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2021 Spring Position Previews: Cornerbacks

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Best position group on the defense?

Matthew O’Haren-USA TODAY Sports

Starters

Tariq Castro-Fields and Joey Porter Jr.

The term “starters” is a little off here for the cornerbacks because I think we’ll see a whole lot of three-man groups, but as far as leading the way in terms of snaps, I think it’ll be Tariq Castro-Fields and Joey Porter Jr.

After an injury-plagued 2020 season, Castro-Fields is back for a fifth season which is good news for Penn State’s secondary. Castro-Fields doesn’t put up eye-popping interceptions — he has just three interceptions over his four seasons in Happy Valley — but he’s a super solid cornerback with the potential be an All-Big Ten player.

Porter Jr. surprised last year when he became a stalwart at cornerback, breaking into the starting unit during his redshirt freshman season. At 6-foot-2, 195 pounds with some go-go gadget arms, Porter Jr. brings absurd size to the cornerback position.

Gonna Play A Whole Lot

Keaton Ellis and Johnny Dixon

While Castro-Fields and Porter Jr. might be the “starters”, we’re gonna see a relatively big rotation at cornerback. The top recipients of that big rotation? In my view, Keaton Ellis and Johnny Dixon.

Like Castro-Fields, Ellis struggled with injuries last season, but as he got healthier as the season went along, he saw more and more snaps. Like just about everyone in the cornerback room, Ellis has prototypical size for the spot, coming in at 5-foot-11, 189 pounds.

In Dixon, Penn State is getting someone with SEC starting experience, with Dixon starting for Gamecocks as a true sophomore in 2020. While I don’t think Dixon will jump Castro-Fields or Porter Jr., he’s going to see a lot of time. And fortunately for Penn State, the drop off from the “starters” to the “backups” is not much of a drop at all.

Darkhorses

Marquis Wilson, Daquan Hardy, and Kalen King

I feel like I’ve made my love for Marquis Wilson clear throughout the last couple years. While he lacks much bulk — he’s listed at 171 pounds — I love his ball skills and just his overall #swag. While Castro-Fields, Porter Jr., Ellis, and Dixon are likely the top four, I wouldn’t count Wilson out just yet.

Speaking of players who could jump the rotation, it appears that this Kalen King thing is real. The early enrollee from Detroit, King has been the talk of spring practice, with James Franklin saying he’s the most advanced freshman that he’s had at Penn State.

While Penn State’s cornerback room is probably the deepest on the roster, it’s becoming more-and-more clear that the Nittany Lions might not be able to keep King off the field in 2021.