Penn State Signees: The Secondary

Penn State signees in the secondary will have time to develop with several starters and second string players returning in 2023.

The Penn State Nittany Lions have six signees in the secondary for the 2023 season. That includes UNC transfer Storm Duck. Duck has already made an immediate impact in Winter workouts and looks to have a big Spring. These new faces will have big shoes to fill with Joey Porter Jr. and Ji’Ayir Brown leaving for the NFL. Duck will likely make an immediate impact, but the other five will have time to develop with several members of Penn State’s “no-fly zone” returning for 2023.

Kalen King, Keaton Ellis, Johnny Dixon, and Zakee Wheatley are all returning for 2023 and look to continue to play at a high level. The Nittany Lions ranked second in defensive team passing efficiency last season nationally, only behind Illinois. King was behind only Brown with three interceptions last season. He also led Penn State in pass breakups with 16. Dixon and Wheatley each tallied two interceptions through 13 games. Finally, as for Ellis, the hometown product has been a staple in the Nittany Lion secondary since he was a freshman. The State College native will look to close his Penn State career strong in 2023.

The addition of six Penn State signees in the secondary will help with depth at each position which proved handy down the stretch for the Nittany Lions in 2022. We have already looked at the signees on the defensive front, let’s look at the secondary heading into Spring practice.

Penn State Signees 2023: The Secondary

The Cornerbacks

Last season at UNC Duck had three interceptions, nine pass breakups, and one forced fumble through 12 games. Those three interceptions and nine pass breakups were enough to lead the Tar Heels’ defense in 2022. In addition, this was enough for second-team All-ACC. Head Coach James Franklin stated earlier this Winter that Duck is “very businesslike” both on the field and in the classroom.

The other two corners that the Nittany Lions picked up for 2023 are two incoming freshmen Lamont Payne and Zion Tracy. Both freshmen are enrolled for the Spring semester. Payne is a three-star corner according to the 247Sports composite ranking. He is a Pennsylvania product that decided to attend Penn State despite offers from Pitt, Rutgers, Syracuse, and West Virginia. Payne committed in September of 2021 and never wavered. He has speed but will need to add muscle to his six-foot-one-inch frame. Look for him to compete early, but sit and develop in 2023.

Tracy is a four-star prospect from Glen Head, NY. He was the third-ranked corner out of New York with nine offers. Like Payne, Tracy won’t have to play right away in 2023 unless something major happens to the returners in front of him. This will benefit Tracy who is on the smaller side, allowing him to develop in his own time.

The Safeties

Next, we will highlight the new safeties on the Penn State roster. First is the highly sought-after four-star Florida product, King Mack. Mack is the seventh-ranked safety in the 2023 class and had 30 offers. Seven of those 30 offers were from Big Ten schools, including Penn State. Additionally, Mack had offers from both Miami and Florida. However, the St. Thomas Aquinas standout chose to head north and become a Nittany Lion.

Mack is a dual sport athlete, taking home the State title in the 400-meter dash as a Junior. He is very fast, something that will help make up for his lack of size. He compares nicely to former Penn State standout Jaquan Brisker in his ability to get in the backfield and pressure on the blitz. Penn State fans should be very excited to get Mack on campus this Summer. While it is unlikely that he will play a huge role this Fall, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him get some playing time throughout the season.

Elliot Washington and DaKaari Nelson round out the new safeties on the Penn State roster. Washington is also a Florida product and is already enrolled at Penn State for the Spring semester. He is also a four-star product and the 13th-ranked safety in the 2023 class. Further, he was also a sprinter in high school, and something interesting to note, Washington placed third in the 100-meter dash in his Junior year. He competed at the 3A level and so did Mack. Mack finished second in the 100-meter dash that same year. Two very fast safeties will be patrolling the Nittany Lion defensive backfield in the coming seasons. The Venice product was committed to Alabama until July when he decommitted and committed to Penn State on the same day. Enrolling early will undoubtedly help Washington develop into a future playmaker for the Nittany Lions.

Finally, but certainly not least, another southern four-star product is Nelson. Nelson hails from Selma, Alabama, and is the 12th-ranked safety in the 2023 class. He had 17 offers including Auburn, Michigan, and Clemson. Further, he was named to the Alabama-Mississippi All-Star Game. He is the tallest of the three safeties, standing at six-foot-two inches and 190 pounds. He is poised to fit right in in the “no-fly zone” having eight interceptions in 2021 and seven in 2022. Nelson plays both basketball and baseball as well. He will finish his senior year and enroll at Penn State this Summer.


Penn State signees in the secondary will have time to develop with several starters and second string players returning in 2023.