The story of Ji’Ayir Brown is one of the reasons we love college football. While his career started with no interest and just another face in the crowd on his JUCO roster, it ended on a podium in Pasedena as the Defesnive MVP of the Rose Bowl.
Brown was quickly able to work his way into a starting role during his first season at Lackawana Community College in 2018, before being named as NEFC Defensive Player of the Year in 2019. He moved on to State College in time for the 2020 season, rated as the ninth-overall JUCO player in the class. He worked his way onto the field as a reserve in 2020, and leveraged that experience to win a tight position battle to become the starting safety opposite of Jaquan Brisker in 2021.
It didn’t take long for Brown to show why he earned that starting spot, picking off a pass as time expired to clinch a hard-fought victory at Wisconsin. He continued playing at a high level thoughtout the season, tying for the national lead with six interceptions, while leading the team with two fumble recoveries and coming in third with 73 tackles on the season. He showed a penchant for key plays throughout the year, most notably with a 87-yard touchdown on an interception return to seal a victory at Maryland.
Brown continued to grow as a player, turning in exceptional performances from start-to-finish during the 2023 season as a team captain. He finished the season with a team-high 74 tackles, four interceptions, and two forced fumbles while also contributing 7.0 TFLs, 4.5 sacks, five quarterback hurries, three pass breakups and a fumble recovery. His versatility allowed him to thrive in new defensive coordinator Manny Diaz’s system, lining up and making plays all across the field. He was named Team MVP at the end of the regular season in recognition of one of the best season’s by a safety in the school’s history.
WHAT YOU’RE GETTING
A playmaker and all-around exceptional safety and locker room presence. Brown did not blow the doors off at the Combine, so you’re likely getting a tremendous value as well. He is currently projected as a round 3-5 prospect, despite his production and ideal size. He certainly has the tools to become a starter in year one or two, and eventually making trips to the Pro Bowl.
Following the 2022 season, I voted Brown as the top player in our annual Top 10 players poll for a simple reason - each week, Brown played at an extremely high level. He was wildly productive week in and out, never taking a play off and making game-changing plays on a regular basis.
Brown’s journey to this point also speaks volumes about his abilities as a person and player. Starting off as someone with no offers to eventually becoming one of the top safeties in the nation and MVP of a 11-2 Penn State squad shows his willingness to put in the work on a daily basis. His transition demonstrates his hunger to improve, which will surely continue on the next level. He’s an extremely coachable player who will put every ounce of effort into each practice, with his intense drive setting the tone in the locker room.
Brown seems destined to begin turning heads once training camp begins, and eventually be bumped up as a first round selection in those “Re-Drafting the 2023 NFL Draft” we’ll be seing down the road.