As we head toward the summer, it feels as if the dust has finally settled from the 2021 NFL Draft. Teams’ rosters are more or less set, and before we know it there will be buzz coming out of preseason camps. Before we get to that point though, we want to take a closer look at where five Boilermakers landed during and after the draft — and whether or not any of them could see some early team success.
To recap, Purdue saw five players catch on with NFL franchises this spring. Rondale Moore and Derrick Barnes were selected in the first and fourth rounds respectively, and Tyler Cole, Lorenzo Neal, and Grant Hermann found teams as undrafted free agents. Hopefully, those last three guys are all able to stick with their teams and we’ll have five more of our own to root for in the coming NFL season! Assuming this is how things turn out, let’s take a look at which of them might expect to do a little bit of winning right off the bat (and which of them could be in for a tougher first year).
Rondale Moore - Arizona Cardinals
Rondale Moore may have landed in the most interesting situation of any of this year’s departing Boilermakers. The Arizona Cardinals appear to be somewhat befuddling even to experts. To cover the negatives first, they’re coming off of a disappointing 2020 season, and there seem to be more questions about young QB Kyler Murray now than there were a year ago. Arizona also saw its secondary significantly weakened by the departure of Patrick Peterson. On the plus side though, the Cardinals signed JJ Watt (who’s past his prime but can still wreak some havoc on defense) and AJ Green (who will line up opposite DeAndre Hopkins to give Murray an additional weapon).
The result of all of this movement is that no one quite seems sure what to make of the Cardinals. They may be a year or two away, but calling them a fringe playoff contender is not outlandish. And Moore will get a chance to help nudge things toward that more positive outcome. The addition of Green may mean he’s a spot further down the depth chart than he’d otherwise have been, but he’ll absolutely get a serious look as a rookie.
Derrick Barnes - Detroit Lions
We were thrilled to see Derrick Barnes picked up in the fourth round by a team that quite literally needs everything. The Lions are a little bit of a mess at the moment, and that basically means anyone new is going to get a chance. Furthermore, it’s important to remember that Detroit traded up to get Barnes and fill a particularly glaring need at linebacker. So, for Barnes as an individual, things look pretty good!
Unfortunately, as stated, the team is a mess. So, while we love the individual opportunity, Barnes will likely need to wait a few seasons before he’s enjoying too many wins. Barring a major surprise, the Lions will be in the running for the NFL’s worst record.
Tyler Coyle - Dallas Cowboys
While we love the upside for Rondale Moore in Arizona, it’s Tyler Coyle who’s in the best position for first-season wins according to early NFL projections. Analysts and early betting odds alike are almost surprisingly high on Dallas’s potential, despite the team’s recent history of underperforming relative to expectations. And one has to figure that at some point the Cowboys become the Cowboys again! Dallas is still the most popular franchise in the NFL, and per an analysis on Bwin Sports it is still — somehow — among the most successful (from an historical perspective). Only the Steelers and the Patriots boast more winning pedigree.
Here’s hoping the Cowboys start adding to that pedigree again soon. As for Coyle specifically, we wish him well! He may not have been at Purdue long, but he acquitted himself well and there’s no doubt he’s a talented safety. The Cowboys scooped him up immediately after the draft, which presumably means they’re going to give him a real chance to earn his way onto the field. Hopefully he’ll get to do some winning while he’s at it.
Lorenzo Neal - New Orleans Saints
We’ll always wonder just how dominant Lorenzo Neal would have become in the Big Ten had he not torn his ACL and been forced to sit out the 2019 season. That, plus a bizarre COVID season to wrap up his college career, undoubtedly stunted his growth. But it’s a testament to how hard he works that he managed to work his way onto an NFL roster as an undrafted free agent anyway. It’s also pretty neat that that team is the Saints — the same franchise that drafted Lorenzo’s father in the early ‘90s.
As for the team outlook, it’s mediocre this time around. The Saints have been a strong team for a long time, but with the beloved Drew Brees finally retiring, there may well be a bit of a rebuild on hand. New Orleans is projected to finish right around the middle of the league, and that sounds about right. Even if it’s a down year by New Orleans standards though, Neal has landed with a solid, reliable franchise that will do right by him.
Grant Hermanns - New York Jets
Finally there’s Grant Hermanns, who signed on with the New York Jets after the draft. Like Barnes, he’ll have a chance to make an impact purely because the team around him needs a little bit of help everywhere. The Jets are in the early stages of a full-fledged rebuild, and really it’s difficult to say how they’ll develop from this point forward. We’ll be thrilled to see Hermanns stick with the team, but he’s likely in for a lot of losing even if he manages to do so.
That said — and we’re not joking here — the Jets’ rebuild is off to a decent start! Yes, they blew their shot at Trevor Lawrence and traded Sam Darnold to Carolina for pennies on the dollar, but the Jets actually had a very strong draft, and that’s where it has to start. In fact, Gang Green Nation did a fun round-up of different experts’ draft grades, and even among professional analysts the results were positive across the board. People like the team the Jets are putting together, so perhaps Hermanns will get to be part of a special revival. (Hey, if it can happen for the Knicks anything’s possible, right?)
So that’s how things look for our newest NFL Boilermakers. It’s a mixed bag in terms of anticipated team success, but there’s a lot of potential for all five players to make an impact.
We’ll be rooting just a little bit for each of these teams along the way.