Penn State Football

Projecting Penn State Football Defense Starting Lineup, Primed for Dominant Manny Diaz Encore

Penn State Football defensive coordinator Manny Diaz enters his second season in Happy Valley with a load of talent on the defensive side of the football and an interesting predicament, how to get so many playmakers involved and on the field for enough snaps.

Penn State returns eight starters from a defense that ranked 10th in total defense last season.

For 2023, ESPN has projected Penn State’s defense to rank 4th in the nation.

With high caliber talent all over the field, who will start for Penn State’s defense in 2023?

Projecting the Penn State Football Defensive Starting Lineup

Defensive end

Chop Robinson

Although Chop Robinson did not start a game for Penn State Football in 2022, Robinson finished 2nd on the team in sacks with 5.5 and third on the team in tackles for a loss with 10.

Robinson, a projected first round pick in the 2024 NFL Draft, is set for a monster season after getting more comfortable with the nuances of the edge position, allowing him to play faster.

Adisa Isaac

Another year removed from his Achillies injury, Adisa Isaac had his first healthy offseason with the program since 2021.

Even with returning from injury in 2022 and not being 100 percent healthy during the season, Isaac led the team with 11 tackles for a loss and ranked 5th on the team with four sacks.


Defensive Tackle

Hakeem Beamon

Redshirt senior Hakeem Beamon started 12 games at defensive tackle last season, leading the defensive line with four pass breakups and adding six tackles for a loss.

Beamon added size this offseason, adding 20 pounds since last season.

Dvon Ellies

Redshirt Senior Dvon Ellies should earn a starting spot this season after starting 2 games and appearing in all 26 games over the past two seasons.

At 302 pounds, Ellies is the second largest defensive tackle on the Penn State roster and would provide size on the interior defensive line.

Will Linebacker

Abdul Carter

Abdul Carter earned freshman All-American honors after a stellar true freshman season in Happy Valley where he led the team with 6.5 sacks and added 10.5 tackles for a loss, two forced fumbles, and four pass breakups.

Ranked as PFF’s number eight linebacker in college football in 2023, the sky is the limit for Carter in year two in Manny Diaz’s defense.


Mike Linebacker

Tyler Elsdon

Tyler Elsdon and Kobe King are competing for the starting Mike Linebacker spot, as they did all of 2022.

This battle could go either way in fall camp, but I will give the nod to the junior who made all 13 starts in 2022. Realistically, either Elsdon or King could start and the other will play about the same number of snaps until one separates from the other.

Sam Linebacker

Curtis Jacobs

Curtis Jacobs was a surprising return for Penn State Football, when he announced he would return for the 2023 season in January.

Jacobs thrived in the same linebacker role last season after moving from Will to allow Carter and Jacobs to play on the field at the same time. In 2022, Jacobs ranked 4th on the team in sacks and tackles and added an interception and two fumble recoveries.


Kalen King

Kalen King projects as one of the best cornerbacks in the nation in 2023 and a first round draft pick in the 2024 NFL Draft.

In 2022, King accounted for 30 tackles, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery, and three interceptions. With the hype around King for 2023, expect teams to avoid throwing toward him this season.

Johnny Dixon

Johnny Dixon has come a long way since he transferred from South Carolina in 2021. Dixon has appeared in 25 games for the Nittany Lions, making six starts after Joey Porter Jr. went down with an injury in 2022. In 2022,

Dixon accounted for two interceptions and 10 pass breakups, as well as three sacks and 4.5 tackles for a loss.


Keaton Ellis

One of the most experienced players in the Penn State secondary, Ellis returns for his fifth season at Penn State after playing 43 games in blue and white, including making 20 starts. In 2022, Ellis ranked fourth on the team in passes defended.

Jaylen Reed

The junior safety Jaylen Reed steps in to replace Ji’Ayir Brown in 2023 with 21 games of experience but no starts under his belt. In 2022, Reed posted 31 tackles, two tackles for a loss, and three pass breakups. Reed will likely split time with Zakee Wheatley but should get the starting nod.


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About Author

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.