Breakout prospect No. 4: Malcolm Willis

I really debated whether or not to put sophomore safety Malcolm Willis here, but hear me out on why he made the cut.

A relative unknown to Penn State fans going into 2010, Willis registered just one tackle through the first five games of the season. A season-ending injury to Nick Sukay in the sixth game put Willis in the starting lineup and he didn’t disappoint. Willis finished the season with 54 tackles, good for sixth best on the team, and showed a comfort level unseen by most players his age and experience level.

The reason I have Willis here is, that despite his better-than-expected freshman campaign, there’s no guarantee he’ll start this fall. With Sukay still being closely watched during spring practice, Willis will get a lot of reps with the first-team defense, but he may find himself in a reserve role come September. That would be a waste of talent in my eyes.

Sukay deserves to play, no questioning that, but there’s little doubt Penn State’s defense would be better off with Willis on the field and Drew Astorino in a reserve role. One, Willis is just a better player, two, he’s a more sure tackler, and three, he has a better burst. That’s not knocking Astorino, who I think would be a good nickel back due to his instincts and toughness, but he’s had several shoulders injuries and that’s not a good recipe for success for a safety. Putting Willis next to Sukay in the back could complete what should be one of the Big Ten’s best secondaries along with corners D’Anton Lynn, Stephon Morris, Chaz Powell and Derrick Thomas.

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