I’m looking for regular content to provide y’all over the long, hot summer (doubly hot for me because I’m moving to Athens, Georgia at the end of the month) without writing a different version of the same article 30 times. I think it will be interesting to look at a few guys that have flown under the radar during their time at Purdue.
Recruiting is covered extensively, but what happens to the guys once they get to Purdue is often ignored unless they get regular snaps. Going through the roster and talking about guys we haven’t seen much gives me sustainable content and gets y’all in on the ground floor for potential breakout players in 2021.
As a Recruit
Hometown: Reynoldsburg, Ohio
High School: Reynoldsburg High School
Stars: 4 (5.8)
Position Ranking: 27th
State Ranking: 13th
Stars: 3 (88)
Position Ranking: 29th
State Ranking: 18th
Rice was considered an “athlete” coming out of Reynoldsburg High School by both Rivals and 247 Sports. He played both receiver and safety in high school and there was some question regarding which side the of the ball he would ultimately end up on in college.
As a receiver, he was raw, but his size and athleticism made him a tantalizing prospect as a boundary receiver. He wasn’t a high volume target in high school, but when he did catch the ball, he ran a long way. The majority of his high school routes I saw on film (granted a small sample size) were, for the most part, straight go routes, or an occasional stutter and go. He’s a smooth runner with long speed and once he’s even with a defensive back down the field, he’s going to be open deep, it’s just a matter of the quarterback getting him the ball.
Outside of his ability to run straight down the field and physically dominate the opposing secondary, I saw an occasional redzone fade to the back pylon in his highlight package. At 6’2”, he had the size to go up and get the ball in traffic. He also flashed excellent body control to come down in bounds on a few tough catches. I was surprised he wasn’t utilized more in the screen game to pump up his receiving numbers. He was an instinctive runner with the ball in his hands, and had the speed to crack open a defense if given space.
Over his career he collected 87 catches, for 1,604 yards and 16 touchdowns. That production doesn’t scream 4 star recruit, but with Rice, it was about who he could become in college and not who he was in high school.
His career as a safety wasn’t as decorated as his exploits on offense, but they were more intriguing in my opinion. He was credited with 20.5 tackles and 7 interceptions in limited playing time. From the looks of his highlight packages, he was mainly utilized as a center field safety. While 20.5 tackles isn’t exactly prolific, his 7 picks whispered of potential on the back end of a college defense.
Speaking of potential, that’s what drove his high rating from the recruiting services. I’m going to assume that he looked better at camps than he did in high school. That’s understandable because the life of a high school wide receiver is dictated by the viability of the quarterback throwing him the ball.
What the recruiting services saw in Rice was an exciting lump of athletic, unmolded clay worthy of a low 4*/high 3* rating.
On Field Performance
2019: Appeared in one game. No Stats
2020: Appeared in one game. No Stats
3...potentially 4 seasons, depending on how things shake out.
To get to 4, the 2019 season is a redshirt and the 2020 season is the free Covid year, but I’m not 100% sure how that works.
Purdue recruited Rice as a receiver, and despite a glut of receivers and a dearth of defensive backs, Coach Brohm kept him for the offense. That either speak to the untapped potential Coach Brohm sees in him on the outside, or Coach Brohm’s propensity to hoard offensive players. Ultimately though, it doesn’t matter, because injuries have been the story of Rice’s Purdue career thus far.
For a guy that has only logged 2 games in 2 seasons, there is a surprising amount of information about Mershawn’s progress at Purdue. As a former 4* recruit, people are still interested in him, despite his lack of production, and with good reason. He’s still the physical specimen with 4* athleticism he was coming out of high school, even if his production hasn’t reached his potential.
He was specifically mentioned in Coach Brohm’s final spring press conference, and Coach had positive things to say. He’s a tall, strong, physical outside receiver that can make catches other receivers on the roster can’t (outside of David Bell I’m assuming). More importantly Rice was able to put in a full 15 practices this spring without suffering an injury. He came to Purdue needing to hone his receiving skills, and hasn’t been healthy enough to smooth out the rough edges (from my understanding he’s mostly battled muscle injuries). If he can stay healthy and make it through a full fall camp, he could surprise a few people that have forgotten about him over the last two seasons.
Another intriguing possibility Coach Brohm mentioned was utilizing him on special teams (I’m assuming as a kick returner). According to Coach, returning kicks helped T.J. Sheffield find his groove as a receiver, and it’s possible that touching the ball a few times could help knock the rust off. I think his smooth, economical running style will translate nicely in the return game.
The top of the wide receiver pecking order is set for the Boilermakers. You’ll see David Bell on the boundary position, Milton Wright at the field position and T.J. Sheffield in the slot. When Purdue goes 4 wide, expect Jackson Anthrop to come in and play the other slot position.
Behind those 4, the depth chart is wide open and Rice has the ability to grab a spot on the two deeps at the boundary with a strong camp. Playing behind David Bell isn’t ideal from a production standpoint, but I could see Bell moving over to the field spot and Rice coming in at the boundary on occasion. As I mentioned before, it’s possible Mershawn handles some kick return duty this year.
All of this is meaningless if he can’t stay healthy. His goal in 2021 has to be availability. I’m not sure he’ll be a huge factor in the passing game this season, but if he can establish himself as a reliable back up in 2021, the depth chart could open up for him in 2022 if Bell puts up a monster season and declares for the NFL draft.
Either way, this is a crucial season for the former 4* recruit. The fact that he’s stuck it out and not entered the portal is encouraging. I hope his loyalty is rewarded.