Lando: LB Curtis Jacobs
Brandon Smith having a great year is, for me, a foregone conclusion, so I’ll go with one of his projected fellow starters at linebacker. Jacobs hails from Glen Burnie, MD (not a bad place to go to school, imo), and should have a chance to disrupt opposing offenses given the known quantity that is Brandon Smith. His range and toughness will help make the defense one of the most athletic in several seasons.
Chris: Joey Porter, Jr.
Not unlike Washington, Joey had a solid 2020 campaign, logging 33 tackles, two TFLs, one sack, and four passes defended. This year, however, I think Porter takes the final step to locking down a starting spot, pairing up with Tariq Castro-Fields. Those two should create one of the better CB pairs that Penn State has had under James Franklin, and it’s likely that teams won’t want to throw towards TCF. That means that Porter will be tested, and I think he’ll pass with flying colors. With more targets, I expect his defense stats to explode, and if he can add to his 2020 numbers - and add in a few INTs and/or forced fumbles - he could end up heading to the NFL when the season is done.
Marty: LB Brandon Smith
I have long been a big believer in Smith. The last two seasons he has flashed why 247Sports had him as a top 15 player in the country in the 2019 recruiting class and now Smith is primed to put it all together. While Smith did struggle and look a bit lost at times last season, he was still just a true sophomore and was playing out of position as the team’s SAM linebacker. Swinging over to the WILL linebacker spot which Smith’s skillset is much better suited for, he will have the ability to rush the passer, stuff the run game and even play in coverage if need be this fall. Smith will be an absolute terror for opposing offense and be known as one of the best linebackers in the Big Ten by the end of the season.
Clay: DE Arnold Ebiketie
Does this count? Can you break out if you weren’t on the team previously or technically under the radar? Oh well, I’m running with it. Ebiketie was one of the top transfer targets in the portal this past spring after an impressive, yet abbreviated season with Temple. He’s got elite burst and is an impressive hand fighter. He’s also added nearly 20 pounds, from 235 to 253, since making the move. If he can maintain that quickness while adding strength, particularly in the lower half, Ebiketie could be one of the best pass rushers in the Big Ten in 2021.
Eli: LB Brandon Smith
Micah Parsons left a giant void with his early departure, but Brandon Smith has already shown flashes of potential in the two seasons he’s played. He has the acumen, the athleticism, and the drive necessary to live up to the Linebacker U moniker at Penn State. He also had 37 tackles, an interception, two sacks, a fumble recovery... you get the point.
Patrick: DT Hakeem Beamon
Being that I was such a fan of Kevin Givens, it only makes sense that Beamon is my choice here. An undersized defensive tackle at 6-foot-3, 273 pounds, Beamon is primed to play that “jumbo” defensive line role, where he’ll be used as a 3-Tech and a defensive end depending upon the team and the situation. The idea behind it is simple: get the best football players on the field, which in my opinion, Beamon certainly is.
Jared: DE Adisa Isaac
Issac is one of those players whose name seems to come up quite often when he’s on the field, despite limited snaps. This season should see Isaac move into the starting role in his third year with the program. We already know he has tremendous athleticism to go along with his 6-4, 251 lb. frame. With increased time and another year of development, Isaac could certainly fill the shoes, and even exceed, the two 2020 first-team All-Big Ten defensive ends who are now playing on Sundays - Shaka Toney and Jayson Oweh.