By late last season the only thing that made Purdue even remotely watchable was Markell Jones. The exciting freshman showed why he ran for an absurd number of yards at Columbus East HS in his four years there. He was a legitimate threat to break almost any run, making him the most exciting player offensively.
Heading into 2016 we're all expected a big year from him, but he can't do it alone. He merely leads the way and needs someone new to step up as a strong reserve with D.J. Knox likely out for the year.
Markell Jones - So. - Jones might be the closest thing Purdue has to an offensive skill position all-Big Ten performer. With 875 yards and 10 touchdowns last year he already has an excellent start towards some of Purdue's long-standing rushing records. No freshman had scored as many TDs in a season since Kory Sheets in 2005, and Jones was also effective in the passing game. He added another 34 receptions for 239 yards and a score. If he touched the ball at all he averaged gaining 5.5 yards. He almost single-handedly pulled Purdue to an upset at No. 2 Michigan State when he had 157 yards and two scores against their notoriously strong run defense.
If anything, Purdue didn't use him quite enough last season. Against Virginia Tech, Bowling Green, and Minnesota he had only six carries each time. He had just one 100-yard game (the Michigan State game) but was over 90 three other times. Twice he had rushing TDs of over 60 yards.
It is no secret that Jones is the most indispensable player on the entire roster. The coaches need to find a balance of getting him touches and keeping him fresh because the expectations of a 1,000 yard season are there for him. Purdue has only eight 1,000 yard rushing seasons in its history with Sheets being the last to do it in 2008. Jones can easily become the ninth. With a few breaks Mike Alstott's school record of 1,436 (in 11 games, whereas 2016 Purdue could potentially play 15 with a B1G title game appearance and National title win) is in play. He only needs seven more touchdowns to climb into the 20 in school history, though Sheets' record of 54 is a little out there.
D.J. Knox - Jr. - Knox won the starting job last season and even played very well in the season opener at Marshall by going for 102 yards and a score, but in the remaining games he had only 307 yards and one more TD. For the most part teams kept him in check and he was passed by Jones. He was expected to be a solid reserve this year, but after tearing his ACL in the spring game it seems highly unlikely he will play at all. The good news is that he had a redshirt year available. The bad news is that there is almost no experience behind him.
David Yancey - Jr. - There is a HUGE dropoff behind Jones and the injured Knox in terms of experience. Yancey had five carries for 13 yards last year, but his total trailed a quarterback, a wide receiver that ran sweeps, and a cornerback who had a 39 yard fake punt rush. Still, Yancey has at least seen a small amount of time on the field.
Keyante Green - Jr. - To the surprise of almost everyone Green is still on the roster. The former 4-star recruit played well in spots as a redshirt freshman in 2014, gaining 199 yards on 27 carries. Since then, he has virtually disappeared. Records say that he appeared in three games as a reserve last year, but I certainly don't remember them. He reported to camp overweight last season and since then has been pretty much blacklisted by Hazell. He even only had three carries for nine yards in the spring game and appears to be well behind everyone else on the depth chart.
I have no idea what is going on here. He is listed at 5'9" 225 this season, making him 15 pounds heavier (and 2 inches shorter) than Jones. It seems like he has a very long way to go to get back on the field. If he has legitimate 4-star talent it is absurd that he in anchored to the bench, but that is where he finds himself.
Brian Lankford-Johnson - Fr. - The true freshman gets a spot this high because he is supposed to have some blinding speed that has already impressed the coaches before camp even started. Last season he had 1,814 yards and 22 touchdowns in high school, so from these two facts you have to think he gets a look.
Tario Fuller - Fr. (RS) - Fuller might be the No. 2 back behind Jones right now, but that is a mere guess. I could be fuller, or Yancey, or Lankford-Johnson. He had a modest 1,000 yard season two years ago in high school and did okay in the spring, but had only one carry for a yard in the spring game.
Richie Worship - Fr. (RS) - Worship is a big back at 6'1, 245 and because of that he has been seen as a bit of a superback that may split wide on occasion. We saw this in the spring game where he had two catches for 14 yards, but only one carry out of the backfield.
Lane Beeler - So. - Beeler is a walk-on fullback from nearby McCutcheon that is probably not going to get much playing time.
Projected Depth Chart:
Purdue definitely has a good one in Jones. As far as who backs him up, however, no one knows. Yancey has done very little in the first team snaps he has managed. Green is so buried right now he needs a backhoe to get out of it and on the field. Fuller might get the first look by default, but don't count out Lankford-Johnson. He seems like a Raheem Mostert or Akeem Hunt type that can break a big play with a small amount of daylight. I think his speed means he avoids a redshirt this year.
One thing is true: Purdue is screwed if Jones gets hurt.