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Who’s No. 1?: Ranking PSU’s 5 best players in 2020

Who was Penn State’s best player this season? If your mind immediately turns to wide receiver Jahan Dotson, it wouldn’t be a surprise, given that we typically think of offensive players first for these kinds of accolades.

Yes, a strong case can be made for Dotson, but he is not the choice here.

Penn State’s best player this season played on the other side of the ball. At defensive end. And he is not the projected first-round draft pick who plays D-end for the Nittany Lions.

The answer is … Shaka Toney.

These are my rankings of PSU’s top five players for 2020, based on several factors ranging from stats to awards to the good ol’ eye test.

1: DE Shaka Toney

He was named first-team all-Big Ten on Tuesday by The Associated Press, after also getting picked for the first team by the league’s coaches and media last week.

Toney is the only Lion picked for the first team by all three groups.

Toney led Penn State with 7.5 sacks and 5.0 tackles for loss. He also had 31 tackles (21 solo), one forced fumble, one QB hurry and one pass breakup.

He was a greater disruptive force than his more highly touted fellow defensive end, Jayson Oweh, who also had a strong season but just didn’t put up the numbers Toney did.

 

Toney is projected to be a third-round pick in the NFL draft, but he’ll have a chance to go even higher than that. He turned himself into a fast riser on draft boards this season, according to this story from NFLmocks.com, and he’ll get to showcase his skills at the Senior Bowl.

Here’s some good details about Toney’s pros and cons for the NFL from TheDraftNetwork.com.

PROS (+): Impressive natural athlete. He’s got a lean, cut frame and offers plenty of room to stack weight onto his build — the ceiling is there for a bigger presence at the point of attack. As is, Toney is a twitched up edge defender who thrives most in space; he offers good first step quickness and will threaten tackles with wide angles to dip the inside shoulder. He’s complimented his speed off the edge with an effective chop maneuver to drop hands and in addition he’s been tasked with stunt game action to take advantage of his athletic ability playing forward. He’s been credited with a sub 4.50s 40-yard dash and a near 40.0″ vertical by the Penn State S/C program in the early 2020 offseason program — even if he loses some of that burst with added weight; he’ll be a mismatch with wide angles. He’s an ascending talent who should enjoy his best season this year with the Nittany Lions.

CONS (—): Needs to find a bigger presence defeating blocks and collapsing the line of scrimmage in the run game. As is, he’s really impressive as a rusher but his appeal in the run game is tempered by too many reps of him being eliminated by blocks. He’s been hesitant at times to play with power against TEs. Adding more versatility to his hand counters will help him keep offensive tackles off balance in the pass game as well — he’s effective as is but there are unlocked levels of improvement lying in wait if he can add more secondary counters to his tool box as a senior.

2: WR Jahan Dotson

He was only third-team all-Big Ten, which seems like a slight given how terrific he was at times this year. Of all the impressive things Dotson did this season, the fact that he had a great game against Ohio State star CB Shaun Wade was the best. Dotson caught eight passes for 144 yards and three TDs while being covered most of the game by Wade, the Big Ten DB of the year and a likely first-team All-American.

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Dotson finished with 52 catches for 884 yards and eight TDs, including 75- and 70-yard scores in the season finale against Illinois.

It will be interesting to see if Dotson decides to return to Penn State next season. He could opt to declare early for the draft, although right now he’s seen only as a late-round pick.

3: TE Pat Freiermuth

It’s a shame we only got to see the star tight end for only four games this season because of a shoulder injury. There’s no doubt he always made an impact on the field, finishing with 23 catches for 310 yards and one TD in his four games.

Freiermuth was named the Big Ten’s top tight end and first-team all-conference.

4: DE Jayson Oweh

He was first-team all-Big Ten by the league’s coaches, and second team by the league media and the AP. Oweh had a good season, but he didn’t compile a lot of impressive stats, which defensive ends usually need to garner major awards.

Oweh had no sacks but did have 6.5 tackles for loss. He finished with 38 tackles (20 solo), one QB hurry and one pass breakup. The fact that he was an all-conference player at all with those stats is really amazing, but Oweh did perform well in metrics from Pro Football Focus.

Oweh is projected to be a first-round draft pick, and at one point this season was as high as the No. 10 overall pick in one mock draft.

5: S Jaquan Brisker

There are several other players who had good seasons and could be in this spot — namely S Lamont Wade or WR Parker Washington — but none of those guys is going to have a first-team All-American honor to his credit this year.

Brisker has that.

It’s probably a huge surprise to most PSU fans, but Brisker was named first-team All-American on Monday by Pro Football Focus, based on its extensive breakdown of every player at the position in the country. Brisker was only a third-team all-Big Ten selection.

Brisker was third on the Lions with 57 tackles (33 solo) and had one INT, six pass breakups, three tackles for loss and one QB hurry.

Brisker isn’t the first guy people think of as a standout on the defense, but he had a much better season than most people realize.

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Cory Giger is a 15-year veteran of the Penn State beat and a journalist with 28 years of experience. He has won more than 100 state and national journalism awards during his career, plus he's a voter for the Heisman Trophy in football and Wooden Award in basketball.

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