The Penn State Nittany Lion defense got some good news on Tuesday. All-Big Ten defensive end Shaka Toney decided to forego declaring for the NFL draft and remain at Penn State for his final season. The Nittany Lions’ defense was ranked among the best at the end of 2019. Penn State ranked fifth in rushing defense. Further, the unit ranked eighth in scoring defense. Finally, the Nittany Lions ranked 11th in tackles for loss and seventh in team sacks. With Yetur Gross-Matos declaring for the NFL Draft, it is good news that Toney will be returning for the 2020 season.
Shaka Toney and Others Return for Penn State
Toney is not the only underclassman that decided not to declare for the NFL draft. Junior safety, Lamont Wade, also was not on the list of underclassmen that declared. While it was not likely to see Wade’s name on the list, being that he was a first-year starter in 2019, it is still great news for a young Penn State secondary. So, who is coming back for the Nittany Lions in 2020?
Toney has been a fixture on the defensive line for the Nittany Lions since his 2017. The 6-3, 230 lb. defensive end arguably had his best season in 2019. While his solo tackles were down from 2018, 15 to 13, his other defensive stats improved. Toney had 40 total tackles, eight for loss, and six-and-a-half sacks in 2019. Further, he had a fumble recovery. Toney was also selected as All-Big Ten second team. He will highlight a strong defensive front for the Nittany Lions that also return Jayson Oweh, Adisa Isaac, and Shane Simmons.
Oweh was a redshirt freshman this past season and already made his presence known to opposing offenses. The redshirt freshman recorded 21 total tackles, five tackles for loss, and five sacks. In addition, he managed one pass defended and two forced fumbles. Oweh wasn’t the only young defensive end getting in on the fun, in his true freshman season Isaac played in six games, tallied 14 total tackles, three for loss and one-and-a-half sacks. Isaac also notched a forced fumble. Simmons is another veteran that will round out the defensive end position. He is a leader that will help Toney mold the young ends in 2020.
One player that analysts and NFL players alike are starting to notice is All-American linebacker Micah Parsons. Parsons is a true sophomore for Penn State and already in the record books. The linebacker out of Harrisburg, PA has definitely made a name for himself on the field and has become a true leader in the locker room. Parsons has played in every game the last two seasons, earning the starting role in 2019. In addition to his 109 total tackles, Parsons had 14 for loss and five sacks. Further, he recorded four forced fumbles and recovered one in 2019. The All-American linebacker is tied for sixth in the nation in forced fumbles, third amongst linebackers, and second amongst all sophomores.
Parsons is not the only linebacker returning for the Nittany Lions that lose Jan Johnson and Cam Brown to graduation. Jesse Luketa will likely serve a bigger role in 2020. The sophomore had 24 total tackles in 2019 and will look to improve greatly in his junior season. In addition to Parsons and Luketa, the Nittany Lions are returning Ellis Brooks. In his redshirt sophomore season, Brooks amassed 40 total tackles in addition to three sacks and one fumble recovery. All signs point to another strong season for the Nittany Lion linebackers in 2020.
The Penn State secondary was the defensive unit that struggled the most in 2019. Not that any unit struggled week after week, but the Nittany Lion secondary was young and relatively inexperienced. With that comes struggles. Veteran cornerback John Reid graduated and exhausted eligibility, so he will not be returning in 2020. Also, safety Garrett Taylor, the other lone senior also graduated. This leaves safeties Wade, Jaquan Brisker, and Jonathan Sutherland returning in 2020. Wade recorded 67 tackles in 2019, two sacks, three forced fumbles and one recovered. He is a definite asset for the Nittany Lions and fans should be excited to see him return.
In his first season with the Nittany Lions Brisker had a very good start to his Penn State career. The junior transfer recorded two interceptions, had four passes defended, and 31 total tackles. Brisker was only getting started, it will be interesting to see what 2020 brings for him. Finally, Sutherland is also returning for Penn State at the safety position.
The cornerbacks are a little bit different. Outside of Reid the group was relatively inexperienced in 2019. True freshman Keaton Ellis, out of State College, PA, played a lot more that fans thought he would this past season. Ellis saw action in eight games, including the Cotton Bowl against Memphis. He forced three fumbles and recovered one. Look for Ellis to play an even bigger role in 2020.
The only other corner with experience was Tariq Castro-Fields. Castro-Fields will also be returning in 2020. The junior recorded two interceptions and eight passes defended in 2019. Another young player? Marquis Wilson. Wilson was also a true freshman in 2019 and he played a big role as well. The product out of Connecticut intercepted two passes, forced two fumbles, and recovered one. Overall, a lot of young players were forced to get experience fast in 2019. This could help Penn State in 2020.
Overall the Penn State defense had a good season in 2019. The run defense was ranked as one of the best in the nation. Parsons became another Nittany Lion linebacker to be named an All-American. Shaka Toney will anchor a strong Penn State defensive front. Finally, the secondary will finally have a group with experience. It was a rebuilding year for a Penn State team that went 11-2 and finished 9th in the AP poll.