Penn State Football

Penn State Football: Predicting Top-5 Playmakers on Loaded Nittany Lions’ Defense

Penn State Football boasted a defense in 2022 that was among the best in college football, finishing 7th in total team scoring defense and 8th in both sacks and turnovers per game.

Over the past three seasons, Penn State ranks 3rd in sacks per game and 7th in turnovers per game.

Bringing back a ton of talent on the defense and heading into the second year with the defense under the helm of defensive coordinator Manny Diaz, the Nittany Lions‘ defense looks to be elite again in 2023.

Let’s look at who will be the top 5 playmakers on what looks to be another top 10 defense for Penn State in 2023.

Ranking Top Penn State Football Defensive Playmakers in 2023

1. Abdul Carter

Abdul Carter had one of the best seasons of a freshman in college football last season, leading the Nittany Lions with 6.5 sacks and earning freshman All-American honors.

During his incredible freshman season, Carter became only the second Nittany Lion to record 10+ tackles for a loss and 6+ sacks during their freshman season, joining Penn State defensive line coach Deion Barnes.

Overall in the 2022 season, Carter recorded 10.5 tackles for a loss, 6.5 sacks, two forced fumbles, and four pass breakups. Donning the legendary STIX (#11) again in 2023, Carter is primed to be one of the best linebackers in college football and should be a disruptive playmaker for Manny Diaz to get creative with this fall.


2. Chop Robinson

Like Carter, Chop Robinson made his presence known in his first season with Penn State in 2022. Robinson finished 2022 3rd on the team in tackles for a loss and 2nd in sacks.

For his 2022 season, Robinson was selected as an All-Big Ten honorable mention by the coaches and media and a second team selection by Pro Football Focus.

With a full season in blue and white under his belt, Robinson should be in line for a stellar 2023 campaign under Manny Diaz. With Manny Diaz’s aggressive defensive playcalling, expect Robinson to approach double digit sacks in 2023.

3. Curtis Jacobs

Penn State did not have a bigger announcement this winter than Curtis Jacobs’ announcement to return to Penn State for the 2023 season.

Jacobs, a former 4-star composite recruit out of Maryland, played Will and Sam linebacker for the Nittany Lions in 2022, tallying 52 tackles, 7.5 tackles for a loss, four sacks, an interception, a touchdown, and a forced fumble this season. Jacobs earned an All-Big Ten honorable mention by the coaches and the media for the 2022 season.

Lining up across from Abdul Carter for a second season should let Jacobs thrive in the sam linebacker roll, where he was moved after Carter brokeout last season. Called a “draft sleeper” for 2024 by ESPN’s Matt Miller, Jacobs has one final year in blue and white to raise his draft stock and has every opportunity to do so in Manny Diaz’s scheme.


4. Kalen King

While Joey Porter Jr.’s slip into the first pick of the second round of the 2023 NFL draft left Penn State without a first-round selection at defensive back in program history, Kalen King looks to change that in 2024.

Earning second-team All-American honors by the Walter Camp Football Foundation and third-team All-American honors by Pro Football Focus, King is already recognized among the top cornerbacks in the nation for the 2023 season. In 2022, King produced three interceptions, 18 pass breakups, three tackles for a loss, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery.

Cemented as CB1 for Penn State in 2023, King looks to add on to his stellar stats and solidify his first-round status for the 2024 NFL draft. ESPN’s Matt Miller called King his “top-ranked player” at corner, so the sky is the limit for King in 2023.

5. Johnny Dixon

There were several players that could have been picked for the fifth spot on this list, but I went with Johnny Dixon.

The former University of South Carolina transfer has grown tremendously during his 2 seasons at Penn State.

In 2022, Dixon tallied 4.5 tackles for a loss, three sacks, 10 pass breakups, two interceptions, and a forced fumble. His three sacks led all big ten cornerbacks in 2022. With Joey Porter Jr. leaving for the NFL, Dixon will now step into a starting role opposite Kalen King where he will see increased targets thrown his way as teams avoid throwing toward King.

If Dixon continues to progress, he should have the opportunity to lead the team in interceptions in 2023 due to the higher volume of balls thrown his direction.

With playmakers all over the field, Penn State Football is primed to have another top 10 defense in 2023.

Look for Manny Diaz’s aggressive scheme to cause plenty of turnovers and negative plays again while the defense tries to help Penn State return to the Big Ten championship and match the likes of Ohio State and Michigan.
Penn State Football

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Robert Casturo

Expertise: College Football, Penn State Football Education: Saint Vincent College, Penn State Law School Location: Washington, DC Experience: Robert Casturo has covered Penn State football for NittanyCentral since 2022. Casturo previously covered Penn State football through a social media presence (@PSU_FB_Thoughts on X) since 2019. Casturo earned his bachelor's degree from Saint Vincent College in 2015, where he was a punter for 1 season on the Saint Vincent College football team and worked in the athletic department for 2 years as a student manager. Casturo earned his JD from Penn State Law in 2018 where he was a senior editor of the Penn State Law Review.