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2022 Spring Position Previews: Safeties

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Can Safety continue to be a strength of the defense in 2022?

NCAA Football: Penn State at Wisconsin
Penn State Nittany Lions safety Ji’Ayir Brown (16) is surrounded by teammates following the game against the Wisconsin Badgers at Camp Randall Stadium.
Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

BSD’s position previews continue on with a position that should continue to be a strength going into 2022. The secondary was a point of pride last season, and the Nittany Lions return a lot of experience to go along with the talent they bring in in 2022. Let’s dig in!

Projected Starters

Ji’Air Brown

Brown started all 13 games at safety for Penn State last season, amassing 73 tackles (61 solo), six interceptions (for a total 112 yards returned off the interceptions), five pass breakups, two fumble recoveries, a forced fumble, and a tackle for loss. The six interceptions were tied for first in the nation. Brown was also named third team All-Big Ten by season’s end, while grabbing a Defensive Player of the Week award after the Maryland game.

Brown is clearly one of the most important pieces the Lions get back in the secondary, and he will help anchor a group of safeties that, while young, do no lack in talent.

Keaton Ellis

The obvious choice to start alongside Brown, Ellis comes into his fourth season with the program with something to prove. After a breakout freshman season where he played in every game and starting in one, Ellis had up-and-down sophomore and junior seasons, derailed by injury for the most part.

Ellis switched to safety in the 2021 season, and appeared in 11 games. He had 18 tackles (14 solo) and a pass breakup. He now comes into the 2022 season with experience in the position, and a clear path to a starting role vacated by the NFL-bound Jaquan Brisker.

If Ellis can stay healthy, he and Brown should provide stability at the position while the rest of the cast comes along.

Likely Backups

Jaylen Reed

Reed played in eight games last season as a true freshman. He recorded six tackles (four solo) and a quarterback hurry.

Reed could see a lot of time in the 2022 season even if he doesn’t start. The experience he gained his freshman season coupled with the reported strides he’s made in the spring makes an expanded role for 2022 all but inevitable.

Zakee Wheatley

Wheatley redshirted his freshman season, so there isn’t much tape on him. That said, he was already reported a spring breakout, so expect big things from Wheatley in 2022. A four-star prospect out of high school, Wheatley has the tools necessary to contribute, and if reports out of the spring are any indication, the developmental year was beneficial to him.