2019 Superlatives: Defense [Part One]

By Matthew Filipovits on August 7, 2019 at 8:00 am
Oct 27, 2018; University Park, PA, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions safety Garrett Taylor (17) reacts during the fourth quarter against the Iowa Hawkeyes at Beaver Stadium. Penn State defeated Iowa 30-24. Mandatory Credit: Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports
© Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports
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Last week, our staff gathered around our metaphorical dinner table and handed out Parts One and Two of our preseason offensive superlatives. Now we're back to do the same thing for the defense.

MOST IMPROVED PLAYER

Cam Brown
In a perfect world, this would be Brown's redshirt junior year, but sanctions impacted depth put him on the field well before he was really ready. But the senior has gotten a lot of attention this summer, and I'm expecting big things in his final year. — Matt de Bear

I'm going with Cam Brown. While he has a ton of experience, his effectiveness hasn't always been elite. I think he makes a serious run at All-Big Ten recognition. — Craig Fritz

Lamont Wade
Wade entered the transfer portal after coming to Penn State as a highly recruited player out of Western PA. He has yet to make an impact on defense, but as Brent Pry said, he's playing his best football and Wade is inching closer to a now or never point of his career. — John Morgan

We saw with Garrett Taylor that making the jump from corner to safety can be tough. Wade does not lack talent, and I expect his second year as a safety to be a fruitful one. —  Bill DiFilippo

Micah Parsons
This isn't to say that Parsons struggled in 2018, though he did experience freshman moments here and there. Rather, with a full season and another offseason under his belt, I don't think it's out of the question to see the former five-star take a big step towards becoming one of the best linebackers in college football. — Nick Polak

MOST IMPORTANT PLAYER

Yetur Gross-Matos
He's really good! Having potentially the best player in his conference at his position makes this one pretty easy, in my opinion. — Bill DiFilippo

Unoriginal, sure. But the dude had over 20 TFL in 2018. He is developing into one of the best players in all of college football. He is absolutely vital to the success of Penn State in 2019. — Craig Fritz

Micah Parsons
The highly touted linebacker came on late in the season in 2018 and his hell-raising ability in the middle of the defense will go a long way in 2019. Gross-Matos may be the best of the bunch, but Parsons' jump to another level gets my nod. — John Morgan

Robert Windsor
There are plenty of guys to pick from on this, but an effective Windsor would open up a lot of different things for this defense. If he can eliminate the penalties, and play like he did the second half of last year, that can take this defense from very good to elite. — Matt de Bear

Garrett Taylor
Taylor was a stud in 2018 and acted as the backbone of the entire defense. He also had the benefit of playing next to Nick Scott, who had his shortcomings, to be sure, but still understood the position well after spending five years in the program. This year, Taylor will have a very inexperienced running mate in the back end, regardless of who wins the other starting safety job. The rest of the defense is supremely talented, but it needs Taylor to, at a minimum, continue where he left off in 2018 in order to give his new partner a bit of breathing room as they acclimate to the starting role, and provide the defense with stability in the back. — Nick Polak

Player most likely to surprise 

Lamont Wade
I'm not sure anyone has been harder on himself than Wade, but man, many fans seem to have an ax to grind with the kid. That said, I think he pairs really well with Garrett Taylor for an excellent safety duo. — Craig Fritz

The time has finally come for Mr. Wade to make his impact in Happy Valley. The former five-star stud started as a cornerback before moving to safety and has therefore not had much time on the field to this point. But now, with a full year of adjusting to his new position under his belt, as well as the experienced and steady Garrett Taylor beside him, all the pieces are in place for Wade to terrorize opposing quarterbacks as a centerfield-type ballhawk who will force coordinators to think twice before heaving the ball downfield. — Nick Polak

Shane Simmons
It's easy to forget Simmons is just a redshirt junior given how long he's been connected to the program after committing the summer before his junior year of high school. Finally healthy, he is another guy that can take this defense to another level. I expect him to have a monster year. — Matt de Bear

Shaka Toney
Toney flashed some of his ability at Indiana last season, but he's a player I feel that can push to make an all-conference team while getting more snaps. — John Morgan

Jesse Luketa/Ellis Brooks
One of them, I believe, will take over for Jan Johnson at middle linebacker. Not because of anything Johnson can or cannot do, I just believe in the talent. — Bill DiFilippo

Freshman with the biggest impact

Lance Dixon
The Michigan native's upside is tremendous, and while he has some physical maturing to do on top of learning the nuances of linebacker, his potential is scary. Both he and Brandon Smith will play a lot this year, but Dixon's raw athleticism makes him a perfect candidate to come up with a few big moments. — Matt de Bear

It's hard to say for sure until they get on the field, but the chatter seems to be that Dixon is the freshman linebacker that is currently closest to seeing the field. Assuming he primarily backs up Cam Brown at the SAM, I think we'll see Dixon get on the field for at least a handful of snaps every game, right from the get-go. With the versatility that Micah Parsons, Brown, Luketa, and basically everyone else in the linebacker group has, there should be plenty of moving pieces allowing Dixon to find time. And when he does find that time, he's far too talented to not make the most of it. — Nick Polak

Jayson Oweh
Cheating taking a redshirt, but I don't care because Oweh could be a special player. He was listed on Bruce Feldman's College Football Freaks list and he's likely to make an impact early on. — John Morgan

One of the biggest athletic freaks on the team will get to show his wares in special moments all season. — Craig Fritz

Lance Dixon/Brandon Smith
Both are freaks. — Bill DiFilippo

Most Missed player from 2018

Kevin Givens
There is plenty of depth at defensive tackle, but none of it as proven as Givens. Quite simply, Penn State was a different team with him on the field a year ago, and pairing him with Windsor in the middle of the line for another season would've been a huge question answered. — Matt de Bear

Givens was underrated in his time at Penn State and losing an experienced player like him on defense could take some time to adjust to. — John Morgan

The defensive tackles should be able to find success in 2019 thanks to the ever-improving Robert Windsor and the combination of Antonio Shelton and PJ Mustipher, but it would be far more comforting to still have Kevin Givens along the defensive line. His ability to rush the passer from the interior was not taken for granted, and the team will surely miss his presence in the backfield until one of the other tackles shows they can penetrate the pocket as consistently as he did. — Nick Polak

Penn State could use some help at defensive tackle, and Givens was an awfully good one, especially next to a space-eater like Robert Windsor. — Bill DiFilippo

Shareef Miller
The dude just made plays. Never overly flashy, but extremely consistent. His talent and leadership will be tough to replace. — Craig Fritz


Make sure to come back on Thursday for part two of the defensive superlatives.

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