Penn State safety Ji’Ayir Brown has been one of the most productive safeties in college football throughout the two previous campaigns. Brown recorded 147 tackles, 18 pass breakups, and 10 interceptions across 2021 and 2022. Brown enters the 2023 NFL Draft as a proven commodity.
Brown recently spoke exclusively with Draft Network about his innate knack for creating turnovers, playing zone versus man coverage, which teams have shown interest in his services pre-draft, and so much more.
JM: You were outstanding across your final two seasons at Penn State. You totaled 147 tackles, 18 pass breakups, and 10 interceptions across 2021 and 2022. How do you reflect on your time as a Nittany Lion?
Ji’Ayir Brown: I had a hell of a time at Penn State. I strung together an illustrious collegiate career. I’m very appreciative of coach James Franklin, defensive coordinator Manny Diaz, safeties coach Anthony Poindexter and the rest of the staff. Everybody that works within the Penn State program is a terrific individual. It’s been a blessing to be a part of it.
JM: You created 16 turnovers at Penn State (10 interceptions, 3 fumbles forced, 3 fumbles recovered). How did you develop such a natural feel for creating turnovers? What went into that?
Ji’Ayir Brown: Those are video game numbers, right? (laughs). I have to credit film study and my football IQ first and foremost. I have a great feel for the game. I understand football at the highest level imaginable. I understand how opposing offenses are trying to attack our defense. Coach Diaz and coach Poindexter did a great job putting me in positions to make plays. I just tried to capitalize on those opportunities by doing my job.
JM: Video game numbers is right (laughs). You’ve worn a lot of hats at Penn State, but we thought you found a ton of success when playing as a deep safety in split-safety looks. What do you enjoy about playing that role?
Ji’Ayir Brown: Exactly, you did your homework (laughs). I love playing the high-safety role. That’s where I thrive. I consider myself a specialist when it comes to defending the pass. Our coaching staff looked for me to make plays on obvious passing downs. They looked at me to step up. They trusted me to be an excellent communicator by putting our defense in a great position.
Being back deep, whether in split-safety looks or in single-high, that’s where I best see the field. I can let my instincts take over from that position and it allowed me to take a lot of plays from that position.
JM: You also saw snaps in the box and in the slot. What allowed you to be versatile?
Ji’Ayir Brown: I played so many positions growing up. That allowed me to understand the game of football from every angle. I know how to play the nickel position. Whether I’m in man coverage or I know where my help is, I’m always aware of my surroundings.
I’m aware of down and distance and our assignments. I recognize route combinations from zone coverage. I’m very comfortable with every position I played this past year because I’ve played it before. It’s been a blessing to bounce around our defense and showcase that versatility.
JM: It’s so obvious on tape. When in coverage, do you prefer man or zone, and why?
Ji’Ayir Brown: I really don’t have a preference. If I had to pick one, I’d probably say zone coverage. If it’s man coverage, I’d say let me play the post. I really don’t have a preference. Throughout the course of a game, I’m going to play a lot of man and zone coverage. I’ll have both opportunities. Whatever call comes in, I just take the reps that come my way. I operate from there.
JM: I’ll put you in a scenario then. Say it’s 3rd-and-long with the game on the line. It’s an obvious passing down. Would you prefer to be manned up, or playing zone with a chance to make a play on the ball near the sticks?
Ji’Ayir Brown: I’ll take zone coverage all day long in that scenario. That gives me a terrific opportunity to make a play on the ball. I do a great job of reading quarterbacks. It goes back to the 16 turnovers I created at Penn State. If we’re going to have anyone protecting the defensive backs on the back end, I think I’m the right choice.
JM: You love to tackle. I can’t say that about every safety I watch, but I can definitely say that about you. You had nearly 150 tackles in two seasons. What do you enjoy about tackling and defending the run specifically?
Ji’Ayir Brown: I love the physical aspect of it. I love imposing my will on my opponents. I want to find out who the toughest player on the field is. It’s usually me. Who’s the best player out here? We’re going to find out. I love competing. I’m second to none when it comes time to compete. I love competing and showcasing my abilities. I try to be as consistent as possible.
How many tackles can I make without missing a single one? I love challenging myself. That’s my biggest thing out there. I’m always ready to come downhill and make a great tackle.
JM: I love your approach. Have you completed any Top 30 visits, private workouts, or Zoom meetings lately?
Ji’Ayir Brown: I had a Top 30 visit with the Baltimore Ravens. I have another one coming up with the San Francisco 49ers soon.
JM: There’s so much interest in you. We’ve appreciated your time today. What kind of impact is Ji’Ayir Brown going to make at the next level?
Ji’Ayir Brown: I’m going to make the same impact I made at Penn State. I’m going to be a consistent performer. I’m going to be the best defensive back when it comes to production and creating turnovers.
I plan on winning Defensive Rookie of the Year. I’m trying to take that next step forward.
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