CB Kalen King
I’ve got an unnecessarily large fan-crush on King, as I think he could be one of the top CBs in all of college football next year. Teams understandably shied away from throwing at Joey Porter, Jr. last year, but that left them either throwing at King, or trying their hand against the LB corps. Guess where they found the most success? With another year of experience under his belt, Kalen will lead what has become a very stout secondary, and I expect the few times that teams DO test him to result in more than a couple interceptions.
LB Abdul Carter
There’s an argument to be made that Carter could develop into the best defensive player in the country, regardless of team or position. With this, he is going to be pegged as my defensive MVP this season.
Carter can do it all. He is extremely explosive and disruptive in rushing the passer, can play in coverage, and plays the run extremely well. He has the elite athleticism to cover a lot of ground in a hurry, which also allows him to take chances and be more aggressive due to having the ability to make up for it if he ends up out of position. Carter’s 2023 season may prove to be what many Penn State fans were hoping for from Micah Parsons in 2020.
LB Abdul Carter
I won’t draw any comparisons to other No. 11 players, especially those in recent memory. That said, with how good the defense is expected to be in 2023, you can pick almost anyone on the defense and possibly be right at season’s end. I went with Carter because, like Micah Parsons before him —I lied, he made his presence felt immediately after stepping on the field. And, like Parsons before him, Carter is expected to start every game next season and hopefully be even better than Parsons was in 2019.
LB Abdul Carter
There are several players that deserve strong consideration, but I will go with the one with the highest potential - true sophomore linebacker Abdul Carter. Carter was ejected from the week one game against Purdue on his very first snap at linebacker for targeting (on a horrendous call, I might add). Despite missing a week of development, he still managed to make plays whenever he stepped on the field - the type of plays you have to rewind a couple times to figure out how Carter was able to magically appear at the exact right moment. It wasn’t magic though - it was Carter’s immense athleticism and insticts that kept putting him in position to make game-breaking plays.
I have yet to see a linebacker in his first year of eligibility play at the level of Carter, and that involves All-Americans, Bednarik Award winners, and first round selections who came before him. Let’s consider the most recent LBU great, Micah Parsons, who had two standout years at Penn State before becomming one of the top defensive players in the NFL. Parsons excelled as a true freshman, leading the team in tackles despite technically not being a starter. However, it took some time for the game to slow down to the point where he was a true difference-maker, making the type of plays that can shift momentum in a split second. Carter was already at that point by the midpoint of his true freshman season, and the game will only slow down for him as he grows bigger, stronger and faster in year two as a Nittany Lion. Carter not only has the potential to be a first-team All-American in ‘23, he could very well be one of the most buzzed about defensive players in the nation this fall.
DE Chop Robinson
I spent a lot of time crafting a response about Abdul Carter, but wound up shifting over to Robinson for a couple of reasons. First and foremost, Jared had already taken him and I know you loyal BSD readers/commenters what some variety in our answers. But secondly, I spent a portion of that writing focusing on how the team’s defensive end play would free up Carter to be a game wrecker. As I wrote back in March during our “Top 10 Players of 2022” series, Robinson got better as the year progressed. He shook off a midseason injury to be a dominant force on the defensive line. Even if his season stats didn’t fully reflect his impact, Robinson’s play was at the heart of Penn State’s five-game winning streak to close out last season and he seems poised for an even bigger year in 2023.
Penn State has had some vaunted defenses in the past 20+ years, but this feels like the most star-studded group that will generate the most buzz since back in 1999. That year, it was a linebacker wearing #11 who was on the cover of Sports Illustrated. However, it was a defensive end who was the true star of that defense. I’m absolutely not saying that Chop will wind up being a top overall pick like Courtney Brown was back in the 2000 draft. But, I do think that Penn State’s most impressive group on the defense is its collection of defensive ends. Robinson’s growth as a player continues in his second year in Happy Valley and, come November, he’s leading the defense and gaining a lot of attention from NFL scouts.