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Penn State Football

According to Analytics: Penn State’s Best Defensive Players so far

Photo courtesy of Penn State Athletics: Manny Diaz

Penn State’s defense has lived up to its standard through five games of the Manny Diaz era.

So far, Penn State is giving up just 14.8 points per game and has only allowed more than 20 once.

Individuals have stood out as well, and here are who Pro Football Focus believes are Penn State’s best defensive players, as well as numbers from others who have reached PFF’s minimum number of snaps thus far.


Kalen King
Snap Count: 210
Overall Grade: 88

Joey Porter Jr. has received most of the attention in Penn State’s secondary, but according to PFF, King is not only Penn State’s best cornerback; he’s the best cornerback in college football.

King’s 88 overall grade is the highest in the country for his position, and although PFF grades are subjective, King has objectively been excellent for Penn State.

King has been targeted 19 times this season and has only allowed seven receptions for a total of 96 yards.

Three of those receptions came in Penn State’s season opener at Purdue, a school known for throwing and completing a bunch of passes. King has broken up six according to PFF, which is two behind JPJ.

PFF also says King has been superior to Porter in run defense, with his grade in that department being at 72.2 compared to Porter’s 43.1

King has also been fundamentally sound, only missing one tackle thus far this season. The ability to contain the run and not miss tackles will be essential in less than two weeks against Blake Corum and Michigan

Joey Porter Jr.
Snap Count: 246
Overall Grade: 74.6

Johnny Dixon
Snap Count: 166
Overall Grade: 69.2


Ji’Ayir Brown
Snap Count: 234
Overall Grade: 67.3

Brown is the leader of Penn State’s safeties room, and has also played 60 snaps in the box. Brown tied for the nation’s lead in interceptions last year and has two this year, which shows he can play deep safety, and his 5-foot-11, 202-pound frame helps him play up front.

Brown is versatile, and that versatility is part of what makes him one of Penn State’s leaders.

Elsewhere at the position, Jaylen Reed and Zakee Wheatley have both handled their increased roles well, and all four of Diaz’s primary safeties have received roughly the same number of snaps.

Jaylen Reed
Snap Count: 188
Overall Grade: 66.9

Zakee Wheatley
Snap Count: 162
Overall Grade: 65.6

Keaton Ellis
Snap Count: 167
Overall Grade: 57.2


Curtis Jacobs
Snap Count: 239
Overall Grade: 65.3

Penn State’s linebackers were a question mark coming into the season, and are still a question mark through five games.

Jacobs was expected to be Penn State’s best linebacker and has met those expectations thus far. Jacobs’ 239 snaps are by far the most of any Penn State linebacker, and only Porter has more on the defense.

Additionally, Jacobs’ 65.3 overall grade is the highest of the position group.

Abdul Carter
Snap Count: 134
Overall Grade: 62.2

Is Carter one of Penn State’s best defensive players yet? Maybe. Maybe not.

But the true freshman has already made a name for himself and is one of the most talked about players on Diaz’s unit.

Carter is second on Penn State in tackles, despite missing basically the entire Purdue game after his controversial ejection after the first defensive play of his college football career.

Jonathan Sutherland
Snap Count: 170
Overall Grade: 67.8

Tyler Elsdon
Snap Count: 172
Overall Grade: 50.5

Kobe King
Snap Count: 116
Overall Grade: 47.3


Hakeem Beamon
Snap Count: 175
Overall Grade: 71.1

The big storyline with Penn State’s interior defensive line coming into the season was the return of PJ Mustipher.

According to PFF, it’s been Beamon, not Mustipher, that’s been Penn State’s best defensive tackle.

Beamon’s run-defense grade is 71.6, which is even higher than his solid overall grade.

Beamon missed all of 2021, but you wouldn’t know it by watching him play.

PJ Mustipher
Snap Count: 198
Overall Grade: 60.1

Snap Count: 118
Overall Grade: 58.0


Chop Robinson
Snap Count: 193
Overall Grade: 89.9

PFF’s grades should generally be taken with a grain of salt. They are subjective, remember.

So PFF says a player is one of best in college football at his position, it might not necessarily be true, but it still says something for that individual if he’s rated that highly.

Robinson, a transfer from Maryland, is in his first season at Penn State and just his second overall season of college football, and already is rated as the fifth-best defensive end in the country by PFF.

Amin Vanover, who like Robinson, isn’t a regular starter for Penn State, is rated as the 10th-best end, and Adisa Isacc, who is a regular starter, is having a successful comeback after missing all of 2021 with an injury.

As a group, Penn State leads the nation in QB pressures according to PFF. It’s safe to say Penn State’s ends are doing their jobs.

Amin Vanover
Snap Count: 95
Overall Grade: 87.5

Adisa Isaac
Snap count: 211
Overall grade: 69.8

Nick Tarburton
Snap count: 156
Overall grade: 60.5

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