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Purdue Football: 2022 Roster - Running Back - UPDATE!

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Zander Horvath’s departure changes a few things this offseason.

Purdue v Nebraska Photo by Steven Branscombe/Getty Images

Note:

I’m going to try this and see how it goes. I want to show how different positions groups evolve during the offseason. In order to see the “evolution”, you need to see where everything started. I’ll bold the new updates to try and keep this thing easy(ish) to read. This might work and be interesting, or it might be a waste of my (and by extension, your) time. If that’s the case, I’ll go back to writing shorter articles without the background noise. Let me know in the comments if this is something you think might have interest in long term.

Update 12/13/2021

Two huge roster updates in one day. One goes for the Boilermakers (hurray AOC)! One goes against the Boilermakers (congrats to Horvath, I look forward to seeing if the NFL can utilize his unique skill set).

This clears up the depth chart and further opens up the potential of adding a difference maker at the running back position.

Running back has been a source of personal frustration during the Brohm era of Purdue football. I will once again tell everyone that Brohm’s offense works much better when the defense has to account for the run game. His run game at Western Kentucky (featuring a speed back) made his offense one of the best in college football.

That’s yet to manifest in West Lafayette, and maybe it never will. Brohm essentially went full air raid in 2021. I think there is a hard ceiling on that system in West Lafayette because you’re guaranteed at least 1 “the weather is ass” game, but in reality, could face several other games where throwing the ball during a maelstrom is a possibility. It would be nice to have something to do other than make excuses.

Note: Someone asked why I’m putting these out early. I thought it would be interesting to see how these positions progress through the off-season. I plan on giving updates when something happens instead of writing 20 different versions of the same article.

Thunder Options

King Doerue

Class: Jr

Eligibility: 4 seasons to play 3 (2019 Recruiting Class)

King Doerue 2021 Stats

Attempts Yards Average Long Touchdowns Receptions Yards TDs
Attempts Yards Average Long Touchdowns Receptions Yards TDs
125 488 3.9 31 2 20 156 0

What He Brings

UPDATE: 12/13

With Horvath headed into the NFL draft, Doerue is the favorite to win the starting job. He’ll need to hold of Sampson James, but you’ve got to think his experience in the offense gives him the inside track, at least initially.

King is a perfectly OK back. If you need 3 or 4 yards on first or second down, he’s your guy. He’s a decisive runner and has a little shake to his game. If you’re looking for a game breaker, King isn’t your guy. He lacks long speed and is usually done by the time he gets to the second level. He’s not particularly explosive either, which hurts him on 3rd down when he needs to hit the gas hard to wiggle through small gaps in the line. This limits him in short yardage.

He’ll be one of the options to start next year.

Zander Horvath

UPDATE 12/13

Horvath can’t play in the Hula Bowl and return to Purdue. That means he’s heading to the NFL. Purdue loses their best receiver out of the backfield, which hurts more than losing his ability as a ball carrier (although he was also a good ball carrier). I think it’s a two man race between King and Sampson for the starting job in 2022 with Horvath moving on to the next level.

Zander Horvath 2021 Stats

Attempts Yards Average Long Touchdowns Receptions Yards TDs
Attempts Yards Average Long Touchdowns Receptions Yards TDs
74 262 3.5 24 3 15 87 0

Class: Fifth Year Sr

Eligibility: 1 season to play 1 (Class of 2017, RS 2017, 2020 Covid Year)

What He Brings

Zander is another potential 5th year senior with a decision to make. He can come back and play an important role in the 2022 offense, or he can roll the dice on the NFL draft. I don’t think he would be drafted, but he would be an interesting pick up for a team that likes to use an H-back. If he plays in the NFL, his future is probably more at tight end than running back.

If he returns, he gives Purdue a versatile option out of the backfield. He’s the best receiver of the current group, and his hurdle move is next level. He’s another guy that’s good for 3 to 4 yards a carry, but not much more than that. He lacks top end speed and short area burst. He’s huge (6’3”, 230) but isn’t a great short yardage back because he runs straight up and down. He looks like Mike Alstott, but hasn’t figured out how to run behind his pads like Mike Alstott.

He has the inside track to the starting job if he returns.

Dylan Downing

Class: So

Eligibility: 4 seasons to play 3 (class of 2020)

Dylan Downing 2021 Stats

Attempts Yards Average Long Touchdowns Receptions Yards TDs
Attempts Yards Average Long Touchdowns Receptions Yards TDs
44 178 4 33 1 9 28 0

What He Brings

UPDATE: 12/13

Not sure Horvath leaving changes things for Downing. I don’t think he’ll be the lead back, but do expect him to play a role in the offense. I think he’ll be the short yardage back.

He’s a bowling ball with legs. At 6’0”, 225 pounds, the UNLV transfer is thicc. Out of the 3 backs on the roster, he best fits the short yardage role, and while that seems trivial, Purdue has lost a few games because they couldn’t pick up a yard when they needed to pick up a yard. Downing is a dude that is built to pick up a yard. Problem is, he might not get you much more than a yard or two on a regular basis.

If he can carve out a niche as Purdue’s short yardage guy, he’ll be a valuable asset moving forward. He was a solid pick up from the portal.

Sampson James

Class: Jr

Eligibility: 3 seasons to play 3 (class of 2019)

Stats: 2021 Redshirt after transfer

What He Brings

Update: 12/13

You hear that knocking sound Sampson, that’s opportunity knocking at your door. A healthy Horvath was going to be difficult to dislodge from the starting position. Now it comes down to James and Doerue (although a King Sampson running back tandem has limitless marketing potential) for the starting spot unless Purdue lands a giant fish in the transfer portal (which James was, not sure you can get 2). If I were Sampson, I would be hitting the jugs machine hard this offseason, because whoever can replace Horvath’s ability to catch the ball out of the backfield will have a significant advantage in grabbing the starting position.

In terms of high school rating, James is far and away the most “talented” running back on the roster. The former consensus 4* running back out of Avon vacillated between Ohio State and Indiana before picking the clearer path to playing time in Bloomington. Things didn’t work out that way. As a freshman in 2019 he rushed for 275 yards on 81 carries and hit the end zone 3 times. Not exactly Freshman All-American production, but a solid start. 2020 wasn’t kind to James (or pretty much anyone else). He managed 32 carries over 6 games, for 96 yards. When new Hoosier running back coach Deland McCullough brought one of his former running backs from Southern Cal with him to Bloomington, James decided to exit stage right. He applied for a waiver to play in 2021, but it was denied because he had already practiced with I.U. in 2021 (this was the right call).

James is looking to resurrect his career in West Lafayette. He’s still an athletic, bruising 6’1”, 220 pound back. He’s probably the best home run hitter out of the current group, but that’s not his strength. He’s another between the tackles grinder that needs carries to wear down a defense. I’m not sure Purdue is the best play for a high volume back, but his talent may be hard to keep off the field. At the same time, he’s not much of a threat in the passing game, and that could hold him back unless he’s been working on his hands during his redshirt year.

Lightning Options

Kentrell Marks

Class: Fr

Eligibility: 5 seasons to play 4

What He Brings

12/13 Update:

This is an interesting development for Marks. In theory, he’s the best receiver out of the backfield in 2022 with Horvath gone. That doesn’t mean he’ll play, but I like the chances of seeing him in 2022 much better today than I did yesterday.

Marks is a high 3*, 6’1”, 180-190 pound running back out of Valley Forge High School in Cleveland, Ohio. He’s the closest thing to a “lightning” option at the moment. He’s more of a smooth athlete than an explosive scat back, but that can work.

From what I’ve seen of his high school tape, and what I’ve read in his player evaluations, his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield could help him get on the field sooner, rather than later. He also looks like the biggest home run threat on the 2022 roster, but it’s hard to evaluate that on tape. All the other guys were home run threats in high school as well. He’ll need to show his utility in the passing game in fall camp to avoid a redshirt.

Other Options

Rostered Wide Receiver?

Update: 12/13

Much like with Marks, the chances of a receiver seeing some time in the backfield increased substantially today. I still think it’s a bit of a longshot (Anthrop has a rather unique skill set) but the odds improved today.

Brohm utilized Anthrop as a running back to give the position more juice in the run and passing game towards the end of the season, and it helped create more space for the offense underneath, even when he wasn’t running the ball.

A few potential options on the current roster to fill that role

TJ Sheffield

Sheffield should be Purdue’s staring slot receiver next year, but nothing says he can’t moonlight as a running back, ala Jackson Anthrop. They’re similar in size and Sheffield has shown what he can do with the ball in his hand as a kick returner. He would add a sizzle to the backfield and would be hell on wheel routes. Purdue needs a running back that scares defenses enough to get the linebackers to step up on occasion. Sheffield would get the attention of defensive coordinators.

Deion Burks

If Sheffield doesn’t do it for you, maybe Burks is more your style? The former 3* recruit out of Michigan is a shifty runner with a track background. I don’t remember it happening, but apparently he had 1 carry for 6 yards in 2021. Purdue needs to find a way to get him on the field, and putting him in the backfield on 3rd and medium/long would give defensive coordinators something else to thing about. That thought would probably be “blitz” but they thought the same thing with Anthrop on the field, and Purdue managed fine.

Transfer Running Back

Update 12/13

This is still a tough sell, but not quite as tough as it was with Horvath on the roster. The coaching staff has a clear role to fill, and if they can offer a guy something like 20-25 snaps a game, they may have something considering the flooded running back transfer market.

This might be a tough sell. It’s not that Purdue doesn’t have running backs, they just don’t have a certain type of running back. They’re not selling “come here and start” unless there is serious attrition. They’re looking for a back to fill a specific role. If they play it out long enough, someone might take the bait because there are going to be several guys looking for a guaranteed starting spot that won’t find guaranteed starting spots. The transfer market is ridiculous and “playing a role for Purdue” may be more enticing than “bagging groceries”.

High School Running Back

This would be a late offer, and I think Purdue would have to strike out in the transfer portal to go this route, and still desperately want a back. They reached late on Ja’Quez Cross last year and that didn’t pay off. Often times, there is a reason why a player is available late in the recruiting process. I’m sure the staff will keep their eyes open, but I think another high school back is way down the list of possibilities.

No One

Update 12/13

The odds of no offseason movement at the running back position decreased. I think it still comes down to Marks. If the coaching staff thinks he’s up for playing a significant role in the offense out of the box, then they stand pat. If they don’t see him as a day 1 contributor, a one year rental would work nicely.

The staff could decide they’ve got enough with the running backs on the roster and not make a move. Anthrop moving to running back opened some things up for the offense. Marks is a legit back, and if he can fill the role, they don’t need to do anything.

I’ll keep you updated as things progress.