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2021 Purdue Football: Which Seniors Return?

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It was a free year for everyone, but will some seniors come back?

NCAA Football: Maryland at Purdue Thomas J. Russo-USA TODAY Sports

In all likelihood the 2020 Purdue football season is over. We were hoping for nine games. We got six, and the last four were not particularly enjoyable. Yes, there could be the “Champions’ Week” game next week, but with three programs already down just for this week will he Big Ten even bother?

That means it is time to look forward to 2021, which will be a big year for the program. We all know Jeff Brohm’s star has faded a bit, but with extenuating circumstances like a r ash of injuries in 2019 and a freak pandemic in 2020. hopefully we’ll be back up and running full tilt by next September, and that means it is time to break out of the doldrums.

This year’s unique circumstances provide a rare chance to see some seniors again. The NCAA has already ruled that this is basically a free year for everyone. It has stated that any seniors that elect to return for 2021 will not count against the 85 scholarship limit. I don’t know what that means down the road (and I tried to write about it in August), but it does mean that 13 players can return in 2021, and we already had a small class of 10 scholarship players that would have been 2021 seniors but are now juniors eligibility-wise.

So who comes back? Here are my guesses:

Definitely Gone:

Lorenzo Neal - DT - Neal already came back for this year to improve his draft stock after missing all of 2019 rehabbing a knee injury. He made it through all six games and had some big plays in the process. There is no way he returns and risks another injury. He is very likely an NFL Draft pick, probably even on day 2.

Rondale Moore - WR - He’s not a senior, but Rondale is going to leave and get his money. It is hard to believe that it has already been two years since his electrifying 2018 season, but we only got to see him play in six more games after it. Not even half a season. Teams seemed to figure him out a bit too, as he was productive in his three games this year, but there weren’t really any explosive Rondale moments. He has one of those great “what if” Purdue careers given how the last two years went.

Probably Gone:

Jared Sparks - WR - Sparks was the first mid-season opt-out just before the Nebraska game and coach Brohm said he did not expect him back siren he is a fifth year guy and a graduate. He did catch four passes for 38 yards, but he may see the writing on the wall with younger guys coming in.

Derrick Barnes - LB - Barnes was having a great season and led Purdue with 54 tackles, 5.5 loss. He also had an interception and a pass breakup as one of the few players that seemed to thrive in Bob Diaco’s defense. Walter football projects him as a top 20 OLB, so I think he gives the NFL a shot while he is evaluated high.

Grant Hermanns - LT - Hermanns has mostly been a four year starter, has already missed some time due to injury, and has been he one stalwart up front for Purdue on the line. He has 33 starts and is probably a 6th or 7th round prospect. I think he jumps and I do not blame him.

Grad Transfer that can get an extra year towards a Masters

Tyler Coyle - LB/S - Coyle was a one-year hired gun from UConn that only got into four games, but had 13 tackles and a pass breakup. Given what Diaco’s defense calls for in safeties, he could be a guy that has a larger role if he stays. He would get a free year of school and get to play his old team in UConn, too.

Greg Long - OL - Long was yet another one-year stopgap solution that ended up starting. He probably doesn’t have a lot of NFL prospects, but he would get a free year to finish a Masters if that is his desire and be some needed depth up front.

50/50 Stay or go

Anthony Watts - DT - Watts had been a valuable contributor and experienced player before this season. The key word is “had”. Diaco’s 3-4 scheme kept him mostly on the sidelines and he had only six tackles in four games. He is much more suited to a 4-3 defense, and he has enough tape he could be an NFL prospect. I could see him staying if he slides into the role Neal had, but who knows.

Simeon Smiley - S - Smiley would likely get at least a look as an undrafted free agent because he has played both safety and corner. He had 10 tackles on the season and an interception that was wiped away by a BS roughing the passer call against Rutgers. He is another guy where 2021 would be his 6th year in the program, so he may just want to leave.

Brennan Thieneman - S - A walk-on turned scholarship safety, Thieneman might have a shot at an NFL free agent camp like his brother. He had 33 tackles and a fumble recovery this season and is a very smart player. I could see him giving the NFL at least a look.

The rest

Semisi Fakasiieiki - LB/DE - Semisi is the definition of “quality reserve” He provides depth and is an effective player when he is in the game. He finished with six tackles this season and could definitely have a role if he returned.

Nick Zecchino - LS - Who doesn’t want to come back and long snap another year? Zecchino is technically a walk-on, so I don’t know how the free scholarship year would apply to him.

Jackson Anthrop - WR - By law Purdue is required to have an Anthrop on at least one athletic team at all times. He fought back from a shoulder injury and had three receptions for 33 yards, but sand Rondale, he would be our best slot guy unless TJ Sheffield steps up.

J.D. Dellinger - K - With his brother on the roster as a true freshman this year and able to still redshirt next year, we have the possibility of a full decade of Dellinger kicking at Purdue. Because he had one kick in his 2018 redshirt year Dellinger would be in his sixth season, but it is extremely hard to make the NFL as a kicker. He is currently fourth in school history with 40 made field goals and is 40 of 54 in his career, but only five misses in the last two seasons. If he returns he is almost certainly Purdue’s kicker next season. He has scored 231 points in his career, which is 6th all-time. A good 2021 gets him probably as high as third behind only Kory Sheets (324) and Travis Dorsch (355).