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What Penn State’s Secondary Might Look Like With Ji’Ayir Brown Back

MADISON, WI - SEPTEMBER 04: Penn State safety Ji'Ayir Brown (16) can't quite hang on to the ball for an interception in front of Wisconsin wide receiver Kendric Pryor (3) during a college football game between the University of Wisconsin Badgers and the Penn State University Nittany Lions on September 4, 2021 at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison, WI. (Photo by Lawrence Iles/Icon Sportswire)

Ji’Ayir Brown’s plan to return to Penn State is good news for Nittany Lions fans everywhere.

With all-American Jaquan Brisker departing, Penn State’s secondary would have been facing a reboot if the other half of its safety tandem had left, too.

So Brown coming back would bring some form of stability, if nothing else. But the Nittany Lions still need to atone for Brisker, so for Brown to have a capable compliment in what would be his last college football season, somebody new might have to step up.

The Nittany Lions do have Jonathan Sutherland, a redshirt senior who has been getting playing time in Penn State’s secondary since 2018. Sutherland’s experience would be a plus should he decide to come back, but the thought of any college football player sticking around for a sixth-year is a skeptical one at best.

If Sutherland is done after 2021, some less experienced players will have a chance for more exposure. Keaton Ellis is one name that comes to mind.

The State College native started five of the six games he appeared in as a sophomore in 2020. Although he’s seen his role decrease, due in large part to Brown and Brisker’s success, Ellis has already gotten his feet wet as a starter, so the early thought is that he would be the favorite to jump back into a starting role in 2022, based on what Penn State’s depth chart looks like now.

Two incoming freshmen create a lot of intrigue for Penn State. Right now, Mehki Flowers and Cristian Driver are both listed as defensive players, but the common thought is that both of them are capable of playing on either side of the ball. If they’re to be used in the secondary, both freshman will be look at as, at worst, potential depth for a position group that is currently lacking it even with Brown’s return.

Time will tell what changes Penn State’s secondary will undergo between now and the 2022 opener at Purdue. How aggressive the Nittany Lions will be in the transfer portal remains to be seen. In any case, Brown coming back is a big boost for Penn State, and if all goes well, could lead him to a big NFL payday.

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