UNIVERSITY PARK (WTAJ) — As the NFL Draft approaches, Penn State could see a hefty haul called to the pros. The annual event will shine a spotlight on just how much Penn State has to replace on the defensive side of the ball.
Arnold Ebiketie, Ellis Brooks, Brandon Smith, Jesse Luketa, and Jaquan Brisker all expect to be drafted, while Derrick Tangelo and Tariq Castro-Fields are two more defensive starters who will not be back in 2022.
Ji-Ayir Brown, Curtis Jacobs and Daequan Hardy are among the key returnees who will be expected to be tentpoles on the Nittany Lions defense, but none fill the gaps on the defensive line left by Ebiketie and Luketa.
James Franklin, Wednesday, admitted the edge rush is a bit of a concern.
“Edge pressure is the area we have to improve. Adisa [Isaac] is the one guy that flashes consistently,” he said. “There are other guys, you saw Smith Vilbert had three sacks in the bowl game, but it needs to be more consistent.”
Adisa Isaac missed all of 2021 with an injury. In his first two seasons he recorded three sacks in 20 games. While Isaac is expected to offer a strong edge presence, Franklin said the team would look externally at the transfer market as it did last summer when it added Ebiketie.
On the interior of the line, Penn State loses Tangelo, but a healthy PJ Mustipher is an upgrade at that position. He recorded 21 tackles and a sack in five games before being lost for the season against Iowa. New defensive coordinator Manny Diaz said he’s impressed with the senior so far.
“PJ Mustipher, who’s still not practicing, you feel his presence every day. He makes sure of it,” said Diaz. “He’s on the defensive linemen, and defense in general. There will be more by the time we get to September, but right now I think on all three levels we have good leadership.”
Penn State is past the midpoint in its spring practice schedule, and will play its Blue-White spring game on April 23rd.