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Breaking Down the Defensive Depth Chart

It’s not good, not good at all

Northwestern v Purdue Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

2018 was always going to be a transition year for the Boilermaker defense. Purdue lost 9 of its top 15 tacklers from last year, including 3 out their top 4 linebackers, 4 out of their top 5 defensive linemen, and 2 of their top 4 defensive backs.

There are very few teams in the nation equipped to handle such huge defensive turnover without a substantial regression. Off the top of my head those teams are: Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State, Georgia, and LSU. In fact, if I made a list of teams capable of handling such a catastrophic exodus of talent and experience, Purdue would be somewhere near the bottom.

Purdue is a talent development program, and with a few incoming exceptions, will be for the foreseeable future. The majority of Purdue’s defensive roster consists of low to mid range 3* prospects. You can absolutely win with that roster composition if you are running your program correctly and hitting on your evaluations, but it’s a challenge.

In general (there are always exceptions) when you take a low to mid 3* player, you’re projecting what he will look like in 2 to 3 years. Ideally, you’re looking for coachable, high ceiling prospects that need to refine their bodies and technique in a college program, but have the raw athletic material to compete in the Big10.

If you’re running your program correctly, a low to mid 3* players career should look something like this:

Freshman: Redshirt

RS Freshman: Special Teams, 3rd string, reps limited to garbage time

RS Sophomore: 2nd string, reserve reps in all games

RS Junior: Starter

RS Senior: Starter

You’re really targeting that RS Junior year as the payoff year. By that point the player should be physically developed and have enough experience to seamlessly move from reserve to starter. They know the system, they’ve played in big games, and they are hungry to make their mark.

If you follow along with that plan, the starting defense should mostly be comprised of the 2014 and 2015 recruiting class and the reserves should mostly be from 16’ and 17’

Instead, it looks like this:


Giovanni Reviere - 3*(81) - 17’ - RS Fr

Semisi Fakasiieiki - 3*(80) -16’ - RS So

DT (NG):

Lorenzo Neal - 3*(81) - 16’ - Jr

Ray Ellis - 3*(80) - 17’ - JuCo Sr

Alex Criddle - 2*(79) - 16’ RS So

DT (3 Tech):

Anthony Watts - 3*(80) - 16’ - RS So

Jeff Marks - 3*(83) - 18’ - Fr

DE (Hybrid):

Kai Higgins - 3*(80) - 17’ - JuCo Sr

Robert McWilliams - 3*(81) - 17’ - Rs Fr


Markus Bailey - 3*(85) - 15’ - Jr

Tobias Larry - 3* (80) - 17’ - So


Cornel Jones - 2*(79) - 17’ - So

Derrick Barnes - 2*(77) - 17’ - So


Derrick Barnes - 2*(77) - 17’ - So

Jaylan Alexander -3*(85) - 18’ - Fr


Antonio Blackmon - NR(WO) - 14’ - Rs Sr

Kenneth Major - 2*(76) - 17’ - Rs Fr


Tim Cason - 3*(84) - 14’ - Rs Sr

Dedrick Mackey - 3* (85) - 17’ - Rs Fr


Jacob Thieneman - NR(WO) - 14’ - Rs Sr

Brennan Thieneman - NR(WO) - 16’ - Rs So


Navon Mosely - 3*(83) - 16’ - Jr

Simeon Smiley -3*(82) - 16 - Rs So

Class Breakdown:

14’ - 3

15’ - 1

16’ - 7

17’ - 9

18’ - 2

If you stripped the names off this roster and just gave me the star rankings and years and asked me for a conference; I would tell you that this was most likely a rebuilding MAC team.

The only hold overs from the 14’ class are two walk-ons and a player that only appeared in 2 games last year. There is only 1 member of the class of 15’ on the depth chart. Instead of being the bulk of the defensive depth chart, the class of 14’ and 15’ have a combined 4 players left standing.

When you wonder about the tackling and missed assignments in games, I’ll point you back to this article. Purdue is having to play guys before they are ready because of the complete failure of the last regime to develop players. The majority of the players on the depth chart are one, two, and even 3 years ahead of where they would be in a normal “developmental” program.

If you ask why I still favor Eli Sindelar over David Blough, I’ll point you back to this article. The offense is going to need to put up 30+ on a regular basis, and I’m not sure a Blough led offense can consistently get us there.

I expect to see inconsistent defensive play throughout the season. This will probably be more pronounced in the early part of the year as we attempt to break in guys with little or no game experience. Nick Holt is a stellar defensive coordinator, but this might be one of the toughest defensive depth charts in Power 5 football.