Purdue Players Drafted In 2023 NFL Draft

When Jalen Graham’s name was called by the San Francisco 49ers early Saturday evening, the linebacker became the fifth former Purdue football standout selected in Rounds 4-7 of the 2023 NFL Draft.

All-American wide receiver Charlie Jones, quarterback Aidan O’Connell, tight end Payne Durham, cornerback Cory Trice and Graham gave the Boilermakers their highest representation in an NFL Draft since 2004. If these five athletes have the same good fortune as the nine Purdue standouts taken 19 years ago, they will enjoy several seasons in the NFL.

Nick Hardwick, Stuart Schweigert, Gilbert Gardner, Landon Johnson, Shaun Phillips, Niko Koutouvides, Kelly Butler, Craig Terrill and Jacques Reeves lasted between three seasons (Butler) and 11 (Hardwick, Phillips) in the NFL.

Schweigert, Phillips, Terrill, Gardner and Johnson started on defense for Purdue in the 2001 Rose Bowl. Koutouvides and Reeves also saw action at linebacker and cornerback, respectively, against Washington. Hardwick, inspired by Drew Brees and the Rose Bowl run, joined the Boilermakers in 2001 as a walk-on. Butler was a highly regarded recruit out of Grand Rapids, Mich., who entered the NFL Draft after three seasons as a starting tackle.

The only Big Ten Conference schools with more players drafted were no surprise: champion Michigan (9), Ohio State (6) and Penn State (6). Indiana was the only Big Ten school with no draft picks.

The Cincinnati Bengals made Jones the first Boilermaker selection with the 131st overall pick. That extended a run of three consecutive Purdue wide receivers drafted, following fellow All-Americans Rondale Moore in 2021 and David Bell last season.

Jones, a transfer from Iowa, led the nation with 110 receptions and set the Purdue single-season record with 1,361 receiving yards. The yardage ranked second nationally and his 12 touchdowns were fourth among receivers. His eight 100-yard games also broke a Purdue record shared by Bell, Moore, John Standeford and Steve Griffin.

The pick drew praise from ESPN’s team of analysts.

“He can play inside or outside at 5-11, 175 pounds, Todd McShay said. “He ran a 4.4 in the 40-yard dash. I love his quickness just as much as his speed. He’s kind of a little sneaky, one of those kind of a pain in the butt receivers.”

Added Louis Riddick: “He plays big. Don’t be misled. He’s not just a slot guy. He will burn your rear end on the outside. I saw him whip every defensive back he went against this year.”

Troy Walters, the Bengals’ receivers coach, told team radio broadcaster Dan Hoard that Jones is a technical route runner.

“If it’s a 15-yard route, he’s going to run 15,” Walters said. “If it’s 12 yards, he’s going to get 12. He knows how to manipulate coverages and defenders at the top of his route. He just knows how to get open.

“Joe (Burrow) wants you to be in the right spot at the right time and that’s what Charlie does. He’s someone that Joe can count on.”

The Bengals are loaded at wide receiver with Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd so Jones could return to his collegiate roots as a return specialist at first.

“It’s something I want to do, and something I’ve loved doing,” Jones told Hoard. “I want to be able to come in and make an impact any way I possible can.”

Jones’ childhood pal, O’Connell, became the first Purdue quarterback selected since Curtis Painter went to the Indianapolis Colts in 2009. O’Connell leaves as Purdue’s all-time leader in completion percentage (66.7), passing efficiency (141.8) and 500-yard passing games (2). His 9,219 passing yards are sixth in school history, and his 65 touchdown passes rank fifth.

According to Levi Edwards of raiders.com, general manager Dave Ziegler saw O’Connell as a prospect since midseason of 2022.

“The one thing about quarterbacks that you don’t get to see if you’re just watching tape or if you’re just watching games, I’d say over 50 percent of their success rate is really about what they’re made of from the neck up,” Ziegler said

of evaluating O’Connell. “Intelligence, ability to process, those type of intangibles, leadership. Felt like he has a lot of those different intangible qualities that we think are really, really important to have any chance to be successful in the league at quarterback.

“A lot of the things that he did at Purdue, some of the things that he showed – there’s areas to grow into – but he showed a lot of the things we wanted from the quarterback position.”

ESPN’s McShay agrees with the Raiders about O’Connell’s intelligence.

“He will learn the offense fast and be ready to go as No. 2,” McShay said.

Durham is one of only three Purdue tight ends drafted during the past 15 years, joining Dustin Keller in 2008 and former teammate Brycen Hopkins in 2020. Only All-American Dave Young caught more touchdown passes as a tight end (27) than Durham’s 21.

“He’s one of those guys that does everything well,” director of player personnel Mike Biehl told Scott Smith of buccaneers.com. “I wouldn’t say he’s elite at anything, but he does everything really well.”

ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. likes Durham’s 6-5, 253-pound frame.

“At Purdue he evolved into a heck of a target,” Kiper said. “I thought he played faster than the 4.87 time at the Combine. He will run you over once he gets his hands on the football.”

Trice ended a seven-year drought of Purdue cornerbacks in the NFL Draft since Dallas took Anthony Brown in 2016.

“This guy could be a steal,” Kiper said of Trice, who some draft forecasts had going as high as the third round.

Trice, like future teammate Joey Porter Jr. of Penn State, seems to fit what the Steelers are looking for from their cornerbacks.

“He played a lot of press coverage and that’s huge,” secondary coach Grady Brown told Teresa Varley of steelers.com. “Just the way that he plays press, being able to go down and … just use that frame to just take up a lot of space and make guys work on the line of scrimmage.”

Graham played both safety and linebacker at Purdue, a versatility that impressed 49ers general manager John Lynch.

“When we took Dee Winters (a sixth round pick from TCU), there was some discussion about who we wanted: Dee Winters or Jalen Graham,” Lynch said. “For Jalen to still be there at the end of the draft, we talked about bringing him in as a free agent but we said let’s have some certainty to this. Jalen is a guy we really like and are intrigued by.”

With its top offensive weapons now playing professionally, Purdue’s cupboard of NFL prospects may resemble Old Mother Hubbard’s.

The roster at purduesports.com lists 21 seniors. However, 15 have two seasons of eligibility remaining thanks to the NCAA’s COVID-19 ruling that made 2020 not count against the eligibility clock.

Thanks to some recruiting misses by former coach Jeff Brohm’s staff, the football class of 2023 would be even more lean without a handful of transfers. Former Iowa wide receiver Tyrone Tracy is now a running back. Jamari Brown (Kentucky) is a two-year starter at cornerback. Outside linebacker Scotty Humpich (Murray State), offensive tackle Daniel Johnson (Kent State) and 2023 transfer Isaiah Nichols (defensive end, Arkansas) are also entering their final season of eligibility.

The sixth true senior, three-year starting safety Cam Allen, has something to prove after struggling with tackling in 2022. If he rebounds under first-year coach Ryan Walters, Allen is the best bet to be an NFL Draft pick.

Allen was part of Brohm’s best-rated recruiting class (25th in the 247Sports composite) in 2019. That class was led by George Karlaftis (first round pick in 2022 by Kansas City), David Bell (2022 third-round pick by Cleveland) and Jalen Graham.

Karlaftis and Bell were among five four-star recruits. Wide receiver Milton Wright and safety Marvin Grant also became starters at Purdue. Academics ended Wright’s career at Purdue. Grant transferred to Kansas before the 2022 season.

The fifth, defensive tackle Steven Faucheux, never saw the field and transferred to Marshall, where he was converted to offensive tackle.

Only six members of that 27-man recruiting class remain at Purdue. Three – Allen, wide receiver T.J. Sheffield and tight end Garrett Miller – are likely starters this fall. Quarterback-turned-tight end Paul Piferi caught 10 passes for 143 yards and a touchdown in 2022. Linebacker Jacob Wahlberg was seventh on the team with 41 tackles. Defensive end Sulaiman Kpaka made 19 tackles in a reserve role.

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