Roar Lions Roundtable: Defensive Superlatives (Part 2)

By RLR Staff on October 1, 2020 at 8:00 am
Aug 31, 2019; University Park, PA, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions defensive end Jayson Oweh (28) reacts following a sack during the first quarter against the Idaho Vandals at Beaver Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports
© Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

Our annual preseason superlative series comes to a close with Part Two of our defensive predictions. In case you missed it this week, be sure to check out our offensive picks (Part One and Part Two) and the first half of our defensive selections. 

Let's jump right in.

Most likely to become a fan favorite

Brandon Smith

Nittany Lion fans love themselves a great linebacker, and Smith has all of the tools to be the next man up. He runs, and boy does he hit. No. 12 won't make you forget about No. 11 right away, but he has plenty of tools to help ease the pain. - Matt de Bear

Smith is already known well by most fans given that he is a former five-star prospect, and delivered one of the biggest hits of the 2019 season, but 2020 is when he really makes a name for himself. He will likely still have some growing pains this season, but his propensity for destroying ball-carriers in the open field will have fans on the edge of their seats every time they seem him approaching his next target. - Nick Polak

Jayson Oweh

Any guy with that kind of athleticism who's going to get to the quarterback non-stop will certainly become a fan favorite. - Dylan Burd

​Marquis Wilson

I repeat my refrain from Wednesday. The kid loves to talk trash and has the talent to back it up. Fans will love the brash corner. - Craig Fritz

Wilson brings swagger, confidence, and playmaking ability to the Penn State defensive backfield. He'll jaw with receivers every step of the way and make countless big plays in his career. This will be the year Penn State fans finally get to see Wilson in all his glory. - Michael Stanley

Most Sacks

Shaka Toney

Jayson Oweh is getting all the headlines and early draft prognostications despite limited career snaps. The focus on Oweh will allow Toney to have a big year. - Craig Fritz

Jayson Oweh

The third-year freak is getting plenty of NFL Draft buzz, and with a starting role seemingly his, expect him to deliver on that promise. Honorable mention here for Adisa Isaac, who could very well benefit from his opposite end getting plenty of attention. - Matt de Bear

He replaces Yetur Gross-Matos, who led the team with nine sacks last year. I think Oweh could be better than Gross-Matos right off the bat, and get to double digits or close to it. - Dylan Burd

While Oweh still has work to do as a run-stopper, he can pin his ears back and get after the quarterback better than anyone else at Penn State. - Michael Stanley

I was very tempted to go Shaka Toney here because I think he is very underrated, but Oweh has to be the pick. We've already seen him creating havoc in a very limited role over the course of the 2018 and 2019 seasons, but 2020 is his time to shine. He's the most athletic player in the program, and with the benefit of two years in the system under his belt, a double-digit sack output is within his grasp, even in the shortened season. - Nick Polak

Most Interceptions

Marquis Wilson

He’s my pick for slot corner and is too good to keep out of the lineup. His aggressiveness will draw some penalties but also put him in position to grab a bunch of INTs. - Craig Fritz

After a freshman campaign in 2019 in which he played more than most expected heading into the season, Wilson will have plenty of opportunities to build on his first season. - Matt de Bear

Marquis Wilson was impressive in his redshirt freshman season as he tied for the team-lead in interceptions with two. I expect him to get better this season, and lead the team in interceptions once again. - Dylan Burd

Wilson isn't afraid to attack the ball in every way. Even in his very limited time last year, he came up with two interceptions and two forced fumbles. Wilson has a nose for the football and it will show with more reps. - Michael Stanley

Tariq Castro-Fields

Even as he has struggled from time to time throughout his career, whether with injuries or inconsistency, Castro-Fields has never had trouble being a playmaker. Now fully healthy and ready to take on each team's best receiver on a weekly basis, expect Castro-Fields to get plenty of opportunities to change the game, and expect him to step up when he gets a chance. - Nick Polak

Position Group Seen as the Biggest Strength


It's not many teams that can lose a consensus All American and early draft pick and still have a full cupboard. It's a credit to Brent Pry and James Franklin that they have the tools at linebacker to lose a player like Parsons and still have some elite depth. - Matt de Bear

Even with the departure of Parsons, there's more top-end talent at LBU than any other position on the defense. - Craig Fritz

Penn State has three former five-stars in the linebacker room between Lance Dixon, Curtis Jacobs, and Brandon Smith. Jesse Luketa and Ellis Brooks are former four-stars that have proven to be very solid Big Ten linebackers. The group as a whole could prove to be spectacular. - Michael Stanley

Defensive End

It doesn't get better than two NFL defensive ends who can combine for 15+ sacks this season. Shaka Toney and Jayson Oweh are going to wreak havoc for opposing QBs. - Dylan Burd 

Defensive Line

I'm cheating by lumping the defensive ends and defensive tackles together in order to do this, but oh well. Oweh, Mustipher, Shelton, and Toney is as strong a position group on the entire team, and should cause opposing quarterbacks plenty of problems this fall. They should be able to have a major effect on the passing game while also helping to quell the running attack. - Nick Polak

Most questionable position Group


Penn State's safeties struggled mightily at times in 2019, and will enter 2020 needing to replace multi-year starter Garrett Taylor. There is plenty of talent available to Tim Banks, but it is anyone's guess who steps up. - Matt de Bear

With Lamont Wade and Jaquan Brisker returning, the potential is there to have a fantastic safety duo. Both Wade and Brisker made huge progress throughout the season last year, but there were still too many missed assignments in coverage. If they continue the upward trajectory, Penn State's defense might not have a single weakness. If they don't, we could be in for a number of long touchdowns. - Michael Stanley

Defensive Tackle

Antonio Shelton and PJ Mustipher have played a lot of football, but after that, there are concerns about depth and experience. They have lots of bodies at the position but will need 2-3 more guys to step up and spell the starters. - Craig Fritz


They're not short on talent, there's just a lot still yet to be decided here. We know Castro-Fields is a starter, but beyond that, there are questions. We'll likely see a rotation of Ellis, Wilson, and Porter Jr. to start, but who will take control of those three? Who shifts to the slot when required? This group has a ton of talent, but questions that need to be answered fast with the high-flying Ohio State offense looming in week two. - Nick Polak

The Entire Secondary

Penn State ranked 12th in the Big Ten in passing defense in 2019, allowing 227.5 passing yards per game. The passing defense is what held the Nittany Lions back from becoming an elite defense last year, and something that has plagued them in years past. The secondary needs to improve this year for Penn State to reach their ceiling. - Dylan Burd

Ceiling and floor of the Defense

Brent Pry has proven that he can run a top-15 level defense, and even without Parsons, plenty of pieces are in place to approach such a level. If things click at safety, and the defensive line can rediscover a consistent pass rush, this could be that type of unit. But if Oweh and Isaac cannot consistently get to the quarterback, and no one emerges at safety, expect plenty of 2019-esque performances against the pass once again. - Matt de Bear

Thanks to the experience returning to the defense in 2020 even without Micah Parsons, this group has a very high floor. The defensive line is loaded, the linebacker corps. is possibly as athletic as it's ever been, and the secondary isn't breaking in any new starters (unless you count Jaquan Brisker). If the pass rush reaches its potential and the linebackers are able to become difference-makers quickly, this could be one of, if not the, best defenses in the nation. - Nick Polak

The ceiling is a top-20ish type of defense. They have great talent at every position, but there are depth concerns across the board. The floor is a 60ish ranked defense that can't pressure the quarterback and gets shredded by any competent passer. - Craig Fritz

The ceiling for the defense is being one of the best defenses in the country. That will only happen if the secondary improves tremendously and finishes in the top half of the Big Ten in passing yards allowed per game. Additionally, Penn State will need to repeat as the best rush defense in the Big Ten (only 96.8 rushing yards allowed per game in 2019). The floor for the defense is last year's passing defense performance with a middle-of-the-pack rushing defense due to the departure of Micah Parsons. This would make it extremely difficult for Penn State to go better than 6-2 through the 8-game regular season. - Dylan Burd

The ceiling for this defense is a top 10 unit in the country. The linebackers will continue to be fearsome and the defensive ends will get after the quarterback. The cornerbacks will be the best group Penn State has had in years. The floor resides in the defensive tackles and safeties. Brisker and Wade must cut back on the missed assignments that led to numerous deep throws and touchdowns, and the defensive tackles must be able to collapse the pocket quicker. - Michael Stanley