In 2021, Penn State field its best defensive backfield in a long time.
The team logged 14 interceptions, with a total of seven different players recording at least one INT. Of those seven players, five are returning in 2022. So MMQB asks, who will lead Penn State in interceptions this year?
Ji’Ayir Brown, Safety
Brown led not only the team, but also the country in interceptions in 2021. Ji’Ayir tied for first nationwide with six interceptions to his name. Some of this may have been the fact that teams generally tried not to test Jaquan Brisker in the middle of the field, but in any case, Brown quickly made a name for himself as a ball hawk. In addition to his interceptions, Brown all defended five passes, forced one fumble and recovered two.
Daequan Hardy, Cornerback
Hardy tied for second on the team with two interceptions, which is interesting since he chiefly saw time as the nickelback. In his fairly limited playing time, Daequan also added in six passes defended. It’s likely Hardy remains at nickelback, though a strong summer could push him closer to the full time starting gig opposite Joey Porter, Jr.
Joey Porter, Jr., Cornerback
JPJ will be one of the two starting cornerbacks for the Lions in 2022, where he’ll look to build on the lone interception he recorded in 2021. Known for being extremely physical, teams often threw at him while they avoided Tariq Castro-Fields on the other side of the field. With TCF off to the NFL, Porter may become the cornerback that teams avoid, as he manhandles their receivers.
Other returning players with interceptions to their name include linebacker Curtis Jacobs, and linebacker/safety Jonathan Sutherland. In the defensive backfield, expect cornerbacks Kalen King, Johnny Dixon, and Marquis Wilson to try to prove themselves, along with safeties Keaton Ellis, Jaylen Reed, and Zakee Wheatley. There’s also a slew of new faces at linebacker, including Tyler Elsdon, Kobe King, and Charlie Katshir who could find themselves clogging passing lanes over the middle of the field, and make the most of their opportunities.