
One of those limitations is that Luketa is a far better run defender than pass rusher. This could limit his value for NFL teams that are increasingly looking for three-down prospects. The Penn State linebacker doesn’t routinely win as a pass rusher, rarely getting to the quarterback. He doesn’t appear to possess an arsenal of pass-rush weapons.
As an extension of this, Luketa struggles against larger offensive tackles. Although he’s showcased an ability to ghost under, he lacks the power to overcome more powerful opposition. This was particularly apparent against Ohio State’s Dawand Jones, who routinely pushed the Penn State LB around.
Luketa’s Player Profile
The odds of making it from high school football to the NFL are heavily stacked against most people. When you’re a small kid from Southern Ottawa, those odds are substantially less favorable.
People used to laugh at the ambition of the young linebacker. But now on the brink of the NFL Draft, those people probably aren’t laughing at Luketa anymore.
Luketa attended St. Patrick High School, while also playing minor league football for the South Ottawa Mustangs. However, his football journey really took off with a transfer to Mercyhurst Prep in Pennsylvania. They hadn’t been a powerhouse of high school football, but the stage was significantly brighter than in Southern Ottawa.
The outstanding linebacker made his mark on the program early. After his sophomore season, college programs began to pay attention. Luketa took a visit to Penn State in the April before his junior season, forming the beginning of a special relationship with his in-state program.
Luketa stands out in junior season
Luketa’s performances during his junior season at Mercyhurst made him a much sought-after commodity in the 2018 recruiting class. A first-team All-Class 3A honoree, the disruptive defensive prospect tallied 88 tackles, including 15 tackles for loss and 9 sacks. He also snagged 5 interceptions, while adding 268 yards and a score as a wide receiver.
As a result, he was named a four-star prospect and the 10th-ranked LB in the class. Luketa received over 30 offers from high-profile programs across the country. Even when he made a verbal commitment to the Nittany Lions in February 2017, the offers kept flooding in.
They kept on coming during a senior season where he was named Class 3A Defensive Player of the Year by Pennsylvania Football News. Although he wasn’t as statistically successful as a senior as his previous campaign, he still logged 69 tackles and 4 interceptions. Nevertheless, he stuck by his original commitment to his “dream school.”
Luketa’s career at Penn State
At 6’3″ and 205 pounds, Luketa was something of a smaller linebacker on arrival at Penn State. Usually, someone of his stature, with some physical development to undertake, would take a redshirt and spend significant time in the weight room. Despite this, the Penn State linebacker carved out a role on special teams while also registering defensive statistics, including 3 tackles against Kent State.
Luketa took a significant step on his path to the NFL Draft as a sophomore in 2019. He made 12 starts on a defense that included Micah Parsons.
In the season opener against Idaho, he showcased his versatile disruption with 3 tackles and a pass breakup. The Penn State LB added another pass breakup alongside a then-career-high 5 tackles against Maryland. He ended the year with 24 tackles and 4 pass breakups.
Amongst the disruption of the 2020 season, and with teammate Parsons opting out, Luketa took on a leadership role with the team. Named a team captain, he finished the season second on the team with 59 tackles. The Penn State linebacker had standout performances against Nebraska and Rutgers, setting and then breaking career-high tackle numbers and showcasing his ability against the run with multiple tackles for loss.
Senior season showcases the skills of the kid from Southern Ottawa
Luketa emerged into the national spotlight as Penn State rushed out to an undefeated opening to their 2021 college campaign. Against Ball State, he took an interception 16 yards to the house. In the narrow win over SEC competition Auburn, he tallied 8 tackles. Even in defeat to Iowa, the Penn State linebacker tallied a career-high 2.5 tackles for loss.
Finishing the season with 61 tackles, including 8.5 TFL, 0.5 sacks, 5 quarterback hurries, and the Ball State interception, Luketa was named to the third-team All-Big Ten. His performances also caught the eye of the Senior Bowl staff, and the Penn State LB will represent the Nittany Lions in Mobile.
It’s an incredible opportunity for Luketa to impress, allowing the small kid from Southern Ottawa to prove his doubters wrong ahead of the NFL Draft. There were 24 Canadians on NFL rosters at the start of the 2021 season. That number should grow by at least one come April.
Tony Pauline’s Scouting Report on Jesse Luketa
Positives: Small, explosive college defensive end with a relentless style. Fires off the snap with an outstanding first step, plays with terrific pad level, and consistently gets leverage on opponents. Explosive, chases the action, and works his hands throughout the play. Nicely redirects to plays and immediately alters his angle of attack. Gives effort as both a pass rusher and run defender.
Negatives: Easily knocked from the play by a single blocker. Slow locating the ball and bites on fakes. Average athlete with average quickness.
Analysis: Luketa was a hard-charging college defender who squeezed the most out of his ability. He possesses average size and speed yet could be a pass-rush specialist/special-teams player due to his relentless style.