When a team goes 4-20 over two seasons talent is obviously part of the issue. As we have seen time and again, Purdue has not had enough talent to compete with the rest of the Big Ten. Hopefully that is changing as younger players get more playing time and get better.
But that is the future. Purdue has a number of players leaving after this season, and with at least one player drafted into the NFL every year since 1998 we're surely sending at least one guy to the next level. Here are the top possibilities:
Ryan Russell - Defensive End - Did Russell regress each of the past two seasons or will he perform better with better players around him? Russell was thought to be the next great defensive end after a solid freshman season, but struggled to do much in each of the past two seasons. After posting 8.5 tackles for loss and four sacks in 2012 he had only 5.5 for loss and two sacks in 2013. This year he had 6.5 tackles for loss and three sacks.
Russell was always a solid player, but he never made the jump to Kerrigan/Avril/Phillips/Colvin status at defensive end. He does have the size that NFL scouts love at 6'5", 273 pounds. He could also benefit from not being the focus of opposing offensive lines. For two years now teams knew he was our best end and focused on eliminating him. Unlike Kerrigan, he didn't thrive on double and triple teams.
Russell is probably going to be drafted based on his size and potential, but I don't see him going before round four at all.
Landon Feichter - Safety - The jump from walk-on to the NFL is a big one, but if anyone can do it, it is Feichter. He was the team's defensive MVP for each of the past few seasons and produced both as a pass defender and a sure tackler. No player played with more toughness and grit than Feichter and he is a true leader on the field.
Will many teams want a 6' 190 pound safety, however? Feichter does not possess blazing speed or hit particularly hard. He is just a fundamentally sound defender that tackles well and is a bit of a ball hawk. His 10 career interceptions will likely get him a look, but most likely as a free agent.
Raheem Mostert - running back/kick returner - This season was perhaps the worst for Mostert as a kickoff returner, but he still leaves Purdue as the most accomplished player ever at that position. He has blinding speed and with good blocking ahead of him he can easily break a kick. Players have been known to hang around the league for quite awhile as return specialists, so why not Mostert?
Return specialists are rarely drafted high, if at all, however. On speed alone Mostert is going to get a look from an NFL team. He is either going to be a late round draft pick or an undrafted free agent for a team looking for an edge in the return game.
Akeem Hunt - running back/kick returner - Hunt is flat out dangerous when he gets the ball in space. I would love to know how many of his career touchdowns came on plays of 40+ yards. I would be willing to bet he had at least eight.
Hunt is a versatile player that a smart team can use in a variety of ways. He catches the ball well out of the backfield. He can return kicks (two career kickoff return TDs). He can be a home run hitter in the ground game with good blocking. The possibilities are endless and he nearly had 1,000 yards on the ground this season.
There are A LOT of good running backs out there, however. That's why a team might pick him up in the later rounds as a nice addition. If Danny freaking Woodhead can be an NFL regular a speedster like Akeem Hunt can make a roster. I think Hunt is a late round pick or a solid free agent pickup.
Justin Sinz - Tight End - Sinz was rarely flashy, but he was a big, reliable target of a tight end that finished his career by catching a pass in over 20 straight games. He's not Jimmy Graham. He is not going to be physically dominant, but he is good enough to probably get a look as a free agent somewhere. He could be a good red zone target (7 career touchdowns).
Jesse Schmitt - Long Snapper - Long Snapper has become as specialized of a position as kicker and punter in recent years. They still don't get drafted. That doesn't mean Schmitt will go entirely unnoticed. Schmitt was a four year starter and, to my knowledge, never had a bad snap in 50 career games. There are 32 long-snapping jobs in the NFL and teams are not afraid to fire a guy and look elsewhere if he screws up. That tells me Schmitt might end up in a camp somewhere. If you think I am crazy look at former Colts player Justin Snow. He was in the NFL for 12 years as a long-snapper.