All-in-all, the 2021 recruiting class could have been much, much worse. The Boilermakers finished strong, adding 2 key defensive pieces (Karlaftis and Grigsby...more on them later) and a crucial offensive lineman in Marcus Mbow. This class was always going to be small after a multitude of oversigns in the previous recruiting classes put the staff in a serious numbers crunch, but if you’re going to be in a numbers crunch, 2021 isn’t a bad year to be in one.
This class didn’t need a quarterback after Coach Brohm brought in Austin Burton over the summer, making a packed quarterback room even more crowded, and it’s a good thing, because they didn’t land one.
Sam Jackson, a 4*, dual threat/athlete out of Illinois, was a member of the class for a few months after flipping from Minnesota, but he flipped to TCU late, and will most likely end up playing receiver. Jackson flipping wasn’t ideal, because he brings something totally different to the quarterback position, but it isn’t the end of the world. I wasn’t exactly sure how he fit with the Brohm scheme long term.
The big miss was 4* in-state quarterback Donaven McCulley. When I evaluated this class in the summer, I thought it was McCulley or nothing at quarterback, and it ended up being nothing. I love McCulley’s talent, and losing him to I.U. after being the presumptive favorite hurts. He’s a legit talent with the physical tools coaches drool over. He’ll need to refine his game at the college level, but if anyone tells you he isn’t a huge miss, they’re lying. Having Brady Allen already in the mix for 2022 does take a bit of the sting out of missing McCulley though.
Grade: Incomplete (Although I give the coaching staff an A for not reaching on a quarterback they didn’t need)
This all boils down to Tirek Murphy. If the 4* running back from last year’s class returns after opting out, taking 1 running back is fine. If he doesn’t come back, this needed to be a two running back class.
The running back they did sign has the potential to be the true sleeper in the class. Ja’quez Cross was an absolute terror in 2A Arkansas High School Football. His stats are hard to wrap your head around. In 14 games he ran for 1100 yards on only 117 carries, for a robust 9.4 YPC average. His yardage would have looked even more impressive, but the end zone stopped 23 of carries.
When he wasn’t running with the ball, he was catching it. Cross played receiver last year before transitioning to running back, and returned to his former position on occasion. As a part time receiver he pulled down 35 receptions for 751 yards and 9 touchdowns. If my math is correct, he averaged 21.5 yards every time he caught the ball. That’s not too shabby.
Oh, he also played cornerback where he made 48 tackles and picked off 8 passes. No big deal.
The question with Cross is the same question I have with any small school player. How does he adapt to not being far and away the best athlete on the field? Much like Markell Jones in high school, his film is impossible to evaluate because he’s not challenged. Every player coming out of high school has to deal with a jump in competition, but the jump for Cross will be bigger than most. If he can handle it, Purdue landed the speed back I’ve been waiting to see in the Brohm offense.
Grade: C+ (with the potential to improve if Cross hits)
Some people collect baseball cards, some people collect nice bottles of bourbon, Jeff Brohm likes to collect wide receivers. That said, Brohm showed some restraint this season in only inking two (maybe 3) wideouts this year. This could have been a 1 or 0 receiver class, and nothing would have been lost, but with Anderson transferring, Moore heading to the NFL, and more attrition possible, I don’t hate taking 2 receivers.
Preston Terrell was Purdue’s first commit of the 2021 class and the 6’3, 180 pound deep threat out of Brownsville is a solid addition to the wide receiver room. He’ll play on the outside and specializes in going up and getting the ball over defensive backs. He plunged down the rankings after a slow start to his high school season, but picked up a little momentum with a strong finish.
Deion Burkes is a 5’10 slot receiver out of Belleville, Michigan, and after Anderson’s defection could be an important depth piece sooner, rather than later, for the Boilermakers. He’s more quick than fast, but that fine for a slot receiver. He’ll run drag and option routes and that should be a solid fit for his skill set. I’m not sure he’s a game breaker for the Boilermakers, but could be a nice possession receiver with the ability to pick up some yards after the catch and keep the chains moving.
My only concern with the receiving class is Brohm tends to play his top rated receivers, despite having a bevy of options on the bench. We’ve yet to see a lower rated Brohm receiver make a huge impact in the offense. These guys aren’t as highly regarded as some of the receivers in recent classes and will have to fight to get on the field.
This is another position that didn’t need much attention with Durham, Miller, Carr and Bilodeau on the roster with freshman or sophomore eligibility. Instead of banking the scholarship, the Boilermakers decided to roll the dice on WR/TE hybrid Drew Biber out of Wisconsin.
Originally committed to Northern Illinois, Biber, in theory, gives Purdue something a little different from the tight end position. He is a high school wide receiver, and will never be confused for a dominant blocker, but at 6’5, he’s a red zone threat and a guy that could exploit matchups with linebackers.
The thing is, Purdue has a similar on the roster in 6’5, 205 pound Kory Taylor, and he’s only appeared in 2 games over the last 3 years. Now, I’m not saying Biber = Taylor, they are different people, and I don’t know what keeps Taylor off the field, but this seems like Brohm is filling a role in his offense that doesn’t exist. Maybe he’ll create the a role for Biber.
This group got a major boost on signing day when former Arizona State commit Marcus Mbow signed up to play for the Boilermakrs. Still, this is a typical Purdue offensive line recruiting class (with the exception of Gus Hartwig last year) from Brohm and Dale Williams. They’re all going to need some time to develop before we know what we’ve got.
At 6’5, 305, Mbow is probably the most ready out of the box. The two sport (basketball/football) athlete has nice agility for a man of his size. He’ll need to figure out leverage at the college level, but you can say that about the vast majority of offensive line recruits. I think he’s more of a right tackle than a left tackle, but he’s athletic enough to play either.
Jaelin Alstott-VanDeVanter has the right last name to be a Boilermaker, and the frame at 6’7, 260 to grow into a prototypical left tackle. The Mooresville product is very much a “developmental” prospect and will need time to increase his physical strength and overall technique before he’s ready to hit the field. He’s a “wait and see” prospect with a high upside and a low floor.
Alstott-VandeVanter’s teammate at Mooresville, Zach Richards, is probably in a position to play a little earlier. He’ll play guard at Purdue, and has the requisite size and attitude to contribute early in his career if needed. He’ll need to get stronger, and I think he’s probably better moving forward than pulling, but that’s something he can work on at the college level. He’s a solid prospect with a decent floor but a limited ceiling.
Finally, my favorite offensive lineman in this class is also the lowest rated. Mahamane Moussa is an athlete. When you see him run, he doesn’t look like 6’5, 260 pound player. He looks more like a fullback or tight end that lined up in the wrong position. He’ll probably play inside, and could be devastating in the power run game with his ability to move. Mbow has the highest floor out these 4 linemen, but Moussa has the highest ceiling. He’s still raw, and it might take him a year or two, but I think he’ll develop into a starter at some point in his career.
Purdue put together some nice pieces on the line for the future, but it’s hard not to look at the guys they missed on in-state and want a little more. There were 4 in-state linemen that project as offensive tackles with the ability to play early, and Purdue missed on all 4. Getting beat out by Notre Dame for Blake Fisher and Ohio State for Zen Michalski is excusable (but Purdue eventually needs to win a few of these battles) but losing Joshua Sales to Indiana and Luke Collinsworth to Cincinnati hurts. This is a decent offensive line class, but it had the potential to be better if Purdue could have pulled one of the elite in-state tackles. Still, I like that Purdue took 4 linemen, and they have some nice talent to work with, but they must develop some of these guys.
This is a small class, but as I said above, I like the fact that Purdue dedicated 4 of those scholarships to linemen, and I think that will be the story long term. If a couple of the linemen hit, this class will look better on the field than it looks on paper. If they don’t, this class will look similar on the field as it looks on paper.
Cross, for my money, is the wildcard in this group, and could be a breakout star...or he could be another small school guy who struggles to transition to Big10 football. I think he makes the transition and significantly outplays is rankings.