football Edit

How have Penn State's defensive players graded out on PFF this season?

After breaking down specific snap counts for each Penn State football player on Wednesday, it's time to take a closer look at how they've graded out so far through the 2021 season.

On Thursday, we took a close look at the offense, which means it's now time to see how Penn State's defense has performed.

As one would expect, this side of the ball has the higher grades overall, with four different starters holding grades in he 80s. That's more than any other team in the Big Ten so far.

Overall, the Nittany Lions rank fourth in the conference with an overall defensive score of 86.7. Iowa is first with a 92.4, followed by Michigan and Michigan State. The Nittany Lions have the third-best tackling grade in the conference (77.7) and are No. 2 in pass coverage with a 92.0, just behind Iowa.

There are plenty of other interesting takeaways through the first six games. For those unfamiliar with Pro Football Focus' grading system, click here to learn how it all works.

Let's get into them below, beginning at defensive end.

Penn State Nittany Lion defensive end Arnold Ebiketie ranks among the best defensive players in the country according to Pro Football Focus.
DE Arnold Ebiketie is playing on an elite level so far this season according to Pro Football Focus.
Defensive Ends
Playr Snaps (%) Run Defense Pass Rush Overall 

Arnold Ebiketie

327 (72.5%)




Jesse Luketa

279 (61.86%)




Nick Tarburton

201 (44.56%)




Smith Vilbert

71 (15.74%)




Zuriah Fisher

55 (12.19%)




Amin Vanover

36 (7.98%)




Total Defensive Snaps - 451

He's only played six games so far, but can we make an argument already that Arnold Ebiketie is the best incoming transfer in the history of Penn State's football program? I'm not as much of a historian as some of you, so let me know if I'm missing someone obvious, but his play so far this season stacks up.

With an 88.5 overall defensive grade currently, he's not only the top-ranked player on the entire team, but he's among the best defensive ends in the Big Ten, ranking second overall, behind only Michigan's Aidan Hutchinson (92.6). He's also the third-ranked defensive player in the conference overall. Hutchinson holds the top spot, with Iowa cornerback Matt Hankins (90.5) ranking second.

In all of FBS, Ebiketie ranks 13th overall out over 1,200 defensive players who have played at least 200 snaps so far. He's the eighth-ranked defensive end out of nearly 230 players. Impressive.

You can also argue that Jesse Luketa's performance is the surprise of the season so far. Luketa finished last season with a 56.8 overall defensive grade. With an 82.6, he's up nearly 26 points. That's a huge a turnaround. All credit to the staff for seeing his potential at defensive end, and credit to Luketa for buying-in and taking his game to a different level. Luketa currently ranks 11th overall in the Big Ten out of 137 defensive players who have played at least 200 snaps.

Defensive Tackles
Playr Snaps (%) Run Defense Pass Rush Overall

Derrick Tangelo

254 (56.31%)




PJ Mustipher

228 (50.55%)




Dvon Ellies

189 (41.90%)




Coziah Izzard

120 (26.60%)




Fatorma Mulbah

35 (7.76%)




Fred Hansard

19 (4.21%)




Total Defensive Snaps - 451

With PJ Mustipher now out for the season, this should be a spot fans watch closely against Illinois and into the remaining games. Out of 51 defensive tackles in the Big Ten who have played at least 100 snaps, Mustipher ranks 10th in the conference with a 72.4. Michigan State's Jacob Slade has the highest grade with an 83.7. Also, for some perspective, Purdue's Branson Deen is the only other defensive tackle in the conference who has a grade of 80.0 or better.

Derrick Tangelo is pretty much right in the middle, ranking 27th in the Big Ten out of 51, but the concern is what's behind him, as Coziah Izzard ranks 48th out of 51, while Dvon Ellies is dead last with a 47.3 overall defensive grade. Both players are young and still have a lot to learn, but they'll need to play better in the weeks ahead, especially with three opponents still on the schedule who currently rank top 10 nationally.

Get on the list! Click the image to get breaking news and daily headlines delivered straight to your inbox!
Get on the list! Click the image to get breaking news and daily headlines delivered straight to your inbox!

You must be a member to read the full article. Subscribe now for instant access to all premium content.

  • icn-check-mark Created with Sketch.
    Members-only forums
  • icn-check-mark Created with Sketch.
    Predict prospect commits with FanFutureCast
  • icn-check-mark Created with Sketch.
    Exclusive highlights and interviews
  • icn-check-mark Created with Sketch.
    Exclusive coverage of Rivals Camp Series
  • icn-check-mark Created with Sketch.
    Breaking recruiting news