‘I Like The Pass Rush’: Penn State’s Ji’Ayir Brown Adds New Weapon To His Game Ahead Of NFL Draft

Not too long ago in the NFL landscape, being considered a box safety was often looked at as a bit of a slight, at least at that position.

In today’s game though, that’s not the case. Being a box safety that can serve as an extra run defender while handling coverage responsibilities against running backs and tight ends is a major asset for defenses today that continue to try and not only combat the wide-open passing attacks across the league, while still being able to defend the run.

That’s good news for Penn State safety Ji’Ayir Brown, who looks more like a linebacker than a safety entering the NFL, is that there’s a clear path for him forward to be an impactful defender in the NFL. It helps that in his final season at Penn State the standout safety added an element to his game that not many safeties in the 2023 NFL Draft have: the ability to rush the passer.

Nicknamed “Takeaway King” at Penn State for his ability to create turnovers, Brown was a menace around and behind the line of scrimmage in 2022, finishing with four interceptions, two forced fumbles, one fumble recovery and 4.5 sacks. That was a change in his deployment from 2021 to 2022 as head coach James Franklin and defensive coordinator Manny Diaz deployed the physical, disruptive safety near the line of scrimmage more often.

Brown took to it like a fish takes to water, becoming extremely comfortable around the line of scrimmage, holding down a key role for the Nittany Lions.

After success in 2022 in a box safety role, Brown envisions that position as his own entering the NFL and especially likes the pass rush role that comes with it after recording the first sacks of his career.

That’s why the Penn State standout is watching a lot of pass rushers entering the NFL, particularly Buffalo Bills outside linebacker Von Miller.

“I started watching a lot of Von Miller highlights,” Brown said to reporters at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. “I fell in love with it. I like the pass rush. It was something that was new, but I was able to adjust and do it well. It’s been a great part of my game. It might be as good as getting interceptions.”

You won’t hear defensive backs say that often, but Brown really took to that part of his game and became quite impactful around the line of scrimmage.

It’s not as if Brown can’t cover, either.

When targeted in 2022, Brown allowed just 22 completions on 29 attempts for a passer rating of 56.3%, according to Pro Football Focus. On the season, Brown played 679 snaps, lining up in the box for 157 snaps, 345 snaps at deep safety, 111 in the slot, and 58 along the defensive line. In his career, Brown has played 510 snaps in the box, according to PFF.

While in Indianapolis for the 2023 NFL Scouting Combine, Brown didn’t have the best testing numbers, checking in at 5113, 203 pounds, running a 4.65 40-yard dash, 32.5-inch vertical jump, a 9’11” broad jump and a 1.56 10-yard split. But, the tape shows a dynamic player, one that makes a bunch of plays all over the field.

That bodes well for him entering the NFL, especially with his ability to line up all over the field and wear different hats defensively. With his addition of rushing the passer to his skillset, Brown has the look of a Day 3 value pick for a defense looking for consistent playmaking from a guy that can line up anywhere on the field and have an impact.

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