Taking A Look at Boilermakers in the NFL with Kenny

The Joe Tiller era at Purdue produced 52 players who went on to the NFL for at least one season.

With all Tiller alumni except for Colts offensive tackle Dennis Kelly now out of the league, Purdue’s NFL numbers have been declining for years. An indictment, possibly, of the recruiting efforts of Tiller’s successors Danny Hope and Darrell Hazell.

Thanks to George Karlaftis, David Bell, Zander Horvath and DaMarcus Mitchell, the Boilermakers’ professional alumni stands at 12 on opening day rosters. That’s up from 11 a year ago. Ricardo Allen (Cincinnati) and Ryan Kerrigan (Washington) retired, while quarterback David Blough moved from the active roster at Detroit to the practice squad at Minnesota.

The most unexpected NFL Boilermaker is Mitchell, a defensive end who went undrafted. Mitchell, listed as the backup to Deatrich Wise Jr., for New England’s opener against Miami, extends a streak of undrafted free agents to make the Patriots.

Richie Witt of Sports Illustrated’s Patriot Country web site reports at least one undrafted free agent has been kept by coach Bill Belichick for 19 consecutive seasons. Mitchell had a sack among his four tackles during the preseason.

Mitchell is the ninth former Purdue player to play for Belichick in New England and one of two on the 2022 roster. Linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley started 16 games a year ago, missing one due to injury. Bentley recorded a career-high 108 tackles with a sack and three forced fumbles.

A bit of trivia: Bentley was recruited to Purdue from Hyattsville, Md., by current Notre Dame head coach Marcus Freeman.

The other seven Belichick Boilermakers all played in at least one Super Bowl: Rosevelt Colvin, Brandon Gorin, Jason King, Niko Koutouvides, Matt Light, Gene Mruczkowski and David Nugent.

Horvath beat long odds to make the Los Angeles Chargers’ roster as a seventh-round draft pick. Fullbacks aren’t exactly desirable in today’s passing offenses but Chargers.com writer Eric Smith says Horvath will be the starter in two-back sets.

“While he has shown flashes as a fullback, and could also carry the ball if needed, Horvath also established himself as a value player on special teams, too,” Smith writes.

Hoping to add his name to the list of Purdue alumni to play in the Super Bowl is Karlaftis, who apparently has earned the nickname “Furious George” in Kansas City.

Tyler Sullivan of CBSSports.com predicts Karlaftis will be named the NFL’s Defensive Rookie of the Year.

“The first-round pass rusher for the Chiefs is expected to have a solid role along this defense, which gives him a lane to beat the 20-1 odds and win Defensive Rookie of the Year. He had two sacks over the preseason and that is the type of statistic that is going to have voters’ attention. “He’ll be playing for a Chiefs team that will be a Super Bowl contender throughout the year and still boasts an offense that should be able to get up on teams early. That sets up a game script for him to be able to tee off against opposing quarterbacks and pump up his stats, especially with the likes of Chris Jones and Frank Clark garnering most of the attention. If he can disrupt the quarterback as he did at Purdue, the 6-foot-4, 275-pounder will have a national stage to state his case.

“Kansas City is set to play in five primetime games this season, which is the maximum number a team can be given. That allows Karlaftis to have the entire NFL-viewing audience watching him. That’s something Aidan Hutchinson — the current betting favorite for this award — doesn’t have as the Lions are currently without a primetime game in 2022.”

It may be a tougher road to stardom for Bell, listed as backup to wide receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones for Cleveland’s opener against Carolina. The Browns’ passing game is in the hands of former Colts quarterback Jacoby Brissett, who is filling in for the suspended DeShaun Watson over the first 11 games of the season.

The Arizona Cardinals reportedly are planning a bigger role in 2022 for wide receiver Rondale Moore, the fifth former Jeff Brohm Purdue recruit in the NFL.

Moore caught 54 passes for 435 yards and a touchdown as a rookie. His 973 all-purpose yards ranked sixth among NFL rookies. He’s listed as an opening day starter against Kansas City as the third wide receiver alongside A.J. Green and Marquise Brown.

Brohm’s recruits comprise one-half of the Purdue NFL ranks. The sixth, linebacker Derrick Barnes, got off to a good start with the Detroit Lions in 2021. Barnes started six games as a rookie, amassing 67 tackles and two sacks.

Second in Purdue NFL seniority to Kelly is Dallas Cowboys cornerback Anthony Brown, entering his seventh season. One of Danny Hope’s Florida imports, Brown had his best season in 2021 with 71 tackles and three interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown.

Two members of Hazell’s second-to-last recruiting class appear to be on an upward trajectory with the Cincinnati Bengals and Los Angeles Rams, respectively.

Linebacker Markus Bailey started three games in 2021, contributing to the Bengals’ surprising run to Super Bowl LVI. Bailey made 37 tackles a year ago.

Tight end Brycen Hopkins saved his best rookie year performance for that Super Bowl with four receptions totaling 47 yards after starter Tyler Higbee was injured. He’s listed as the No. 2 tight end going into the opener with Buffalo, behind Higbee.

Perhaps the former Boilermaker with the most to prove in 2022 is running back Raheem Mostert. His 2021 season with the San Francisco 49ers ended during the opener when the now 30-year-old suffered a knee injury. Mostert is hoping for a fast start in his new home, Miami.

Judging by a handful of preseason carries, Mostert’s speed appears to be back to Big Ten track championship form. Joe Schad of the Palm Beach Post recently noted that during the past 50 years, no NFL running back with a minimum of 200 carries has averaged more yards per carry than Mostert (5.67).

The Dolphins would be thrilled if Mostert approaches the form that saw him rush for 220 yards in a playoff loss to Green Bay in 2020. Only Hall of Famer Eric Dickerson has rushed for more yards (248) in a postseason game.

Take it for what it’s worth but Spotrac.com lists Karlaftis as the highest-paid Boilermaker in the NFL. Including his signing bonus, the West Lafayette High School graduate is expected to earn more than $6.5 million in the first year of his four-year contract.

Brown is second at $5 million and is eligible for free agency in 2023.

Other Boilermaker millionaires are Bentley ($3,250,000), Mostert ($2,125,000), Bell ($1,604,000) and Kelly ($1,272,500). Moore will join them in 2023 when his contract escalates to $1.289 million.

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.