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With the NFL Draft Behind Us, Kenny Looks at 2023 Prospects

Now that the 2022 NFL Draft is history, it didn’t take long for national media to start thinking about prospects for 2023.

A lot of guesswork goes into these projections. Which incoming juniors will make the jump like Purdue’s George Karlaftis and David Bell? Which seniors will improve enough from their junior years to become prospects? Which players will give up their free COVID year of eligibility to take their shot at pro football?

The Athletic recently selected one NFL prospect from each Big Ten school. Linebacker/safety Jalen Graham was the choice to represent Purdue.

“Graham’s a hybrid defender with a lot of coverage upside, which makes him unique and valuable at the next level. The Detroit Cass Tech product is built with a linebacker frame (6-3, 220) but has safety skills and room to grow. Graham plays with a lot of length, which allows him to eat up a ton of ground in coverage.”

Cornerback Cory Trice, who missed most of the 2021 season due to injury, was also mentioned by The Athletic as a draft candidate because of his size (6-3, 215). Wide receiver Milton Wright was also regarded as a prospect but goldandblack.com and jconline.com have reported that Wright is no longer with the Boilermakers for academic reasons.

Thanks to the NCAA’s gift of a free eligibility season to those on rosters in 2020, both Graham and Trice could return in 2023.

Frankly, The Athletic didn’t dig deep enough into Purdue’s prospective NFL Draft candidates. There was one egregious oversight, in fact.

Maybe it’s because he’s not mobile like a Lamar Jackson or Kyler Murray but sixth-year senior quarterback Aidan O’Connell has the arm and the ability to win big games that you’d think NFL teams would value.

The former walk-on earned second-team All-Big Ten honors behind the much more touted C.J. Stroud of Ohio State in 2021 after throwing for 3,712 yards and 28 touchdowns. O’Connell obliterated David Blough’s school record for completion percentage, connecting on nearly 72 percent of his passes.

Tennessee may not have had the best defense Purdue faced in 2021 but O’Connell impressed with leading scoring drive after scoring drive when it seemed the Vols would take control before a home state crowd in the 2021 Music City Bowl. Scouts had to have taken notice that O’Connell threw for 534 yards and five touchdowns.

Another draft candidate overlooked by The Athletic is tight end Payne Durham, who also has eligibility for 2023 if he chooses.

Durham probably will be O’Connell’s top receiving option in 2022 with the departure of Bell to the Cleveland Browns and the academic ineligibility of Wright. Durham is the top returning receiver statistically with 45 catches for 467 yards and five touchdowns. Don’t be surprised if Durham joins Brycen Hopkins, now with the Los Angeles Rams, as the winner of the Big Ten Kwalick-Clark Tight End of the Year award.

Let’s rank the rest of Purdue’s 21 scholarship seniors (a high for the Jeff Brohm era) in order of NFL Draft chances.

Branson Deen – His size (6-2, 280) may not fit the ideal NFL mold for a defensive tackle but his 26 tackles and 4.5 sacks in 2021 indicate playmaking ability. He possesses eligibility for 2023.

Cam Allen – The 6-1, 195 safety just makes plays. He’s Purdue’s No. 2 returning tackler with 65 and led the Boilermakers with four interceptions in 2021. Allen has 2023 eligibility available.

Reese Taylor – The former Indiana Mr. Football from Ben Davis is a graduate transfer defensive back who compiled career statistics of 74 tackles and two interceptions for Indiana after being converted from quarterback. If Taylor can crack a veteran secondary that includes Trice, Allen, Jamari Brown, Chris Jefferson and Sanousi Kane, his athletic ability could get him noticed by scouts.

Broc Thompson – The offensive MVP of the Music City Bowl underwent surgery on both knees following the game and missed spring practice. A senior academically, the wide receiver has 2023 eligibility.

Lawrence Johnson – He has the size (6-3, 310) scouts covet for a defensive lineman. Johnson probably has to increase his 2021 totals of 34 tackles and 4.5 tackles for loss. Even though this is Johnson’s fifth season as a Boilermaker, he possesses 2023 eligibility thanks to redshirting in 2018 and the 2020 COVID free pass.

Jamari Brown – The Kentucky transfer stepped up when Trice was lost for the season, recording 32 tackles and an interception. The 6-3, 205-pound Brown possesses 2023 eligibility.

Chris Jefferson – The safety transferred from Division II Findlay and proved he belonged in the Big Ten with 47 tackles in 2021. Fifteen of those came in the Music City Bowl against Tennessee. His initial hit of Vols running back Jaylen Wright on fourth down in overtime bought time for Jamari Brown and Kieran Douglas to come in and stop Wright short of the goal line.

Kieran Douglas – Purdue’s leading returning tackler with 67 last season. The 6-2, 240-pound linebacker began his college football career with Army in 2017.

Semisi Fakasiieki – The 6-2, 230-pound linebacker was granted a sixth year of eligibility after missing 2021 with a knee injury. He had been a projected starter before the injury.

Jack Sullivan – The early favorite to replace George Karlaftis at defensive end, Sullivan stepped in for the NFL first-round draft pick in the Music City Bowl and came away with a sack among his four tackles. Sullivan had 22 tackles and 2.5 sacks in 2021.

Scotty Humpich – The defensive end from Murray State is making the jump to the Big Ten as a graduate transfer. He has two seasons of eligibility.

King Doerue – Purdue’s rushing leader in 2021 with 533 yards and two touchdowns. Doerue has 2023 eligibility available.

Sampson James – Although listed as a senior on Purdue’s 2022 roster, the former four-star running back from Avon has sophomore eligibility thanks to COVID and sitting out 2021 after transferring late from Indiana.

Mitchell Fineran – Arguably had the best season of Purdue’s 2021 transfer class. The former All-American from Samford just missed matching Ben Jones’ school record (25) with 24 field goals in 29 attempts.

D.J. Washington – The 6-3, 310-pound Washington has played both offensive and defensive tackle.

Eric Miller – The 6-7, 305-pound offensive tackle has 2023 eligibility.

Austin Burton – The presumptive backup quarterback to O’Connell completed 5 of 7 passes, his first for Purdue after coming from UCLA as a graduate transfer, for 44 yards.

NBA post-lottery forecast

Now that the Indiana Pacers have had their usual bad luck in the NBA Draft lottery (drew the No. 6 slot after having the fifth-worst record in 2021-22), it looks like they will be out of luck if Purdue star Jaden Ivey was their favorite.

Jonothan Givony of ESPN.com has Ivey going fifth to Detroit.

“Ivey is the most electric prospect in the class, possessing the type of extra gear-changing speeds in the open floor that few NBA players possess,” Givony writes. “Ivey’s size, frame and length, along with the strides he has made as a shooter, will allow him to slide into a variety of lineup configurations, making it easy for him to find his way onto the floor, especially as his defense and decision-making improve.”

Givony also has Purdue center Trevion Williams going to Minnesota with the 50th overall selection. Williams was not in the draft forecast of The Athletic’s Sam Vecenie, who has Ivey going to Sacramento with the No. 4 pick.

“Picking Ivey this high is all about his upside,” Vecenie writes. “He’s the best athlete in the class and was extremely productive this year at Purdue. He has a lightning-quick first step, can power through defenders on the move and finish with explosive leaps at the hoop. The way he uses his speed to create driving lanes and transition opportunities resembles No. 1 pick John Wall early in his NBA career.

“Ivey’s main issues are his non-existent midrange game and sub-elite passing skills, both essential skills for an NBA lead guard. If he can’t improve those areas, it will be hard for him to take on a primary offensive role consistently. But if those parts of Ivey’s game come together, he could end up as the best player in this class.”

Former Carmel star to Purdue

Cole Brevard, a two-time all-state defensive tackle for Carmel, announced Monday on Twitter that he is transferring to Purdue from Penn State.

The former four-star prospect redshirted in 2020 and played in one game this past season, leaving him with four seasons of eligibility at Purdue.

Brevard joins sophomore running back Dylan Downing as Carmel alumni on the Boilermaker roster.

Brevard is the ninth transfer to join the Boilermakers for the 2022 season, joining wide receivers Tyrone Tracy (Iowa) and Elijah Canion (Auburn), defensive end Scotty Humpich (Murray State), cornerbacks Reese Taylor (Indiana), Tee Denson (Kansas State) and Bryce Hampton (Adams State) plus offensive linemen Sione Finau (Florida International) and Daniel Johnson (Kent State).

– Kenny Thompson is the former sports editor for the Lafayette Journal & Courier and an award-winning journalist. He has covered Purdue athletics for many years.