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Pro Football Focus evaluates Penn State's defensive line

Penn State football wrapped up its 2020 season with a 4-5 record this past weekend, defeating Illinois with ease.

Although many will likely remember the circus that the Big Ten displayed leading up to (and during) the season , it'll also be looked back upon by Penn State fans as a season of "what ifs." Losing Micah Parsons and Journey Brown was just the tip of the iceberg this year, and it ultimately had a bigger impact than anyone would've imagined, as the Nittany Lions lost their first five games this season. Also, it was the way they lost to teams like Maryland and Iowa - inside Beaver Stadium, might I add - that had some wondering whether James Franklin would still be the head coach come Christmas.

Franklin's job was never truly on the line, but nonetheless, he and the team do deserve credit for the way they rallied. Two days after Thanksgiving, they defeated the Big Ten's other major storyline, Michigan, in Ann Arbor for the first time in more than a decade. The Wolverines were every worse than Penn State this season, but it proved to the spark that they needed, as the Nittany Lions went on to win three more games against Rutgers, Michigan State and Illinois. In fact, with other teams not playing all of their games, Penn State went from last place to third in the East Division, behind Indiana (6-1) and Ohio State (6-0).

To get a better feel for how Penn State's defensive ends and defensive tackles performed overall, we used the Pro Football Focus database to compare Penn State's defensive players to not only others in the Big Ten, but all Power Five teams.

If you're unfamiliar with how PFF works and grades out players, check out their FAQ page here.

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Defensive Ends

Penn State Nittany Lions Football
Jayson Oweh was Penn State's top defensive player with a grade oof 85.4
Defensive End Grades
Player Overall Grades Run Defense Pass Defense

Jayson Oweh

85.4

89.8

80.3

Shaka Toney

72.5

67.6

81.6

Adisa Isaac

69.1

67.5

68.6

Shane Simmons

61.9

64.8

55.1

Jayson Oweh may not have recorded a sack this season, but just about everything else he did graded out among the best in the Big Ten. Despite playing only seven games, he finished second at his position for tackles with 38. He also had 6.5 tackles for loss and 15 quarterback hurries. Where he really stood out was against the run, earning a grade of 89.8. Ohio State's Zach Harrison was the next best defensive end in the conference with a grade of 80.2. In fact, out of over 200 defensive ends that played 150 snaps at the Power Five football this year, Oweh's run defense grade was the third-best in the nation. Another positive for Oweh was that he only missed three tackles all season. Only two other DEs in the Big Ten played as many snaps and had less.

Missed tackles were an issue for Shaka Toney, however, as he was charged with nine missed tackles, the second-most in the conference at his position. That was easily his main issue this season, as Toney earned a tackling grade of 41.6. Everything else was pretty good, most notably his pass rush grade (81.6), which ranked fifth in the Big Ten.

Overall, there were 41 defensive ends that played 150 or more snaps this season. Oweh ranked fourth overall, Toney was ninth and Adisa Isaac (69.1) was 13th. Shane Simmons (61.9) was down at No. 25.

Harrison from Ohio State only played 168 snaps (Oweh played 347, Toney played 421), but he graded out the best in the Big Ten with a 90.0 overall. His teammate, Jonathon Cooper, was next with an 86.7, followed by Michigan's Kwity Paye (86.3) in third. Iowa's Chauncey Golston rounded out the top five with an 82.3.

At the Power Five level, Oweh finished 11th out of the 216 defensive ends that played 150 snaps or more. Toney finished at No. 59, Isaac was No. 77 and Simmons was No. 146. Oklahoma's Ronnie Perkins was the top overall defensive end with a grade of 90.8. Behind Harrison was Pitt's Rashad Weaver (89.5) and Oklahoma's Nik Bonitto (89.0). Cooper from Ohio State rounded out the top five.


Defensive Tackles

Penn State Nittany Lions Football
Antonio Shelton graded out fourth in the Big Ten for defensive tackles this. season.
Defensive Tackles Grades
Player Overall Grade Run Defense Pass Defense

Antonio Shelton

75.3

73.8

71.0

PJ Mustipher

65.0

65.3

60.1

Hakeem Beamon

54.6

49.3

61.7

Fred Hansard

52.8

52.6

54.6

If you were already upset about Antonio Shelton entering the transfer portal, you might not want to read this section, because according to PFF, he was by far Penn State's best defensive tackle this season by a good margin. Statistically, Shelton put up modest numbers, recording 14 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks, but that doesn't mean he didn't often do his job. Taking on double-teams and controlling his gap is often times the most important contribution for a defensive tackle, and Shelton did that among the best in the Big Ten this season, grading out fourth overall among the 51 defensive tackles that played 100 snaps or more.

PJ Mustipher was among the top half of that list at No. 18 overall. He more than doubled the amount of tackles compared to Shelton, totaling 35, but Mustipher was often times out of position and out-leveraged, which docked his grade considerably. If he's able to improve in those areas, there's reason to be positive about his potential next season. He had good showings against Maryland and Rutgers, grading in the mid 70s, but he also had grades in the low 50s against Ohio State and Michigan State. Compare that to Shelton, who was much more consistent - he scored in the mid-60s to 70s nearly every week, plus two very good showings against Rutgers (88.5) and Nebraska (78.0) - and that's the major difference between the two.

Overall in the Big Ten, Ohio State's Haskeell Garrett (92.1) and Tommy Togiai (83.6) finished first and second. Ben Stille (79.0) from Nebraska finished third, while Lorenzo Neal (74.7) from Purdue was fifth. Out of 51 defensive tackles, Hakeem Beamon finished 38th and Fred Hansard finished 42nd.

At the Power Five level, 244 defensive tackles played 100 snaps or more this season. Shelton ranked 24th, while Mustipher ranked 97th. Beamon was No. 197 and Hansard was No. 208. Garrett was the top overall defensive tackle at the P5 level, followed by N.C. State's Alim McNeill, Arizona State's Jarmayne Lole and Alabama's Christian Barmore. Togiai was fifth.

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