Eli: DE Yetur Gross-Matos
I mean it’s Yetur Gross-Matos. He was a force to be reckoned with last season, and he only stands to get better this season. He could have an All-America type year this season, and like Hamler, losing him would be a big blow to the defense.
Cari: LB Micah Parsons
The talent and depth in the front four, along with Sean Spencer’s proven track record, means that no matter how talented any individual member of the defensive line is, there’s someone behind them that could step in in a pinch - with only a bit of a drop off. But the linebacker corps, not too long ago the bastion of PSU’s squads, has seen some drop off recently. Parsons injected talent into a thin group last year, and even though he only started one game, was a force when he did see time. He wasn’t always great, but he was worlds better at the end of the season than at the beginning, and he’ll only get better over time. Whether this defense is truly as elite as many think it can be will be determined by the leadership in the linebackers.
Clay: Robert Windsor
Windsor isn’t the best Penn State defensive player. He’s probably not even the second or third best. But he’s the most pivotal given Penn State’s situation at defensive tackle. Last year, the Nittany Lions were forced to move C.J. Thorpe from offensive to defense because they were so thin at defensive tackle. That hasn’t exactly improved a ton a year later and with Ellison Jordan’s spot on the team in question, the Nittany Lions are one injury away from a really shaky rotation at defensive tackle yet again.
Patrick: DE Yetur Gross-Matos
Quite a few solid options on this side of the ball, but defensive end is a premium position, and Gross-Matos could end up the most complete defensive end in the country. Taking him away from the defense would be a major blow because for as good as he was last year, it’s exciting to think about how much better he’ll be this season.
Chris L.: P Blake Gillikin.
DE, DT, LB, CB, and S there are options two to three levels deep. After Gillikin we have walk on redshirt freshman Cade Pollard. While Kohl’s had some good things to say about Cade, I’d rather Blake stay healthy.
bscaff: LB Micah Parsons
The true frosh split time at WILL - which is the hardest LB role in this defense, by far - and led the team in tackles. Good luck finding another one of those guys laying around.
Lando: LB Micah Parsons
I am a massive fan of athleticism and guys who have a nose for the ball, so...I MISS LANDON COLLINS ALREADY WHY DID YOU LET HIM GO GETTLEMAN???
Sorry. Anyway, Micah Parsons has both of those characteristics, and that’s hard to find at linebacker these days especially as a young player.
Marty: DE Yetur Gross-Matos
Picking a player on defense was more difficult because Penn State’s defense has a lot of dudes on it. But, I’ll go with Yetur Gross-Matos by the slightest of margins over Micah Parsons. Games are won in the trenches and there are few things more valuable in football than a game-wrecking pass rusher like YGM. Players like YGM force the opposing offense to game plan around them and eat up double team blocks that free up other guys on the defense. Factor in YGM being one of the best defensive linemen in the FBS, and he gets the nod.
Jared: DT Robert Windsor
If there’s one thing tempering my excitement for the defense, it’s the depth at defensive tackle. A soft gooey center can open up a world of other problems, regardless of the talent everywhere else. This may not even be an issue, and I could see the emerging talent at tackle proving themselves early...but for now, we don’t know what we don’t know. Windsor is perhaps the most underrated player on the team. Not only did he become a difference-maker in the trenches in 2018, he’ll now be relied upon for his leadership as his positionmates gain experience and find their way.