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Consistent Growth, Playmaking Ability Make Ji’Ayir Brown Intriguing NFL Draft Prospect

Four years ago, Ji’Ayir Brown was a standout safety playing junior college football at Lackawanna College, the same school that sent current Chicago Bears safety Jaquan Brisker to Penn State.

Brown stood out on one of the nation’s best junior college rosters, a group that would win the National Junior College Athletic Association National Championship in 2019 after going undefeated the year before. Brown totaled 35 tackles, three interceptions, and five pass breakups in the 2019 season and quickly made a name for himself in the world of college football.

In 2020, Brown arrived at Penn State as New Jersey’s top junior college recruit. He wasn’t the highest-rated player in the Nittany Lions’ recruiting class that year, but it didn’t take long for him to make an impact on the field.

Brown saw playing time in his first season as a Nittany Lion. He played in all nine games in the shortened 2020 season, and while his statistics weren’t eye-popping, his play put him in a favorable spot on the depth chart.

The next season, Brown became a standout, starting in all 13 games. He made an impact from the first outing of the season, snagging an interception against Wisconsin to end the game. A few weeks later, he took an interception 87 yards for a touchdown against Maryland.

Brown capped off the season with an interception in Penn State’s Outback Bowl loss to Arkansas.

Despite Penn State’s eventual struggles in 2021, Brown was a bright spot. He totaled 73 tackles, six interceptions, five pass breakups, two fumble recoveries, and a forced fumble.

Plenty of those statistics were among the country’s best. His six interceptions were tied for the most in Division I football, while his two fumble recoveries were tied for the third-most in the Big Ten. When the season ended, Brown earned third-team All-Big Ten honors.

Brown rose to the occasion during his final season in Happy Valley the following year. The fifth-year safety continued his role as a leader on the team and finished the season as the squad’s MVP for the 2022 season.

Brown continued to make big plays in his final year. He snagged a 35-yard interception to set up a touchdown drive in Penn State’s White Out win over Minnesota. Against Rutgers, he recovered a fumble he took 70 yards to the end zone. Earlier in the year, Brown latched onto an interception with a finger-tip grab against Auburn.

In his final season, Brown totaled 74 tackles in his 13 starts for the Nittany Lions, as well as four interceptions, 4.5 sacks, two forced fumbles, and a fumble recovery. He also continued his reputation as one of the best in the Big Ten, maintaining his status as a third-team All-Big Ten honoree

As Brown prepares for the 2023 NFL Draft, he’s often impressed scouts and coaches with his attitude and football knowledge more than his physical ability.

“The lack of speed and explosiveness Brown showed at the NFL Scouting Combine won’t help his draft stock, but he’s a fiery run defender and plays with undeniable coverage instincts,” NFL analyst Lance Zierlein said. “Brown’s versatility and football character could help him eventually become an NFL starter.”

Brown was compared to Ryan Clark, a former NFL safety who signed with the New York Giants after going undrafted. Across his 13-year career, Clark won one Super Bowl with the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2009 and was named to the Pro Bowl in 2011.

Brown isn’t expected to be selected early in the first round or two, and it’s likely he’ll have to wait for a few rounds to hear his name called. However, Brown has long been the underdog, going from a JUCO prospect to one of the best defensive backs in the Big Ten.

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About the Author

Joe Lister

Joe is a junior journalism major at Penn State and an associate editor at Onward State. He covers Penn State football and enjoys yelling on Twitter about Philadelphia/Penn State sports. If you want to find him, Joe's usually watching soccer with his shirt off or at the gym with his shirt on. Please send all positive affirmations and/or hate mail toward him on Twitter (iamjoelister) or via email ([email protected]).

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