Ranking Penn State Football’s top 5 returning players in 2021: Defense

Penn State Nittany Lions cornerback Tariq Castro-Fields (Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports)
Penn State Nittany Lions cornerback Tariq Castro-Fields (Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports) /
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P.J. Mustipher, Penn State Football
PJ Mustipher #97 of Penn State Football (Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images) /

Penn State Football will return seven starters on the defense next season, and mixed with a few transfers could be set to reload on that side of the ball.

The Nittany Lions will return seven defensive starters from the 2020 season and received a boost from the return of a few players they potentially thought would be headed for the NFL.

Senior safety Jaquan Brisker and senior cornerback Tariq Castro-Fields both announced earlier this offseason their intentions to return in 2021, potentially giving head coach James Franklin his best secondary during his tenure with Penn State Football.

The transfer portal has also given the program reason to be excited about the defense next season, as defensive end Arnold Ebiketie, defensive tackle Derrick Tangelo and cornerback Johnny Dixon all come to Happy Valley after being starters and valuable members of their last teams.

Last season, the defense finished sixth in the Big Ten in points allowed(27.7) but did finish third in the conference in yards allowed per game(328.8).

The Nittany Lions were once again good at getting pressure on the quarterback racking up 21 sacks last season, however struggled with creating turnovers. Brent Pry’s defense finished tied for 83rd in the nation with only 10 forced turnovers last season. Their inability to create turnovers and short fields for the offense was a reason for the underwhelming 4-5 season.

Defense has been a staple of Penn State football for years, and the Nittany Lions will need to be better on that side of the ball in 2021.

But, all signs point to that being possible thanks to the return of these five players on that side of the ball:

No. 5: PJ Mustipher 

Defensive tackle PJ Mustipher came into the season as one of those players who looked primed for a breakout season in 2020, and even though that true breakout did not come to fruition, Mustipher was as solid as they come for the Nittany Lions along the trenches.

Mustipher produced 35 total tackles, one and a half tackles for loss and a sack last season after starting seven games and playing in all nine. His tackles for loss numbers were down from the year prior, but factoring in they played less games and he no longer at Robert Windsor playing opposite him along that front and the production through the last two seasons mirror each other.

Listed at six-foot-four and 300 pounds, the Maryland native is a run stuffer but is also extremely athletic and can get after the quarterback, as evidenced by his two career sacks.

Mustipher will have a new running mate next to him along the interior next season, presumably transfer Derick Tangelo from Duke. Tangelo is a lot like Mustipher in that he is a true run stopper at defensive tackle, and the two should make life tough on opposing offenses next season.

The Penn State Football defense was already stout last season against the run, ranking second in the Big Ten with just under 200 yards allowed per game.