2020 Penn State Football Preview: Defensive Line

By Matthew Filipovits on October 12, 2020 at 1:28 pm
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
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Penn State's defensive line has been one of the best units in the nation since James Franklin arrived on campus. Now with long-time position coach Sean Spencer off to the NFL, John Scott Jr. has a lot to live up to. As a reminder, we also previewed this unit on our podcast, be sure to check it out wherever podcasts are found.

Last year

Robert Windsor and Yetur Gross-Matos led the way for a rather young unit, en route to hearing their names called in the 2020 NFL Draft. Shaka Toney entered the fray as a first-team starter and earned All-Big Ten honors for his performance. Long considered a pass-rushing specialist, he was arguably the Nittany Lions' best defensive lineman. Antonio Shelton rounded out the starting unit, taking on blocks well while splitting time with PJ Mustipher.

The Starters

  • DE - No. 28 Jayson Oweh (Jr./So., 6'5, 253 lbs)
  • DT - No. 55 Antonio Shelton (5th/Sr., 6'2, 310 lbs)
  • DT - No. 97 PJ Mustipher (Jr./Jr., 6'4, 308 lbs)
  • DE - No. 18 Shaka Toney (5th/Sr., 6'3, 231 lbs)

Shaka Toney and Jayson Oweh form one of the most athletic defensive end duos in the conference. Toney has gotten better every single year and dominated offensive tackles with his speed for a good chunk of last year. Enough has been said about Oweh's potential, but's it's his time to become a star. He's on everybody's breakout list and for good reason. If he puts it all together, the NFL will likely be his next destination.

Although he's only started one game in his career, PJ Mustipher was Penn State's No. 2 defensive tackle last year per snap counts. He should take an astronomical step forward as he becomes a full-time starter. He's more than just a run-stuffer up the middle, so expect him to get to the quarterback more often than most interior defensive linemen. Antonio Shelton is the heart and soul of this defense. Heading into his second season as a starter, he's one of the more known quantities on this defense and will again be a valuable piece of the unit.

The backups

  • DE - No. 34 Shane Simmons (5th/Sr., 6'3, 247 lbs)
  • DT - No. 53 Fred Hansard (Sr./Jr., 6'3, 324 lbs)
  • DT - No. 77 Judge Culpepper (Jr./So., 6'4, 281 lbs)
  • DE - No. 20 Adisa Isaac (So./So., 6'4, 240 lbs)

Sean Spencer did a phenomenal job on the recruiting trail, giving the Nittany Lions fantastic depth and a two-deep that features some great athletes. Shane Simmons has had the worst injury luck in his career, but he's shown he can be an outstanding defensive end when healthy. Expect this to be the season he puts it all together and rightfully finds himself on the NFL's radar. Adisa Isaac is on the Yetur Gross-Matos path to stardom. He played well as a true freshman, but it's clear he's still a raw prospect. He'll start to put it all together at some point this season before becoming a household name in 2021.

Fred Hansard is going to be a run-stuffing machine. Entering his fourth season with the program, expect him to be viewed more as the third starter at defensive tackle, as opposed to the first backup. Judge Culpepper has gotten rave reviews since his time on the scout team and while he's a bit undersized, he knows how to make an impact. He won't light up the box score, but he's going to be relied on heavily in some physical football games.

The reserves

  • DE - No. 46 Nick Tarburton (Jr./So., 6'3, 248 lbs)
  • DT - No. 27 Aeneas Hawkins (Jr./So., 6'2, 285 lbs)
  • DE - No. 92 Smith Vilbert (So./Fr., 6'6, 246 lbs)
  • DT - No. 51 Hakeem Beamon (So./Fr., 6'3, 274 lbs)
  • DT - No. 91 Dvon Ellies (So./Fr., 6'1, 301 lbs)
  • DT - No. 44 Joseph Appiah Darkwa (So./Fr., 6'5, 292 lbs)
  • DE - No. 33 Bryce Mostella (Fr./Fr., 6'6, 244 lbs)
  • DE - No. 56 Amin Vanover (Fr./Fr., 6'4, 277 lbs)
  • DE - No. 99 Coziah Izzard (Fr./Fr., 6'3, 273 lbs)
  • DT - No. 95 Cole Brevard (Fr./Fr., 6'3, 318 lbs)
  • DT - No. 54 Fatorma Mulbah (Fr./Fr., 6'3, 302 lbs)

The Nittany Lions have a lot of talent in the reserves, but it's a very young position room overall. Nick Tarburton is a guy the staff has been high on, but he didn't appear in a single game last season as he dealt with injuries. Aeneas Hawkins and Hakeem Beamon will battle it out for the fifth defensive tackle spot, with both offering their own unique styles of play. Bryce Mostella is a name to keep an eye on. The true freshman enrolled early and was likely heading for a redshirt, but with the free year of eligibility could see the field a bit more than expected. At 6'7, he's going to be an intriguing guy to watch develop over the next few years.

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