The offensive side of the 2015 class looked like it was heading in that direction before the start of last season. There were way more questions than answers, and most of the players in the 2015 class had only seen limited action, despite Purdue’s struggles on offense under Coach Hazell.
Coach Brohm turned all that around by putting players in a position to succeed, instead of asking them to do things they were not capable of accomplishing. My biggest beef (and there were numerous beefs) with the Hazell regime was their inability to utilize the roster. They brought in interesting players, but they never saw the field. Brohm changed all of that, and now, the 2015 class is the heart of the Purdue revival on offense.
Gone But Not Forgotten:
Anthony Mahoungou: WR 3* (.85) - JuCo
Mahoungou had a strange senior season. He started the year by getting open, but he had ping pong paddles for hands.
He got benched mid season because no matter how open you are, if you can’t catch the ball, you can’t play.
Then, when it looked like Mahoungou’s initially promising career was going to fizzle out completely, he found just enough consistency to become one of the more explosive wide receivers in the Big10.
Mahoungou took over the Iowa game, putting up 135 and 2 td in the 2nd half to keep Purdue’s bowl hopes alive. He caught another 2 passes for 88 yards and a touchdown vs Indiana to secure Purdue’s bowl berth.
Finally, Mahoungou landed the coup de grace on Arizona (and Rich Rod’s coaching career) with a last minute touchdown to vault Purdue over the Wildcats and secure a rather improbable bowl victory.
Dominique Young: WR 2* (.79)
If it weren’t for bad luck, Domo Young would have had no luck at all during his time at Purdue.
The JuCo transfer came in and found a spot in the receiver rotation immediately. He looked to be putting it together, but then a nasty helmet to helmet hit against Bowling Green sidelined with a concussion. It took Young a few games to bounce back, but by the end of the season he had become one of the Boilermakers primary targets.
The 2017 season saw Domo poised for a breakout season, and through the first 5 games of the season, he was well on his way. Then he ran an out route vs Illinois and his knee exploded, ending his 2017 campaign and his career at Purdue.
Peyton Truitt: OG 2* (.79)
Truitt is a local kid (West Lafayette High School) Hazell and Co picked up late in the recruiting process. He was initially thought to be a tackle prospect because of his size (6’6, 285) but he just doesn’t move his feet well enough to be put on an island.
In 2017 Coach Williams moved Truitt inside and he performed fairly well as a back up guard. Unlike the last regime, Brohm likes to get everyone involved, so Truitt actually saw some meaningful snaps this year when the starters needed a rest.
He will continue to provide depth as an interior lineman in 2018. I’m not sure if he’ll ever start at Purdue, but you need guys you can count on off the bench, and Truitt is always going to give you everything he’s got when he steps onto the field.
Jess Trussel: TE 2* (.78)
At 6’6, 240, Trussel looks like a football player.
Another late addition to the 2015 class, Trussel didn’t put up big numbers in high school, but Purdue decided that his size and athleticism warranted a scholarship offer.
Thus far, Trussel has played some special teams for the Boilermakers, but doesn’t appear to have made much of a dent at the tight end position. Purdue simply has better options at the position right now, but that certainly doesn’t mean Trussel can’t make a move an earn some playing time, especially as an in-line, run blocking tight end on short yardage plays.
Michael Mendez: OL 2* (.76)
Yet another late addition to the 2015 class, the Hazell staff talked Mendez up as the true hidden gem in the 2015 class.
After a redshirt year in 2015, it appeared that Hazell and Co saw Mendez as the future at left tackle. Mendez even started 3 games at tackle because of injury in the 2016 season.
2017 saw Mendez moved to guard because Brohm and Williams like taller tackles, and at 6’4, Mendez just doesn’t fit what they are looking for at tackle.
Mendez is in a good place to entrench himself as the 6th or 7th offensive lineman and should see plenty of snaps off the bench. His versatility alone makes him an important piece of Purdue’s offensive line puzzle.
Injured Running Backs:
Richie Worship: RB 3* (.84)
At an athletic 6’0, 260 pounds, Worship is a physical freak. You just don’t expect someone that big to have such good feet.
In 2016, the Hazell staff used Worship as a short yardage back. They saw him as someone who was good for about 3 yards between the tackles.
2017 saw Worship getting snaps as the starting tailback after a rash of injuries. He had 19 touches in the Nebraska game and 15 touches in the Illinois game, putting up a touchdown in both outings. Just as Brohm was starting to unleash the beast, he blew a knee against Northwestern, ending his 2017 campaign just as it was taking off.
Worship is still recovering from his torn ACL and will be limited in the spring. If he comes back at full strength, he will play role for Purdue in 2018.
Tario Fuller: RB 3* (.81)
Fuller was one of the real beneficiaries of the coaching change.
I’m not sure what the last staff thought of him, but the certainly didn’t see him as a starter. That changed under Brohm, as Fuller ascended to the top of the depth chart over some familiar names from the Hazell era.
After a rough start in the Louisville game, Fuller exploded against Ohio, running for 142 yards and a touchdown on just 16 carries. He was putting up a similar performance against Missouri (19 carried, 90 yards, 1 td) when he blew an ankle getting tackled at the end of a long run, and missed the rest of the season.
Fuller is probably the most complete back on the roster. He has the power to pick up tough yards and the speed and explosiveness to take it the distance.
He will be limited in spring practice as he recovers from ankle surgery, but will get a shot to regain the starting position in fall camp if he comes in healthy.
Markell Jones: RB 3* (.83)
Jones was anointed as the Purdue savior by Hazell, and it initially appeared that the Indiana high school legend was going to live up to his billing.
He put up 1114 yards and 11 touchdowns from scrimmage as a freshman in 2015 and it looked like Purdue had a budding super star on their hands.
2016, however, saw Jones return to earth.
He just didn’t look quite as explosive, and battled a sore shoulder most of the season that appeared to limit his power running style. Tackles that he would have broken in 2015 stopped him dead in 2016. He regressed to 831 yards and 4 touchdowns from scrimmage in 2016.
2017 also started off rough for Jones, with Brohm subtly challenging him in the media because of his penchant for being constantly nicked up.
Fuller grabbed the starting spot from Jones, and Jones was once again injured in the Louisville game. After carrying the load for the Boilermaker offense for much of 2015 and 2016, Jones only saw his carries greatly diminish in 2017, and for good reason, he just didn’t look right physically for most of the year.
While most of the 2017 was a struggle for Jones, he caught fire against Iowa, running for 74 yards on 14 carries, helping salt away the game in the 4th quarter with his physical running style. Jones carried that momentum into the Indiana game and ran wild against the Hoosiers beleaguered run defense. Jones put up 217 yards on 31 carries in one of the most dominating performances I’ve ever seen out of Purdue back. To finish off his late resurgence, Jones ran for 86 yards on 21 carries against Arizona, picking up several crucial first downs along the way.
Jones will come into spring camp as the clear starter for Purdue. He has the talent to stay perched atop the depth chart, but can he stay healthy?
The Rise of the Tight End:
Brycen Hopkins: TE 3* (.80)
No position group benefited from the Hazell/Brohm transition more than the tight ends. This was partly due to the inconsistent play from the wide receivers, and partly due to the abilities of the tight ends (Herdman & Hopkins).
Hopkins took a redshirt in 2015, and only managed to get on the field in 6 in 2016, but still managed 4 touchdowns on only 10 receptions.
2017 saw Hopkins lead the tight end position with 25 receptions and 3 touchdowns.
Hopkins has a knack for working the middle of the field, often times running down the seem against a physically over matched safety. He averaged 14 yards a completion last season, which is exceptional for the tight end position.
Purdue is set in 2018 with the return of both Herdman and Hopkins. Look for the Boilers to utilize quite a few 2 TE sets until the wide receiver position settles down. I expect Hopkins to have a break out year. I believe he has the talent to be one of the premier tight ends in the Big10.
Return of the Road Grader:
Matt McCann: OL 3* (.85)
McCann is another player that the Hazell and Brohm saw differently.
In his first two seasons with Purdue under Hazell, McCann was stationed on the outside, as a right tackle. This worked well in the run game, because McCann is a nasty run blocker, but didn’t work out so well when he attempted to block speed rushers on the outside.
In 2017, after coming back from off-season shoulder surgery, McCann found himself bumped inside, taking over the starting right guard position.
At guard, McCann can utilize his natural instincts as a run blocker, but doesn’t have to worry about getting burned off the edge. McCann went from being a marginal right tackle to an excellent right guard.
McCann will be a rock in the middle of the Boilermaker offensive line, and has All-Big10 potential.
The Man With the Golden Arm:
Elijah Sindelar: QB 3* (.85)
Sindelar was the headliner of the 2015. He is a high school legend in Kentucky, holding the career touchdown pass record. I think he would have made a run for the starting job as a freshman in 2015, but in true Purdue fashion, he blew a knee in the Kentucky state playoffs and took a redshirt.
In 2016 he saw some action in relief of David Blough, but was generally unimpressive. To be fair, he was often put into untenable positions. He would enter the game after Purdue was significantly behind and face an all out pass rush on every play.
2017 saw Sindelar firmly entrench himself in Boilermaker lore. The beginning of the season was hit and miss as Sindelar and Blough split time. In my opinion, Sindelar was clearly the better passing quarterback, but the Purdue receivers couldn’t catch the ball.
After an extremely frustrating Rutgers game that saw the Purdue receivers drop numerous Sindelar passes, Brohm made the switch to a more run based offense, and went almost exclusively with Blough. This ended in the Illinois game when Blough’s foot was almost ripped off his leg.
With Blough out, Brohm returned to the passing offense in a big way. In a loss to Northwestern, Sindelar threw the ball 60 times for 376 yards and 2 tds. Oh, and he also tore his ACL (but we wouldn’t find that out until after the season).
The Iowa game saw Sindelar establish himself as the team leader, igniting the passing offense in the 2nd half and improbably keeping Purdue’s bowl hopes alive. He kept up the momentum in the Indiana game, throwing for another 226 and 2 TDs, complimenting Markell Jones’ monster game on the ground.
The bowl game is where against Arizona is where Sindelar etched his name into Purdue lore. Playing on a torn ACL, Sindelar threw for 396 yards and 4 TDs, including a late game winner.
Elijah will sit in the Spring as he recovers from his ACL surgery but I fully expect him to start if healthy. He is the prototypical Brohm quarterback and has elite arm talent. If he continues to develop as a passer, I fully expect him to play in the NFL after his Purdue career.