2019 Superlatives: Defense [Part Two]

By Matthew Filipovits on August 8, 2019 at 9:30 am
Sep 29, 2018; University Park, PA, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions cornerback John Reid (29) during the second quarter against the Ohio State Buckeyes at Beaver Stadium. Ohio State defeated Penn State 27-26. Mandatory Credit: Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports
© Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

Folks, we're just about three weeks away from our beloved Nittany Lions returning to the football field. Until then, we're back with Part Two of our defensive superlative roundtable. Be sure to check out Part One to get all caught up.

Most likely to become a fan favorite

Jayson Oweh
Fans love underclassmen who excel and Oweh is that player. — John Morgan

It feels like every year there are one or two freshmen that everyone in the stadium seems to know before they even get onto the field for the first time, even among those who don't follow recruiting in the slightest. Last year, one of those guys was Oweh. There was a palpable buzz when he made his first appearances in 2018. Now, despite being part of a loaded position group, he's due for an uptick in snaps and has the elite speed to be a terror off of the edge. Though likely just in line for a situational pass-rushing role in 2019, I see Oweh once again being a buzz-inducing presence for the home crowd as they see him prepare to pins his ears back and go quarterback hunting. — Nick Polak

Micah Parsons
The all-everything sophomore probably is already, but I can't tell you how excited I am to see what he can do in year two. Brent Pry has not been shy about wanting to get him more involved and utilizing his unique talent, so expect to see #11 all over the field this fall. — Matt de Bear

He is a human missile with a gigantic personality who is going to do multiple ludicrous things a game. I cannot wait. — Bill DiFilippo

Tariq Castro-Fields
Finally a full-time starter, TCF is set to become a lock-down corner with swag fans will love. — Craig Fritz

Most Sacks

Yetur Gross-Matos
I think several guys will be right there with the depth that Sean Spencer can rotate on the line, but it's hard to go against the kid that may be an early first-round pick in the spring. Gross-Matos has all of the skill to become a household name across the country. — Matt de Bear

Any other answer is wrong. — Bill DiFilippo

It's an obvious choice for a reason. — John Morgan

It's the easy answer, but it's the safe answer. It's very possible that Shaka Toney or Shane Simmons puts up a fight in this regard thanks to the attention that Gross-Matos is likely going to receive from offensive lines, but he showed in 2018 that he's capable of making plays despite having that extra attention paid to him. I think YGM eclipses 12.0 sacks in 2019. — Nick Polak

Yetur Gross-Matos, no question. — Craig Fritz

Most interceptions

John Reid
Reid will come back to his form and lead the Nittany Lions secondary. — John Morgan

I think he'll lead the team in picks. — Craig Fritz

Garrett Taylor
He quietly had a solid first year as a starter in 2018, but it's the plays not made that seem to linger. However, he was around the ball a ton, and now more comfortable at safety, I expect some of those near misses to go the other way this year. — Matt de Bear

Did you know he tied for the team lead in this last year? He did! Expect him to play center field and be awfully good at it this year. — Bill DiFilippo

Lamont Wade
Going out of the box here. I see Wade grabbing this starting job and never letting go, giving Penn State a true playmaker on the back end. With how well Garrett Taylor plays against the run, it should free up Wade to become a bit more of a rover over the top than we've seen from Penn State's safeties in recent years. Given his supreme athleticism, experience at both corner and safety, and a chip on his shoulder, I see Wade coming down with four interceptions in 2019 and leading the way for the defense. — Nick Polak

Position Group Seen As the Biggest Strength

Defensive End
Gross-Matos, Toney, Simmons, Oweh, Joseph, Isaac. That's a lot of high-end talent at one spot. I expect Sean Spencer to tinker a bit in the early going, but the multiple combinations available has to be scary for opposing coaches. — Matt de Bear

With Yetur Gross-Matos, Shane Simmons, Shaka Toney, Jayson Oweh, Daniel Joseph, and perhaps Nick Tarburton or Adisa Issac, the Nittany Lions have amassed a ridiculous amount of talent off the edge. The only real question is how Sean Spencer will divide up the reps for his boys. Expect to see Oweh take a huge step forward in 2019 and for Simmons to remind fans why he was such a sought-after recruit. Oh, and I guess that Gross-Matos kid is alright, too. — Nick Polak

The talent there is ludicrous. Even at its worst, it has the potential to be really good. — Bill DiFilippo

Defensive Line
This group is one of the best Penn State has had in a while.— John Morgan

Garrett Taylor returns looking to build on an All-Big Ten honorable mention season, and he has the stuff to be one of the best safeties in the conference this year. Joining him will be one of three players, all with awesome pedigree and skills. Lamont Wade is primed to breakout. Jonathan Sutherland got lots of experience as a backup, and Jaquan Brisker was the top JUCO safety in the nation. The two-deep at safety has some of the best experience and skillset on the entire defense. — Craig Fritz

Most questionable position group

Defensive Tackle
Robert Windsor is good, and there's talent behind him, but there are still questions about whether that talent can translate into something more. — Bill DiFilippo

For as much confidence as I have about the outer edges of the defensive line, I can't say I feel the same way about the interior. Robert Windsor has shown flashes of being a dominant force in the middle, but can he take that last step to reach that potential? Can Antonio Shelton step up? Can PJ Mustipher force his way into a starting role? This group has a very high ceiling, but there are still too many unknowns here for me to feel confident. — Nick Polak

I was torn between this and defensive tackle, but it feels like there are a lot more options on the line, and Spencer always seems to get guys ready. Tim Banks has done an exceptional job but doesn't have the same depth talent. Lamont Wade, Jaquan Brisker, and Jonathan Sutherland are all good players, but there are a lot of questions to be answered next to Taylor. — Matt de Bear

The defense is solid, but if there is one group that doesn't have a dominant player, this is it. — John Morgan

Defensive End
YGM is elite. Shaka Toney has flashed, so has Shane Simmons, so has Daniel Joseph. None of them have ever been asked to push the workload they'll be getting in 2019. — Craig Fritz

Ceiling and floor of the defense

The ceiling is they carry this team further than the oddsmakers have predicted. — John Morgan

I'm not sure there is a ceiling to this group. If a couple of guys or more emerge at DT, and someone steps up at safety, there isn't much of a weakness in this group. They can get after the QB, they can stuff the run, and they have a number of guys that can make plays in the secondary. — Matt de Bear

There is no ceiling for this defense. If they find an answer at the safety spot opposite Taylor, Windsor solidifies the interior of the defensive line, and all of last year's key contributors progress as expected, this could very well be one of, if not the, best defense in the country. — Nick Polak

The ceiling is being a top-5 unit nationally. — Bill DiFilippo

The ceiling is literally a top-5 defense in the country that leads the conference in sacks, TFL and turnovers forced. The talent is that good, and if the depth develops and provides less of a drop to the two than we've seen, this unit could be downright scary. — Craig Fritz

The floor is a young group of players that don't find their way and allow a late score in a game the Nittany Lions should win. — John Morgan

If those questions at tackle and safety remain unanswered, the Lions could be vulnerable up the middle against certain teams on the schedule. — Matt de Bear

Surpassing the defensive prowess of Alabama, Clemson, Georgia, and company is a tall task, but there hasn't been pure talent on a Nittany Lion defense quite like this in some time. It's for that reason that this is about as high a floor as you can have. Even if some of the starters falter, there is so much talent on the depth chart, that a floor of a top-25 defense in the country is about as bad as things can get. Not too shabby. — Nick Polak

Top-20 unit. It's gonna be really good. — Bill DiFilippo

The floor is a bit of a regression, I guess. I don't see this team taking a step back unless there are multiple key injuries. — Craig Fritz

If you missed them, check out Part One and Part Two of our offensive superlatives!

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