Last Friday I wrote about the unexplainable rash of 4-star or better recruits that come to Purdue, but never seem to work out for whatever reason. It is staggering, but the only 4-star commitment Purdue has received over the past decade that went on to a successful, lengthy NFL career was Ray Edwards. More went the way of Selwyn Lymon or Kyle Williams as spectacular failures.
Purdue has been a breeding ground for success, however. Our Den of defensive ends has been a virtual pipeline to the NFL for guys who blow up despite being lowly recruited. These guys are the great success stories. It is too early to tell on anyone in the 2011 class or later because they have played two seasons at most, but Purdue football has made some NFL teams very happy with the talent it has developed.
Ryan Russell - DE - 2010 - Is Russell Purdue's next great defensive end? As he heads into his junior season that is what is hoped. Little was thought of him as a 2-star athlete out of Carrolton, Texas that only weighed 230 pounds, but he has been a hard worker since arriving in West Lafayette. He is now up to 275 and big things are expected. In 2011 as a redshirt freshman he had 33 tackles and a sack with three forced fumbles. Last year he had 37 tackles and four sacks, making him Purdue's top returning player in sacks. This is the year where he can make the Leap and get on everyone's radar.
Kawann Short - DT - 2008 - When Kawann committed in 2008 we knew about him more for basketball than football. Still, he was a decent enough 3-star recruit for Michigan and Michigan State to express interest in him. After redshirtting for a year Purdue put him at defensive tackle and did not have to worry about finding a replacement until now. Short was the No. 57 player nationally at his position out of HS, but was recently a second round pick of the Carolina Panthers. He is a disruptive force in the middle that can use his leaping ability to block kicks and bat down passes. The Panthers will enjoy him.
Ryan Kerrigan - DE - 2007 - Kerrigan came to Purdue in the fall of 2007 after only receiving MAC interest and Indiana along with Purdue. Not a whole lot was expected, but by the time he left Purdue he was Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, unanimous All-American, and a first round NFL pick the Redskins. In his first career NFL game he returned a short interception for a touchdown and made the Pro Bowl this past season. In two years in the NFL he has 16 sacks, 2 TDs, and 117 tackles. I think the Redskins are pleased.
Kyle Adams - TE - 2006 - Adams makes this list for overachieving after he left Purdue. He came on as a 2-star tight end in the 2006 class and had some respectable seasons in West Lafayette. He had 79 career receptions for 660 yards and three scores, and that included missing an entire year with an injury in 2008 (sustained on the opening kickoff of the season, I believe). He has since caught on as an undrafted free agent with the Chicago Bears and even started twice in 15 appearances last season, catching four passes for 40 yards. He could be in for a larger role this season.
Curtis Painter - QB - 2004 - Painter is often the butt of a lot of jokes, but he is still a player that set a number of school and even Big Ten passing records before leaving and starting a handful of NFL games. Whenever people mention that Purdue has more starts in the NFL at QB than any other school painter will forever be on that list. He was even part of a handful of weeks where three former Purdue QBs (Drew Brees, Kyle Orton, and Painter) were starting at the same time. All this from a 3-star QB from Vincennes that was thrust into action as a redshirt freshman. He was never transcendent, but he was at least good enough to start for an NFL team and get a look as a backup of one of the greatest QBs of all-time. He was put into a no-win situation in Indianapolis every time he played and it is not totally his fault he never won a game during the disastrous 2011 season that led to Andrew Luck. he did have a nice come from behind drive that should have beaten Pittsburgh in Indy had the Colts' defense not sucked after that.
Painter put up huge numbers at Purdue with over 11,000 yards passing and 67 TDs, but never won the big game. If you had a MAC team that needed destroyed, he was your guy, but unfortunately he played as the program as a whole was sliding down at a number of positions and he never had even a mediocre defense, let alone a good one. He still got a look in the NFL, started a few games, and can always say he started after Peyton Manning was done in Indianapolis and before Andrew Luck. Think of him as the filler in a Hall of Fame QB sandwich.
Dustin Keller - TE - 2003 - Perhaps the best example of what this list is about, Keller recently signed a free agent deal with the Dolphins after being a solid first round selection of the Jets. He caught a touchdown pass in all three 2009 playoff games as the Jets nearly made the Super Bowl before losing to Indianapolis. This is all from a guy that committed to Purdue as a scrawny 2-star receiver in 2003 when his home town school offered at the last minute, trumping Toledo. He came in with a four-star TE (Garret Bushong) who barely played in his career and is known more for mouthing off than hard work. Keller was hard work, going from 6'3" 200 pounds as a freshman to now 250 pounds. He has 17 career TDs and 2,876 yards receiving.
Bernard Pollard - S - 2003 - Pollard was just a three-star commitment when he came to Purdue, but left as one of our very few early-entry players to the NFL. He became a Super Bowl champion a few months ago with the reasons and has developed a reputation as a hard-hitting safety. Bill Simmons is even terrified of him since he injured Tom Brady after the Patriots' perfect season.
Mike Otto - OT - 2002 - I feel like I have been covering Otto forever. He played high school football and basketball at Maconaquah High School north of Kokomo. They have never had a strong football program, but recognizing his talent they ran nearly every running play behind his overpowering frame. He came to Purdue in 2002 as only a 2-star commit, but bulked himself up into a four-year starter and a seventh round selection of the Titans. Even as that low of a pick he has stuck around and chased paychecks for 47 games and five starts over five NFL seasons.
Anthony Spencer - DE - 2002 - The final player on this list was Purdue first Opening Round NFL Draft pick in almost two decades when the Cowboys took him in 2007. he was also a Pro-Bowler in 2012 with Kerrigan and was one of many great defensive ends the Boilers sent to the NFL. As a redshirt sophomore in 2004 he had 7.5 sacks, setting the tone for his career immediately. By his senior year he was one of the best defensive players in the country with 26.5 tackles for loss, fifth best in Big Ten history. He just earned his second straight Franchise tag with Dallas, making him a cool $9.6 million for the coming season.