The Purdue Boilermakers have never been a “football factory” per se, where they’re pumping out draft picks left and right, at least not compared to some of their bigger conference cohorts. In the early 2000s, Purdue, under former coach Joe Tiller, did a fantastic job of assembling pro prospects, which led to a lot of ‘Makers getting drafted. This was highlighted in 2004, when Purdue had nine of their own selected in the NFL Draft (Alabama, by comparison, had four).
But now this is a different football program, led by first-year head coach Darrell Hazell. Do they have as much NFL talent as the ’03 team? No. But that’s not to say they don’t have three or four guys who will be drafted, and that’s just the upperclassmen.
It all starts with senior defensive tackle Bruce Gaston, a 6-foot-2, 305-pounder who could have a bright future as a 5-tech end in a 3-4. Gaston, who’ll be playing without fellow tackle Kawann Short for the first time (Short selected in the second round of 2013 NFL Draft), has a ton of physical skills, but needs to work on his consistency. He gives a good punch and has surprisingly good lateral quickness for a human his size, but tends to wear down. If he can show during his senior season he’s worked on his consistency and conditioning, I see him as a solid third-round prospect.
Gaston’s fellow defensive linemen, junior end Ryan Russell, is a Ryan Kerrigan-clone, at least in my opinion. At 6-foot 4, 275 pounds and with excellent strength and quickness, he’s one of the smarter players on this defense. What’s scary is that he’s still learning how to play, and his progress is evident nearly every week. Like Kerrigan, could he make the transition to 3-4 outside linebacker? At first I’m hesitant to say yes, but considering how fast this guy learns, adapts and improves, I wouldn’t put it past him. Very much in the air whether he’s leaning towards sticking for his senior season or not.
Another defensive prospect to keep an eye on is cornerback Ricardo Allen. Though undersized, he’s a very aggressive and attacking corner who has a knack for big plays. The flip side is that he also tends to give up some big plays due to being overaggressive at times.
Naturally, Purdue wouldn’t be the “Cradle of Quarterbacks” if they didn’t have a QB prospect, right? Well, Rob Henry, who’s been lining up under center for the ‘Makers this fall, won’t be playing his current position at the next level. Sorry, but he’s not going to be following in the footsteps of Drew Brees, Kyle Orton and Curtis Painter by being drafted as QB.
As an athlete, he could very easily find a home in “The League.” Henry has played QB, RB and WR during his time in West Lafayette, and he’s always been one of their better athletes. At 6-foot-2, 200 pounds and running an estimated 4.5 40 time, he’d actually be best served to get some more snaps elsewhere this fall, because he’s got the size and athleticism to play either RB or WR at the next level.
Tiller coached Purdue for a long time, and the guy who replaced him, Danny Hope, was a Tiller guy. Hazell is fresh blood for the first time since 1997, and it’s going to be interesting to watch him put his own stamp on the program. One thing is for certain, more talent is needed, especially if Purdue wants to actually be able to compete with Nebraska and Wisconsin in the Big Ten West moving forward. You can always get a good gauge of a team by looking at the number of pro prospects they have, and while Purdue may not be long on quantity, they do have some quality; just not enough.