Another Penn State linebacker opts out of Outback Bowl, declares for draft

JASON MACKEY
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (TNS)
Penn State linebacker Ellis Brooks (13) warms up for an NCAA college football game against Auburn in State College, Pa., on Saturday, Sept.18, 2021. (AP Photo/Barry Reeger)

Penn State knew its defense was going to change next year with defensive coordinator Brent Pry becoming the head coach at Virginia Tech and several talented players graduating.

Turns out that makeover will happen a little sooner than originally expected.

As a result, the Nittany Lions might be short on linebackers for the Outback Bowl on New Year's Day after redshirt senior Ellis Brooks announced on Twitter on Monday that he's opting out to focus on the NFL draft.

"After having multiple conversations with my family members and coaches, I have decided to forego the bowl game to focus on getting healthy, as it's now time to chase my dream of playing at the highest level and officially declaring for the 2022 NFL Draft," Brooks wrote.

The announcement comes a couple days after Brandon Smith did the same thing on Friday, which leaves sophomore Curtis Jacobs all alone in the middle of the defense, at least among regulars.

Brooks led Penn State with 100 tackles this past season, including 53 solo. He also had 3 1/2 tackles for loss and one sack. A second team All-Big Ten selection, Brooks' number of tackles ranked fifth in the conference.

The decision means Brooks elected not to use the extra year afforded to players because of the coronavirus pandemic.

In 47 career games (18 starts), the 6-foot-1, 241-pound Mechanicsville, Virginia, native accumulated 229 tackles, five sacks and 12 tackles for loss. Brooks projects as a third-day pick, the second if his testing and combine work go extremely well.

Not to shortchange Brooks, who was obviously an important piece in the middle of the defense, but it might be tougher for the Nittany Lions to lose Smith, who's considered the second-best outside linebacker in the 2022 NFL draft by ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr.

Smith was second on Penn State with 81 tackles (45 solo) this past season, adding nine tackles for a loss and two sacks.

So, yeah, Penn State is without its top two tacklers from 2021, while it's possible the next two defenders on that list, end Arnold Ebiketie and safety Jaquan Brisker, could also follow suit.

Coach James Franklin has maintained that he'll allow players themselves to make any sort of announcements regarding their careers, and both Ebiketie and Brisker (Gateway High) are possible second-day picks. Wide receiver Jahan Dotson is a possible/likely opt-out candidate on offense.

"To my coaches and teammates, I couldn't have asked for a better group of people to play the game I love with," Brooks wrote. "I'd like to specifically thank Coach Franklin and Coach Pry for allowing me to be a part of this family. Your drive, support, and companionship continued to bring the best out of me not only as a player but a man.

"Lastly, to the best fans in the nation. I can only hope that you received some of the same joy watching me in the Blue & White that I got from playing in front of you. I'll forever be a Penn Stater. We Are!"

Brown will return: The PSU defense did get some news when safety Ji’Ayir Brown announced on Tuesday that he will stick around for another year with the Nittany Lions.

“After sitting down and exploring all my options about my future with my family, I am confident with my decision to remain at Penn State alongside my brothers for another year,” Brown wrote in a social-media statement. “I look forward to learning, growing and developing more as a player, a student and a man.”

The senior is taking advantage of the NCAA waiver granting athletes an extra year of eligibility because of the COVID-19. Brown transferred to Penn State from Lackawanna College in 2020.

Brown was an All-Big Ten third-team selection by the conference coaches and was an All-Big Ten honorable-mention selection by the media. In 2021, he finished third on the team in tackles with 67 (including a team-high 56 solo stops) and he also had a team-high four interceptions, five pass breakups, two fumble recoveries and a forced fumble. He returned one of his interceptions for a touchdown at Maryland in November.