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STATE COLLEGE – The reaction from Ji’Ayir Brown’s family and friends was audible Friday from the other side of the field at Holuba Hall.
Brown, the brilliant Penn State safety, lowered his 40-yard dash time at the Nittany Lions’ Pro Day to 4.57, which could help his NFL draft stock rebound.
Less than a month after he was clocked at 4.65 at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis, Brown and several of his Penn State teammates worked out in front of general managers, head coaches Mike McDaniel of the Miami Dolphins and Matt Eberflus of the Chicago Bears, assistant coaches and scouts.
“It was very important (to get under 4.6 seconds in the 40),” Brown said. “I still didn’t run the time I believed I should have run. I thought I was going to hit 4.4, but unfortunately it didn’t happen. But I still got a better time than what was displayed at the combine.
“It was definitely big for me to come out here and switch that narrative of me not being able to run.”
At one point during the winter, draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah of the NFL Network ranked Brown as the 40th-best prospect overall and the best safety in the draft. But Jeremiah dropped him out of his top 50 after the combine.
He’s still projected as a second-day (second or third round) selection after two outstanding seasons at Penn State.
“He’s the best defensive player in my eyes, especially the best safety,” said former Penn State and Lackawanna College teammate Jaquan Brisker, who will enter his second season with the Chicago Bears. “I’d take him in the first round. He has the ability and the intangibles, everything, to go in the first round.
“He’s very smart. He’s a great person off the field, and I think that’s very important.”
Eleven other Lions worked out during Pro Day, including Joey Porter Jr. Porter has been projected to be taken anywhere from 11th to 25th. He ran a 4.46 in the 40 at the combine and chose not to run Friday.
But he did post a 10-11 in the broad jump and a 37.5-inch vertical leap, both impressive numbers. He also participated in position drills.
Porter plans to attend the draft in Kansas City, Mo., where he’s expected to be the first Penn State defensive back ever taken in the first round.
“It’s definitely amazing that I am going to be the first,” Porter said. “I’m going to go down in history at Penn State, so that’s something that I can come back and show my kids.
“Definitely a special moment. I’m going to be the first and really set the tone for what’s coming behind me.”
While Porter was projected for greatness at a young age, Brown drew few college offers despite having a terrific career at Trenton Central.
As a senior, he scored touchdowns five different ways — rushing, receiving, kickoff return, punt return and interception return. He also passed for another score. Montclair State and several junior colleges, however, were the only ones to recruit Brown because of grades.
He wound up choosing Lackawanna, one of the premier juco programs in the country. He played there two years and was a first-team All-American in 2019 when James Franklin and the Penn State staff recruited him.
For the Lions, Brown started two seasons and was a team captain last year when he was voted to the All-Big Ten third team despite leading the team with 74 tackles, four interceptions and two forced fumbles while lining up in multiple positions.
“The NFL values players like ‘Tig,’ ” Brisker said. “You can put him at free (safety) or strong (safety), at nickel, the boundary (cornerback) or at Will (weak-side linebacker). It just has to be the right fit for the right defense.”
Brown plans to rent a house for the draft for his family and friends, the people who have remained in his corner throughout his life.
“I’m ready to go,” he said. “I’m ready to find my team and go. I’m excited to see how all this unfolds. I’m going to continue to keep writing the story.”
Brown wrote another chapter when he improved his 40 time at Holuba Hall in front of several supporters, including his mother, Joy Ingram, who would like to see her favorite team, the Philadelphia Eagles, draft her son.
“My mom has been on this journey with me,” he said. “She has had the same belief as I’ve had. My mom hasn’t missed one of my football games since I was 6 years old. We’re both watching this story unfold. We’re writing it together.
“This is all for her. I know she’s proud of me. Whatever I can do for my mom, I will.”
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