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2017 Purdue Football Season Preview: Wide Receivers

The receiver position is one full of question marks for Purdue in 2017.

NCAA Football: Bowling Green at Purdue Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

While Purdue has a wealth of semi-proven talent at running back and it is a clear strength, the receivers group is a jumbled mass of humanity. That’s not good when the Jeff Brohm offense relies heavily on the passing game, meaning you need guys who can consistently catch the ball. Last year Western Kentucky threw for 4,715 yards and 42 touchdowns, numbers that Drew Brees in his best season in West Lafayette never approached.

Consequently, Purdue lost its top four wide receivers and returns only a couple of guys with even a remote amount of experience. The Boilers brought in two junior college transfers, a graduate transfer, three promising freshmen, have two freshmen coming out of their redshirt years, and have two promising walk-ons at the position. In all that, there is not one guy that you can point at and say “yes, he is a definite starter”. Nagging injuries have slowed a few guys too, and now David Blough is sidelined at a time he needs to develop a rapport with his receivers.

It is probably the biggest question mark facing Purdue right now. There is talent there. If everything comes together the Purdue offense can take a huge leap forward. Jeff Brohm has to navigate a lot of “ifs”, however.

Gregory Phillips – Sr.

40 receptions, 465 yards, 2 TDs

Purdue’s most experienced receiver has career numbers that would be a good season for a No. 3 receiver in Brohm’s offense. The senior from Lithonia, Georgia has had seasons of 10, 13, and 17 receptions and 151, 142, and 172 yards. Now he is being asked to step into a much larger role in his final year. Both of Phillips’ TDs came in 2015, with one being a 62 yard catch against Bowling Green and the other the next week at Michigan State. His best career game was a 4-92-1 game against Bowling Green.

Phillips has never really been a big play guy in his career, but now he is in a role where he is going to be asked to get 5-7 receptions per game. Can he do it?

Anthony Mahoungou – Sr.

21 receptions, 192 yards

I am really, really sick of the way GBI is evaluating Mahoungou. By all accounts he is having a very good camp. He has improved in all areas and has been consistent in route-running, his hands, body control, etc, but they keep knocking his “physical limitations” as if he is out there catching passes in a wheelchair or something. Here is what they said on Day 2 of camp:

Anthony Mahoungou, as we’ve said before, is a super-hard worker who wants desperately to be a playmaker. And he caught a ball up the seam in team for a touchdown. But, also as we’ve said before, the former J.C. WR has some physical limitations.

Just stop.

Mahoungou caught 4 passes in his first game at Purdue in 2015. Since then he has been a glorified benchwarmer with just 17 receptions in the following 23 games. I don’t give a crap about his physical limitations. If the kid can play, let him play.

Corey Holmes – Jr.

11 receptions, 96 yards (all at Notre Dame in 2016)

Holmes is a graduate transfer and a former 4-star receiver when he committed to Notre Dame. He has two years of eligibility left and is looking to be a difference-maker in those final two seasons. At 6’1” he is a bigger receiver, and the recruiting services would list him as Purdue’s best. In the 2014 recruiting cycle he was the No. 94 player nationally by ESPN. That’s the type of player Purdue hasn’t gotten in a very long time.

Can all that talent play out at Purdue? He is certainly going to get a chance. He got to Purdue late as he finished up classes at Notre Dame over the summer and a nagging injury has limited him. Still, on sheer talent alone he is going to play.

Isaac Zico – Jr.

Terry Wright – Jr.

Zico and Wright are both JuCo transfer brought in to compete immediately. They could play inside or outside, but the 6’1” Zico is probably more of an outside receiver. Last season Zico had 46 catches for 938 yards and 14 TDs at Georgia Military College, so those are good numbers. Wright had 50 catches for 805 yards and 8 TDs at Coffeyville Junior College. If you’re bringing in a JuCo receiver that is what you want to see, but can they do that in the Big Ten? Wright has also been slowed with injury.

Jarrett Burgess – Jr.

2 receptions, 7 yards

60 yards rushing, 1 TD

Malcolm Dotson – So.

7 special teams tackles

The two walk-ons here cannot be discounted. Burgess has been a project from day one, but does have a rushing TD from 2015 to his credit. The 27-year-old former baseball player has already done more than expected when he made a Division I football team and actually contributed after not playing football at all in over a decade. He’s not going to have a huge role, but he should do SOMETHING.

As for Dotson, he has been a solid special teamer while not running hurdles for the track team. He had all 7 tackles last season and should once again contribute on kickoff coverage.

Benaiah Franklin – Fr. (RS)

Jackson Anthrop – Fr. (RS)

I haven’t heard much from Franklin, which is not good when the competition is wide open for playing time. It seems like every other player is making a move, but there has been virtual silence regarding him. As for Anthrop, he is like his big brother. He could be snagging a slot receiver spot and he seems to have locked down a spot at punt returner. We know Anthrops are going to max out on their ability at Purdue. That just happens.

D’J Edwards – Fr.

Keyron Catlett – Fr.

Tyler Hamilton – Fr.

Catlett has been labeled as the surprise of the summer and might be earning the starting spot in the slot. In fact, it could come down to him and Anthrop, but the coaches have been very impressed with him. It certainly seems like he is going to play and avoid a redshirt.

The same can’t be said for Edwards and Hamilton, who were two of the more highly regarded Purdue recruits. Both enrolled early to go through spring practice, but were unimpressive. Hamilton was a 4-star recruit according to ESPN and even committed after Hazell was fired, but before Brohm signed on. Hamilton is more of a speed guy and Edwards has the size to be an outside receiver at 6’1”, but it seems as if they are a step or two behind the JuCos, Holmes, and the returning guys.

Overall Position Grade: C-

If I could give an incomplete to this group I would because we just don’t know what is going to happen. Among them you have 74 receptions for 760 yards and 2 TDs at the FBS level. By comparison, DeAngelo Yancey had 49 receptions for 951 yards and 10 TDs by himself last season. Phillips is the only one with any extensive game experience at Purdue, and Holmes had only one season with sporadic production at Notre Dame.

Is there talent there? Certainly! Holmes and Hamilton weren’t 4-star recruits according to ESPN for nothing. I like what Wright and Zico did last season at the JuCo level. Anthrop is going to do what Anthrops do at Purdue: overachieve. I am concerned that so many of these guys have missed time in camp with injuries at a time when practice is critical though.

If I had to guess, I would think the starters on day 1 were Mahoungou, Zico, and Catlett, with Phillips, Wright, Holmes, and Anthrop also getting playing time in various sets. It is not a completely awful top 7 guys, but they are unproven. If they can prove themselves the rebuild is going to come along much faster.