Top 3 Players of James Franklin Era Who Would Put Penn State Football Over The Top in 2023

Penn State Football
Penn State Football Head Coach James Franklin (Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire)

Penn State Football will enter 2023 with the highest expectations for the program since 2017, ranking in the top 10 and expected to compete for a spot in the Big Ten championship game and the College Football Playoff.

While Penn State’s 2023 defense is loaded with talent, there is always room for improvement.

So, who are the top 3 players from the James Franklin era who would improve the 2023 Penn State defense and push the team even closer to a Big Ten and national championship.

Top Defenders of James Franklin Era Who Would put Penn State Football Over The Top in 2023

No. 3 – Jaquan Brisker

The first of my picks would be a great luxury for the Penn State secondary that expects to be one of the top secondaries in college football in 2023.

With Ji’Ayir Brown off to the NFL, Penn State has a starting safety position open alongside Keaton Ellis for 2023. Although Penn State Football has plenty of talent to fill the safety position, adding the experience and talent of Jaquan Brisker is too juicy to pass up. Brisker was a playmaker his whole career at Penn State, stepping into the box in the run game and terrorizing opposing quarterbacks in the passing game.

Brisker finished his Penn State career with 153 tackles, 9.5 tackles for a loss, five interceptions, 14 pass breakups, and a fumble recovery.

The former First-Team All American would be a welcome addition to what should be another great secondary for Penn State in 2023.


No. 2 – Austin Johnson

While his career began before the James Franklin era, Austin Johnson finished his career under James Franklin in the 2015 season.

Penn State Football enters 2023 with a notable hole in experience at defensive tackle. While Penn State has intriguing young talent at defensive tackle and a transfer from Old Dominion in Alonso Ford, Penn State lacks a proven big body in the middle of the defensive line that can eat up snaps like P.J. Mustipher did throughout his career in blue and white.

Although Mustipher and Robert Windsor were intriguing options, Austin Johnson was my pick to fill the gap in the middle of the defensive line.

During the 2014 and 2015 seasons, Johnson combined for 21 tackles for a loss, 7.5 sacks, five passes defended, three fumble recoveries, a forced fumble, and a touchdown.

Penn State’s defensive line would greatly benefit from Johnson’s experience as a 28-game starter for the Nittany Lions and his production in the middle of the defensive line.


No. 1 – Micah Parsons

Linebacker and defensive end are pretty well sorted out for Penn State for 2023, however it is way too exciting thinking about how defensive coordinator Manny Diaz would use Micah Parsons in his defensive scheme.

Parsons was a star at Penn State in the two short seasons that Penn State fans got to see him in blue and white.

Fans were robbed of seeing Parsons true ability on display as COVID-19 cut the 2020 season short and ultimately caused Parsons to declare early for the NFL draft without playing his junior season.

If Penn State fans have kept up with Parsons’ NFL career, it is easy to see why he is the highest player on this list.

Parsons has been absolutely unblockable in the NFL, racking up 26.5 sacks in just two pro seasons. Adding Parsons to an already very talented defensive end and linebacker corps would be a scary sight for opposing offenses in 2023.

While Penn State’s 2023 defense is stacked with talent, a few former players could take it from a top-10 unit to the top unit in all of college football.

Although it is only hypothetical, Penn State fans would be drooling to see any of these three suit up for one more season in Happy Valley.


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Robert Casturo

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.