This year's draft was a bit disconcerting for Purdue fans. For the first time since 2005 our Boilers saw only one player get drafted. That year it was Kyle Orton, whose career is once again threatened by an allegedly more talented first rounder despite a solid season. Still, this year was a departure from what we are sued to as fans. From 1994 to 1997 we had just one draft pick: Mike Alstott. Since Joe Tiller took over the program and his first team sent a draft class to the NFL in the spring of 1998, The Boilers have had 38 draft picks. That included a record nine in 2004. We also had the first two first round selections since Rod Woodson in 1987 when Anthony Spencer went 26th overall in 2007 and Dustin Keller went 30th overall in 2008.
This year was a little bit different from 2003 and 2005 when we also only had one selection. In 2002 we had a team that was dominated by underclassmen on defense. Those players went on to make the 2004 Draft a Purdue part. In 2005, only Orton was drafted, but we still had four key players returning that would be drafted the next season, plus the NCAA's all-time leader in receptions. This year was clearly a sign that the talent had dropped off some in West Lafayette.
Going into the draft, Neal was the only sure thing in terms of draftable talent. We had some fringe guys that could have possibly been late round picks, but overall this was a sign of a team that has had consecutive losing seasons. I do think that will change next year, however. This was likely a one year aberration, and next year will be another multiple-pick year. Here is a short list of players that could be selected next season.
Ryan Kerrigan - Kerrigan probably could have been drafted this year if he had chosen to leave early. He is already fifth on the career sacks list with 21 and has had two of his best collegiate games against Ohio State. When the Buckeyes, who have owned the conference for most of the last decade, can't figure out Kerrigan, you know he is a force. In a pair of games against tOSU Kerrigan has five sacks, seven tackles for loss, two forced fumbles, and a fumble recovery. This is while facing the highly touted Terrelle Pryor, who is one of the most elusive quarterbacks in college football. For some reason, Kerrigan has a field day against OSU. Pryor cannot go tot he bathroom without Kerrigan's permission. He returns in 2010 as the Big Ten's sack leader and potential All-American. With another great year, he is a possible first rounder in the 2011 Draft.
Keith Smith - Typically, Purdue receivers have not carried their great collegiate numbers over to the next level. Brian Alford and Vinny Sutherland were the only two that have been drafted under Tiller. They combined to have three career catches for 23 yards. Taylor Stubblefield, the most productive receiver in NCAA history, never played a down in the NFL and played one year with the Hamilton Tiger-cats of the CFL. John Standeford, with 16 receptions and 249 career yards, has probably had the most successful career, but all but one reception came on the 0-16 Lions of 2008. Smith, with his size as a slot receiver, could break that trend. He reminds me of a smaller version of Dustin Keller, who has successfully made it as a tight end in the League. Smith has the ability to out-muscle linebackers in the slot and is a great route runner. In the right offense He could be a good mid-round pick.
Jason Werner - Werner faces some of the same issues that possibly scared off teams from Torri Williams. He has finally been able to play a full season without health issues, and he was very successful in doing so. As a rare 6th year senior due to his medical redshirt the NFL would be getting an experienced player that can easily be coached. He is also a natural leader by now too. Assuming Werner stays healthy this year (never a given for us), I can see him being a nice mid to late round pickup.
Ken Plue - Plue is only a junior, but he has been a rock on our offensive line since he was a true freshman. You can't teach his size as an offensive guard, either. He is one of the few returning pieces on our offensive line and if we have a finely tuned offense this coming year I can certainly see him pondering a jump. He has already drawn some national attention and could be an all-Big Ten performer in 2010.
Robert Marve - This is probably a stretch, but if Marve comes out and dominates the Big Ten like some think he can I could see him possibly jumping to the NFL a year early. It would probably take a wild scenario like him leading us to Pasadena, but if that does happen you know the draftniks would be all over him.
Kawann Short - Short is just about the only other underclassman that could possibly jump early, but it is highly unlikely. Still, he has shown some major flashes as an athletic defensive tackle that could dominate this year. Since this coming season would be his third since high school he would be eligible to jump, but it would be highly unlikely unless he would be a definite first rounder. To do so, he would have to be one of the best defensive tackles in the country.
In conclusion, I can see where 2010 will probably be the bottom point with more talent coming in. We already look like a bowl team again and players like Kerrigan and Smith are almost sure to be drafted next year. Even if the three underclassmen I mentioned here don't come out, they would already be in line for the 2012 draft. As long as the program continues to improve as we are seeing we won't have dry years like this past one.