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Analysis: Week 1 PFF Grades for 10 key PSU Defenders

Photo by Penn State Athletics: PJ Mustipher

Penn State had plenty of players that were hurt or otherwise not significant contributors in 2021 get significant playing time in Thursday’s 35-31 season-opening win over Purdue. 

Here is how 10 of them performed according to Pro Football Focus and it’s grades.

DEFENSIVE ENDS

ADISA ISAAC 

Snap Count: 60

Defense Grade: 67.4

According to PFF, Isaac had a respectable performance in his first football game since 2020. 

He particularly impressed in the run game, getting a grade of 74.1 for the 11 Purdue running plays in which he was on the field.

Of course, Purdue is Purdue and doesn’t run the ball often (even when it needs to run out the clock with a late lead), so most of Isaac of any Penn State defender’s snaps were pass plays. 

Of the 49 pass plays Isaac was on the field for, he picked up a more pedestrian pass-rush grade of 64.3, although he did hurry Purdue QB Aidan O’Connell twice.

Isaac also missed two tackles and got a coverage grade of 52.5, the latter of which shouldn’t mean much for an edge rusher. 

Overall, Isaac’s Week 1 performance wasn’t dazzling, but by PFF’s metrics, he showed enough promise for Penn State fans not to worry. 

For context, Isaac’s overall grade for the 2020 season was 69.1, so he’s not too far behind where he left off before injury caused him to miss all of last season.

CHOP ROBINSON

Snap count: 57 

Overall grade: 69.7

In his first Penn State game, the Maryland transfer played well, not just on the last play, where he got to O’Connell for the game-clinching hit.

Robinson’s pass-rushing grade of 72.4 was much higher than Isaac’s, and although his run-defense grade was a “meh” 57.4, Purdue only ran the ball 14 times while Robinson was in the game. 

Robinson hurried O’Connell twice along with the hit to finish with three total pressures. Like Isaac, he missed two tackles, but those things happen more often in Week 1. 

Overall, Robinson made his presence known, and Penn State fans who were already excited about him coming in should be just as excited now, if not more so. 

DEFENSIVE TACKLES

PJ MUSTIPHER and HAKEEM BEAMON

Mustipher

48 snaps

64.6 overall grade

Beamon 

52 snaps

61.5 overall grade

I grouped these two since Beamon missed all of 2021 for personal reasons and Mustipher’s year ended with a season-ending injury at Iowa in Week 6.

It’s hard to judge either played based on PFF. For one thing, neither one had played in a long time. For another, Purdue doesn’t run a lot, so the Boilers didn’t challenge Penn State’s interior linemen as other teams will later in the season. 

For a third thing, a lot of how we judge defensive tackles comes from the attention opposing offensive linemen give them that, in turn, free’s up pass rushers. 

Nonetheless, Mustipher, playing limited snaps due to this being his first game in almost 11 months, posted a respectable 64.6 overall grade, and Beamon posted a slightly lower mark at 61.5.

 LINEBACKERS

TYLER ELSDON AND KOBE KING

 Elsdon 

Snap count: 50

Overall grade: 36.5 

King

Snap count: 20

Overall grade: 38.4

Penn State’s new MIKE linebackers could have been better. 

Indeed, PFF’s grades don’t always tell the whole truth, but something is wrong when a player’s overall grade is below 40 for a game. 

King missed on two of his three tackle opportunities. Although Elsdon pressured O’Connell twice, the QB also completed three of four passes targeted Elsdon’s way for 27 yards, with one catch going for 18.

James Franklin said in his weekly press conference leading into Purdue that although Elsdon would start at MIKE linebacker, King would receive solid playing time.

Elsdon had 50 snaps to King’s 20, so who knows how much playing time King will get. 

One thing for sure, however, is that King and Elsdon both have to be better for the middle of Penn State’s defense to be solidified. 

JONATHAN SUTHERLAND 

Snaps: 44

Grade: 64.2 

Sutherland is finally in Penn State’s planned regular starting lineup, and he delivered in Week 1.

Although his overall grade of 64.2 is modest, Sutherland played a fundamentally sound game, finishing with three tackles and not missing any. 

He struggled in pass coverage, with three of his four targets completed for 26 yards. The longest reception, however, only went for nine yards, half as long as Elsdon’s longest reception allowed.

Sutherland’s struggles in pass defense are a concern, but his football IQ and leadership qualities will benefit Penn State, just as they have the past five seasons. 

THE SECONDARY

CB KALEN KING

Snaps: 60

Overall grade: 63.4

For a first-year starter only in his second year of college football, King held his own against a team that will as much or more than anybody Penn State will face in 2021. 

His overall grade came in at a respectable 63.4, and King had perhaps more success than any Penn State corner at covering Purdue receiver Charlie Jones, who finished the night with 12 catches for 153 yards and a touchdown. 

King had a pass breakup, and although three of his four targets went for completions, nobody scored a touchdown on him. 

Although King’s performance was certainly overshadowed by fellow corner Joey Porter Jr., he showed enough promise to excite Penn State fans with what he can do opposite Porter this season.

S JAYLEN REED

Snaps: 40

Grade: 62.7

Like King, Reed came to Penn State as a four-star recruit from Michigan in the 2021 class. 

Reed struggled in some areas, only getting a 58.3 grade in coverage and allowing a 30-yard reception on his only target, where Jones beat him for a big gain. 

Reed played better in the run game, picking up a tackle and finishing with a 71.2 run-defense grade. 

S ZAKEE WHEATLEY

Snaps: 26

Grade: 48.0

Yes, Wheatley’s overall defensive grade is poor. He allowed receptions on both his targets for 15-yard gains apiece and missed a tackle. 

But his forced fumble late in the first half was as big a play as any in the game, and for that, it’s hard to evaluate his performance as anything other than a success.

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