clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Way-Too-Early 2018 Penn State Football Depth Chart: Defense

New, comments

Penn State’s defensive line should develop into a force, but what will happen at linebacker and safety?

Michigan v Penn State Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

Defensive End

Starters: Shareef Miller, Torrence Brown

Reserves: Ryan Bucholz, Shane Simmons, Shaka Toney, Yetur Gross-Matos, Colin Castagna, Daniel Joseph, Damion Barber, Jayson Oweh, Judge Culpepper,

Penn State should be in fantastic shape with the defensive end position in 2018 and beyond. Shareef Miller continues to get better, and could easily battle for all-conference honors next season as one of the most dangerous pass-rushers in the Big Ten. The other starting spot will come down to Torrence Brown or Ryan Buchholz. Buchholz started the majority of the season following Brown’s knee injury and performed well. However, if Brown is near 100 percent by August, he should be able to reclaim his spot. He is the more experienced of the two and has more speed coming off the edge. Either way, both will be on the field often.

The development of the key reserves should do wonders to improve Penn State’s pass rush in 2018. Simmons, Gross-Matos and Toney all impressed in their first year of eligibility, and will only get better. Each has tremendous potential that will become more obvious with another year of experience under their belts.

Daniel Joseph is another up-and-comer to watch. He’s received rave reviews from the staff since stepping foot on campus, and should become a factor with more experience. Jayson Oweh is a major talent who could find his way on the field as a true freshman.

Defensive Tackle

Starters: Kevin Givens, Robert Windsor

Reserves: Corey Bolds, Fred Hansard, Immanual Iyke, Ellison Jordan, Antonio Shelton, PJ Mustipher, Aeneas Hawkins

There should be little dropoff at the defensive tackle position despite losing both starters from 2017, Curtis Cothran and Parker Cothren. Givens and Windsor both have plenty of experience during the past two seasons and should pick up right where Cothran and Cothren left off, with the potential to improve upon their production.

Givens is a bit undersized at 276 lbs., but has tremendous strength and a quick first step that helps him make plays in the backfield. Windsor is slightly over 300 lbs., and moves around very well for his size.

Keep an eye out for Fred Hansard, one of the Nittany Lions top prospects from the 2017 class. After taking a redshirt season, he should be ready to be a major contributor from the start of the season and could develop into the top defensive tackle on the roster in time. Ellison Jordan saw regular time as a reserve, but is now recovering from a broken kneecap and may need additional time to fully recover. Expect Antonio Shelton to carve out a larger role in his redshirt sophomore year. Corey Bolds should also get some looks as part of Sean Spencer’s deep rotation.


Starters: WILL- Cam Brown, MIKE- Micah Parsons, SAM- Koa Farmer

Reserves: Ellis Brooks, Max Chizmar, Jake Cooper, Brelin Faison-Walden, Brailyn Franklin, Jan Johnson, Jarvis Miller, Jesse Luketa, Nick Tarburton, Charlie Katshir

Here’s where things get really interesting. Farmer is the only obvious starting linebacker heading into the season. He has outstanding speed and proved capable in run support and coming off the edge. He will need to improve his reads, and especially pass coverage skills to take the next step.

The big question is if Micah Parsons can actually start in the middle as a true freshman. Thanks to a lack of depth at the position, he may take a route similar to Curtis Enis or Courtney Brown when they came to Penn State - just get him on the field in the greatest position of need before moving to his more natural position. In Parsons case, it’s certainly as an edge rusher. Parsons is the highest-rated recruit to enter Penn State in more than a decade, so while he has immense potential, it will all come down to the coaching staff’s comfort level with him starting at such a crucial position right off the bat. If not, Ellis Brooks is an intriguing possibility, and he could develop into something special. However, like Parsons, he has zero experience following a redshirt season in 2017.

Incoming freshman middle linebackers Jesse Luketa and Nick Tarburton are both early enrollees who will have a chance to catch the attention of the staff before their classmates arrive in the summer.

Cam Brown gets the nod at the WILL spot because of his experience. He played in all 13 games in 2016, contributing 31 tackles with 1.5 TFLs and 0.5 sacks. He has potential coming off the edge, and was oh-so-close to a sack on several occasions. Like Farmer, he has plenty of work ahead of him to become a standout outside linebacker but he certainly has the athleticism and potential to shine once he puts it all together. Jarvis Miller and Jake Cooper should also challenge for time.


Starters: Free- Nick Scott, Strong- Ayron Monroe

Reserves: Garrett Taylor, John Petrishen, Jonathan Sutherland, Isiah Humphries, Will Blair, Drew Hartlaub,

It could be as simple as “next man up” with Marcus Allen and Troy Apke both moving on. Scott is an incredibly physical safety who shares Allen’s ability to keep everything in front of him and be a major asset in run support. Monroe performed well as a reserve, but underwent surgery for a should injury following the Fiesta Bowl and his status for the fall is still unknown. Garrett Taylor should also get a look. The former four-star prospect has played well on special teams and could now be ready to take on a much bigger role in the secondary.

With no returning starters at safety, this could be one of the most intriguing position battles leading up to the season. John Petrishen and Jonathan Sutherland should see their workload increase, and Penn State will need at least a couple safeties to have a big offseason and be prepared to make a name for themselves in 2018.


Starters: John Reid, Amani Oruwariye

Reserves: Tariq Castro-Fields, Lamont Wade, Zech McPhearson, DJ Brown, Jabari Butler, Desi Davis, Donovan Johnson, Trent Gordon, Jordan Miner,

Remember John Reid? The Nittany Lions top cornerback missed the 2017 season after tearing his ACL in spring practice. By all accounts, he will be back and better than ever in 2018. There’s no doubt the noted film junkie spent his recovery time wisely and will be an All-Big Ten candidate this fall. Oruwariye was perhaps Penn State’s most improved player in 2017, and should prove more than capable in shutting down the number-two receiver as a senior.

Castro-Fields and Wade are the obvious future standouts in Penn State’s secondary. They both performed very well when called upon as true freshman, and will see plenty of action again before looking to become the starting duo in 2019. McPhearson is another talented up-and-comer who will see his role expand further this season.

Star Power and Experience

Last week, we broke down the recruiting rankings and experience of the offense, and what those metrics could portend for 2018. Similarly, let’s take a look at the defense when it comes to recruiting stars and experience. As a refresher, the amount of blue chip (four- and five-star players) on a roster has a direct correlation to the success a team may have in any given year. Still, a graduate senior three-star can make a freshman five-star look foolish, so both factors play a part. So, how does the 2018 defense look in comparison to the 2017 defense, using these metrics?

Star Power

The magical number that is used to gauge a four-star recruit is a composite rating of 0.8900 or better. In 2017, the starters on defense averaged out to a mid-three star, with a combined 0.8571 rating, per their 247 Composite recruiting profiles. In 2018, the starters will bump up to an average of 0.8804, just shy of blue-chip status. This is helped greatly by the inclusion of five-star Micah Parsons over unrated Brandon Smith - but there lies the crux of the problem, as Brandon was an extremely solid linebacker, and we’ve yet to see Parsons play at the D-1 level. Perhaps more importantly, the backups should see a significant step forward in their ratings. The 2017 second-string defense graded out to a three-star at 0.8677. In 2018? A four-star of 0.9064. Quality depth is there, perhaps in greater amount since the star-studded teams of the ‘90s.


When we started compiling these stats, we were absolutely sure that the 2017 defense would blow the 2018 defense away with experience. The starters in 2017 averaged more than four years of experience at the college level - the number of years in college to get used to classes, practices, workouts, film study and regular college life. All told, the 2017 starters had 45 combined years of experience. 2018? 44. That’s right, despite losing a whole slew of starters, a whole lot of experience is returning. In fact, the 2018 backups will bring more experience than their 2017 counterparts, coming in at 32 years of experience vs. just 30. The experience is there to mask any talent deficiencies, which are quickly evaporating.

In sum, the 2018 defense has plenty of potential, but many question marks to sort through. The largest issue, once again, is lack of depth and experience at the linebacker position. What the unit does have is tremendous speed. They can certainly progress into a quality unit throughout the season, but it seems obvious there will be plenty of growing pains as they individually grow into their more advanced roles and figure out how to play as a unit.

The defensive line and cornerbacks appear to be the greatest strengths on defense heading into 2018. Reid and Oruwariye should be a terrific duo, and Castro-Field and Wade will only get better as they each develop into premiere lockdown corners. The defensive line could be the speediest in program history, and should see a much more consistently active pass rush than what we witnessed in 2017. Across the board, it’s littered with deeply-talented players. We all know Sean Spencer’s ability to develop talent in the trenches, and with the last couple recruiting classes, he seems poised to build one of the nation’s best defensive lines for years to come.

While Penn State should be able to replace its two departing starters at defensive tackle without much drop off, the same cannot be said at safety. The team will no doubt miss Marcus Allen and Troy Apke. While there is some quality experience and potential in the pipeline, replacing Allen’s star power and Apke’s steady play will be difficult. Whoever ends up getting the nod will need to prove themselves right off the bat to keep Penn State’s defense performing at a high level.