Penn State Football: Way too early defensive position group rankings

Penn State Nittany Lions linebacker Brandon Smith (Image via York Daily Record)
Penn State Nittany Lions linebacker Brandon Smith (Image via York Daily Record) /
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Penn State Football will return seven starters on defense next season led by what could be their best secondary during Franklin’s tenure in Happy Valley

An Instagram post by linebacker Jesse Luketa yesterday of a locker room countdown to their week 1 showdown with Wisconsin indicated we are 199 days away from Penn State Football.

It has been a busy offseason for head coach James Franklin‘s program, and that includes a few new faces on the defensive side of the ball, and a few familiar ones that are no longer around.

Defensive tackles Antonio Shelton and Judge Culpepper have left the program through the transfer portal while defensive tackle Derrick Tangelo, defensive end Arnold Ebiketie and cornerback Johnny Dixon.

Last season defensive coordinator Brent Pry’s defense ranked sixth in the Big Ten in points allowed(27.7) and third in the conference in yards allowed per game(328.8). The Nittany Lions struggled, however, in big moments against Indiana and and their week 2 prime time showdown with Ohio State.

The absence of linebacker Micah Parsons, who opted out due to Covid-19 concerns to prepare for the NFL Draft, was glaring all season, as Penn State Football was missing their all Mr. Everything in the soon to be first round pick.

Let’s take a deeper dive into positional depth charts and rank the Nittany Lions offensive position groups as they currently stand for 2021.

4. Cornerbacks

Cornerback and secondary play has been a liability at times for Penn State Football in the past. However, the 2021 version of the Nittany Lions should be Franklin’s best group of corners during his time in State College.

Senior Tariq-Castro Fields surprised many when he announced he would be returning for a fifth season. The cornerback missed the final six games of the season due to an injury and decided to run it back in 2021.

For his career, Castro-Fields has 20 pass breakups and three interceptions and has started over 40 games, an unusual commodity in college football nowadays. He will be a a good influence on Joey Porter Jr. who broke onto the scene last season and now looks like one of the better players on the roster, period.

One of five incoming transfers this offseason is Johnny Dixon who comes from South Carolina where he started last season and will battle Fields and Porter Jr. for reps next fall. Dixon appears to be a corner who can play outside or in the slot in what Penn State Football calls the “star” position, meaning him, Fields and Porter Jr. could all be on the field at the same time, a more than formidable group.

The depth at the position is also a strong point with Keaton Ellis and Marquis Wilson who have two seasons under their belts and have both gotten a number of crucial reps in the past seasons. The Nittany Lions are well positioned to overcome any injury issues or one of these guys just have a bad game, which is a welcomed change for this defense.