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Purdue Football Recruiting: Who did we sign on defense?

A closer look at who Purdue signed, and why, Purdue signed 11 new defenders in the 2015 class.

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Player

Star

Grade

Position Rank

Wyatt Cook

3*

79

# 17 ILB

Markus Bailey

3*

78

# 37 OLB

Andy Chelf

3*

77

#54 S

Evyn Cooper

3*

76

#102 ATH

Michael Little

3*

75

#82 CB

David Rose

3*

75

#119 ATH

Eddy Wilson

3*

74

#95 DT

Sawyer Dawson

3*

74

#105 OLB

Tim Faison

3*

73

#112 OLB

Shayne Henley

3*

70

#11 JuCo DE

Fred Brown

NR

NR

NR

Purdue added 11 defensive players in their 2015 recruiting class. Much like the offense, I'm beginning to see a recruiting philosophy emerge on the defensive side of the ball. I consider this Hazell's first non emergency recruiting class, and you can see more of a focus on long term investment in these defensive players. The theme for the offense in the 2015 was bigger and stronger across the board. The defensive philosophy is a little more nuanced, but you can see specific needs being filled in each position group.

Linebackers:

Purdue was looking to fill 3 specific needs with this linebacker class. The first need was another Big 10 sized and Big 10 ready middle linebacker. Ja'Whaun Bentley is a stud, but behind him on the depth chart is a whole bunch of questions. Signing another middle linebacker also gives Purdue the option of getting bigger linebackers on the field against teams that want to run the ball down our throats, because Bentley is more than capable of moving to the strong side if the need arises. The next need Purdue was looking to fill was at outside linebacker. There is some talent stacked up in the depth chart, but a versatile outside linebacker was on the wish list. Finally, Purdue went looking for a coverage linebacker. Purdue's defense has been absolutely destroyed on 3rd down passes over the middle. A 3rd down linebacker with good coverage instincts was a must have in this class.

Wyatt Cook is the headliner of this linebacker class. The Purdue coaches went into Maryland and pulled out a physical linebacker with Big 10 size to fill the need at middle linebacker. Cook was the captain of a 2 time state championship defense, and is an individual state wrestling champ. All Wyatt Cook knows how to do is win. Having a player like Cook on the roster gives Purdue more flexibility in their linebacker groupings. Against run heavy teams I would not be surprised to see Cook on the field with Bentley, with Cook or Bentley kicking out to the strong side. Cook is also a much needed insurance policy against a Bentley injury. Cook is the type of Big 10 linebacker that we saw under Brock Spack.

Purdue also grabbed a versatile, athletic linebacker out of Ohio in Marcus Bailey. Marcus played outside linebacker and running back for Hilliard Davidson, one of the better football programs in Ohio. Bailey was Davidson's best player on  both sides of the ball, and the Davidson coaches had a hard time deciding where he helped the team the most. Some games he would have 20 carries, and some games he would only line up on defense. Marcus didn't put up huge stats his senior year because he bounced around, but if you watch his tape, you can see a football player that gets the job done. Bailey will probably end up at outside linebacker for the Boilermakers, and I'm assuming whoever is in charge of the special teams will be fighting to get Bailey involved sooner rather than later. Bailey is a kid who could be a special teams star early on before transitioning into the linebacker rotation.

Sawyer Dawson is a little bit of a tweener. He's a safety eating his way into playing linebacker. Dawson is excellent in coverage, and could play early on 3rd and long, because he's not going to let the stupid tight end get behind him down the stupid middle of the field and make ThelegendofShawnMcCarthy swear in front of his child. Dawon played in Tampa for a Plant team that went up against some of the most dynamic 5* athletes in the nation. Fast players won't shock Sawyer. Dawson probably won't come in with the size to be an every down linebacker, but his specific skill set could get him playing time. He's another kid, who, if nothing else, will help upgrade special teams early on in his career. Sawyer, if you're reading this, do it for little Lillian Irene, who has to listen to her father rant and rave at the television because the defense can't get off the field on 3rd down.

Wait a second Legend, (I like that nickname) I thought you said there were only 3 needs, and you listed 3 linebackers....what's this about a 4th linebacker? The coaches were set with the three above linebackers, and then another linebacker caught their attention. Tim Faison was just too much of an intriguing talent to pass up, so the coaches adjusted their recruiting board and sealed the deal. Out of all the linebackers, Faison probably has the most developing to do, but he also has a high upside. Faison played defensive end for Florida high school power Amos P. Godby in Tallahassee. He is too small to play defensive end at the Division 1 level, but he is too athletic to not to play at the Division 1 level. Purdue is buying in at the bottom of Faison's stock, and they're hoping with a few years he pays off big as a pass rushing outside linebacker. Personally, I like the gamble.

Defensive Back:

Purdue was looking to get bigger in the secondary with this class. Purdue's recent tendency is to play corners at safety, nickel corner backs on the outside, and even smaller nickel backs in the slot. This class will go a long way in reversing that trend. Purdue was looking for physicality and size in the back end, and they found it.

The star of this secondary class has to be Evyn Cooper. The funny thing about Cooper, is that you've got to do some serious digging to find him actually playing in the secondary. Cooper played all over the place for Bufort High School, one of the best programs in Georgia. He played some running back, he returned kicks, he caught the ball out of the backfield, but he didn't really play that much defense. However, Purdue is going to give the 6'2, 185 athlete a shot at either corner or safety. Personally, I think he sticks at corner for about 30 minutes before the coaches go ahead and move him to free safety. Purdue hasn't had this mix of size and athleticism since Torri Williams pre knee explosion(s). Cooper is interesting, in that if he played at a less talented high school he might be a 4* player based on offensive production. Hopefully he can harness his immense physical talent early on and make an impact in the back end of the defense. Oh, and as an added bonus, he's a pretty good kick returner. I doubt Cooper redshirts.

Purdue's first venture into getting bigger at the cornerback position came when they signed Michael Little out of Los Angeles, California. Little is another guy who would be an intriguing offensive recruit. Little played both cornerback and wide receiver at Notre Dame High School, and he was recruited by some teams to play wide receiver. However, Purdue sees him as strictly a cornerback. Are you tired of watching teams run the jump ball play against Purdue's secondary? I know I sure am. Most Purdue opponents know that their receivers are always open up top because Purdue lacks size on the outside. Little won't have that problem, and he should have the ball skills to punish some of those jump ball plays with interceptions.

Purdue's next attempt to get bigger comes from Maryland. Purdue was a little late to offer Rose (coaches say they didn't get his film until late in the process), but once they saw his film they offered and Rose committed. Rose is another big cornerback with solid ball skills. At 6'0, 170 Rose is another guy that's not going to get out physicaled (or at least outjumped) by a wide receiver. The big question regarding Rose is his top end speed, but he has the athleticism (he's also an excellent basketball player) to lock up with bigger, possession type receivers Purdue has seemed to struggle with over the last few years.

Finally, the first Purdue's second commitment of the 2015 class seems to break the trend of bigger players in the secondary. Andy Chelf is mayyyyyybe 6'0 tall, but he was the leading tackler for South Lake Carroll, one of the elite Texas High School Football programs. Watching Chelf's tape made me smile. He's not an ankle slapping, hold on and pray, tackler. When Chelf hits you, he hits you with everything he has. Now, don't go thinking Chelf is some scrappy underdog type guy that Purdue was nice enough to offer a scholarship. Andy was athletic enough to play safety and return kicks for South Lake Carroll. At one point in the season, South Lake was ranked as the top team in Texas and a top 20 team in the nation, and generally speaking, if you're athletic enough to return kicks for a team like that, you're a pretty decent athlete. Chelf was actually one of my sleeper picks to make an instant impact in this class, but then, in true Boilermaker fashion, he tore his ACL. Andy will be on the shelf (Chelf if you will) this year, but I expect to see him at safety sooner rather than later.

Defensive Line:

I'm going to combine defensive end and defensive tackle because Purdue only signed 1 DE, and the 2 DTs they signed are currently DE sized. Defensive tackle is one of the hardest positions for teams with Purdue's (ahem) stature in the college football world. In fact, defensive tackle is one of the hardest positions for teams of any stature to fill. There are so few instant impact defensive tackles available that Alabama was willing to take a chance on former Georgia player Jonathan Taylor. At 6'4, 335 Jonathan Taylor is everything you look for in a defensive tackle. He's also a poster child for all that is wrong with college football. He spent more time at Georgia making the news for felony domestic violence (punching and choking his girlfriend) and double cashing his scholarship check. He currently has ending felony assault and misdemeanor theft charges, but because he is 6'4 335, Nick Saban decided to open his heart and give a nice little speech on "second chances". If Alabama has to scrape the scum off the bottom of the barrel to find a defensive tackle, imagine what Purdue has to work with (rant over). In the past, Purdue went the 2* fat guy route to fill the defensive tackle position. Everyone got excited and said, "man it's great to see Purdue getting these big defensive tackles". The problem with most 2*, 300 pound DT really are 2* players, and they aren't very good at doing things like moving their feet or tackling. In this class, Purdue decided that instead of settling for 2* fat guys, they were going to try and feed up their own defensive tackles, because the only way Purdue is going to end up with a 5* defensive tackle is if they grow their own.

Eddy Wilson had a prototypical Purdue recruitment. Purdue coaches identified Wilson as an under rated player who had a high ceiling as a defensive tackle. As soon as Purdue moved in and secured Wilson's commitment, other Big 10 teams took notice and tried their best to pry Wilson away from Purdue. The 6'4, 265 pound Wilson has a ways to go before he is defensive tackle sized, but if can put on a good (not fat) 20 pounds, he'll be big enough to get on the field. If Wilson can maintain his current speed and athleticism with an additional 20+ pounds, he could be a difference maker. Wilson will have at least one year, and probably 2 years to put on weight. He is a long term investment for the Purdue coaching staff. Can Purdue develop players? Wilson might be a nice case study to answer that question one way or the other.

Fred Brown is Purdue's second roll of the dice at defensive tackle. Brown's offer list was less than impressive, but Purdue thinks they can grow the 6'2, 255 pound Brown into a Big 10 defensive tackle. Brown is going to need at least 30 pounds to see the field, but like Wilson, he will have some time to develop in Purdue's nutrition and weight program. Wilson is a long term investment, and Purdue is gambling on his top end. It will be interesting to see how these players shake out for Purdue. They will either grow into defensive tackles, or they will struggle to see the field. Purdue is betting that at least one of them likes eating and lifting enough to get bigger.

JuCo transfer Shayne Henley is Purdue's sole defensive end signing. The Boilermakers had a few other defensive ends on the line, but the state of North Carolina was not kind to Purdue this year. Henley is a guy that has the size (6'4, 245) to compete for a spot at strong side defensive end from day 1. My only issue with Henley is that when you take a JuCo player, you hope to sign a high school player to develop while the JuCo plays. Again, Purdue tried, but as of right now, struck out. Purdue struggled to get anything sort of pass rush out of their 2 senior starters last year. Hopefully Henley can come in and change that next year.



Drew Schneider