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2022 Spring Position Preview: Defensive End

Who will be filling pass rush duties for the Nittany Lions this fall?

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 20 Rutgers at Penn State Photo by Randy Litzinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The defensive end battle will be a fairly open race this fall. Combine that with a likely large rotation, and we should be seeing many faces outside of the two who are named starters on the depth chart. Let’s take a look at each defensive end in numerical order.

Davon Townley, Jr. (#18, R-Fr.)

Townley will look to make a splash coming off a redshirt season. He entered Penn State as a four-star prospect and the 11th-best DE in the class of 2021, and a long list of offers from the likes of Michigan State, Oregon and Tennessee. At 6-6, 250 lb., Townley originally planned to play basketball in college, but it became evident that he had more potential in football. This will be just his fourth season playing football at any level, so while he may be raw he has immense potential to develop into a special talent.

Adisa Isaac (#20, R-Jr.)

Isaac was ready to be THE GUY in 2021, but suffered a season-ending injury before week one. His breakout season may just come in ‘22, provided Isaac recovers to full health. He has a lightening-quick first step that can end a play before it even gets off the ground. A big season from Isaac would help quash the concerns about the defensive front, and help him rocket up draft boards as he has all the physical tools the NFL wants to see in a pass rusher.

Zuriah Fisher (#36, So.)

Fisher has used his first two years at Penn State wisely, with his development receiving buzz as he looked toward a potential breakout year. Unfortunately, that looks like it will have to wait until 2023 with reports that Fisher is expected to miss the ‘22 campaign with an injury. Get well soon, Zuriah.

Nick Tarburton (#46, R-Sr.)

Tarburton is the veteran of the group as he enters his fifth year with the program. He became a starter in 2021, and had a solid season with 30 tackles, four TFLs, a sack and fumble recovery. He will be in line for a starting spot again this fall, and his productivity will need to increase, especially in terms of getting to the quarterback.

Amin Vanover (#56, So.)

Vanover saw limited time during his redshirt freshman season in 2021, appearing in six games. He did show progress in the Outback Bowl, with three tackles and a TFL. Vanover came to Penn State with high expectations as the 12th DE in his class, picking the Nittany Lions over offers from Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State and Georgia.

Rodney McGraw (#90, R-Fr.)

McGraw is a bit of an unknown commodity heading into the season, without seeing any time as a true freshman. He was a three-star prospect from Indiana who decommitted from the Hoosiers to head to Happy Valley. Saturday’s Blue-White Game will give a peek at his development, as a big offseason could see him become a regular part of the rotation.

Smith Vilbert (#92, R-Jr.)

You know why I’m high on Vilbert? While he has been mostly a rotational player, you notice him whenever he’s on the field. He’s always around the ball and disrupting the offense. Smith had his first career start in the Outback Bowl and made a major statement by producing three sacks. This could be a springboard to a big season in ‘22 as he plays a much larger role on the defensive line.

Spencer Perry (#93, R-Fr.)

Perry is a walk-on looking for his first game action this fall. He took a redshirt season in 2021, and may need to continue packing on the pounds to his listed 6-4, 219 lb. frame. Perry will likely cut his teeth on special teams duty this season and work towards finding a spot in the DE rotation.

Jake Wilson (#94, R-So.)

Wilson eschewed scholarship offers from Yale, Brown and Army to walk-on at Penn State. He redshirted in 2020, and appeared in one game last fall. Wilson, who was named an Academic All-Big Ten selection, will be fighting for playing time this fall.

Demeioun “Chop” Robinson (So.)

Oh, hello! Robinson enters Penn State via the transfer portal after spending a season with Maryland. He could be ready to make a big splash this fall as a five-star prospect with unlimited potential. He contributed two sacks and 19 tackles as a true freshman at Maryland a season ago.