Disclaimer: I’m writing this article from the perspective of an NFL scout, not a Purdue fan. There will be mild “criticism” of a few players. This isn’t a criticism of their Purdue career, or them personally. If you’re not prepared for that, please click the back button on your browser and return to your regularly scheduled activities.
NFL draft season ramps into high gear starting February 28th with the NFL Combine. Ever land a job interview where you stand around in your underwear while people judge you and later get timed on how fast you can run? Me either....but five hard working Boilermakers will get to strut their stuff in Indianapolis later this month.
Former #Purdue standouts Aidan O'Connell, Charlie Jones, Payne Durham, Jalen Graham and Cory Trice Jr. have all been invited to the NFL Scouting Combine. https://t.co/YafnO7HHvZ— Mick Walker (@MickWalker247) February 8, 2023
Jones is a tough guy for NFL teams to evaluate. He has one year of film in an offense that force fed him the ball. Purdue receivers and tight ends under Jeff Brohm haven’t covered themselves in glory in the NFL (yet). Some of that is a function of the offense. NFL GMs will significantly discount Jones’s production last season.
One knock coming into the combine is his lack of top end speed. A 40 yards dash in the 4.4’s could move him up a round or two. Another issue is his overall experience as a receiver. At 6’0”, he profiles as a slot in the NFL. He didn’t do much from the slot at Purdue. He’ll need to show teams he can run option routes. The on-field catching and route running drills will be important for Jones.
Overall, he’s probably sitting around the 5th or 6th round right now. He was too productive last season not to get drafted, but a good showing in the combine could push him into the 4th. If he runs in the 4.5’s or struggles with route running, he could be pushed down to the 6th or 7th round.
Much like his buddy Chuck Sizzle, the narrative around O’Connell will be “system player”. Bobby Petrino and Jeff Brohm quarterback’s (with one huge exception) haven’t done much in the NFL. O’Connell’s Purdue stats are impressive, but they won’t carry much weight.
The combine won’t be as important of O’Connell as it will be for Jones. There is plenty of tape on AOC. Everyone knows what you’re going to get. He’s a pocket passer first, second, and third and won’t fit every system. At 25, he’s one of the older players in the draft, which could limit how teams view his upside.
Teams are going to see him as a career backup. That’ll put him in the 6th or 7th round range. For players like Aidan, the interviews and board work with coaches are important. They want to know he’ll be ready when his number is called, and understand things without taking many reps.
*Note: Career back up quarterback may be the sweetest gig in all of sports. You can make a few million dollars practicing football, holding a clip board and get out with your health. Sign me up.
Durham, in my opinion, is the sure bet out of the Purdue players in the draft. Unlike Jones and O’Connell, he fits the exact physical profile of an NFL tight end at 6’5”, 255. The knock on Payne is speed and agility. Lucky for him, the combine can put some of those questions to bed. He’s got the size and skill set, it’s a question of elite athleticism.
Right now, he’s probably a 4th or 5th round pick. I think he’s solid there, regardless of how he performs at the combine. He’s a physical, well rounded tight end that can fill the role of a second tight end in a 2 tight end NFL set. His ability to block and catch touchdowns in the red zone give him a high floor. NFL GMs will question his ceiling. You draft ready made tight end 2s in the 4th or 5th round (or later). You draft tight ends you think can develop into tight end 1s in the 3rd or 4th round.
If Durham shows out in Indy, he’s got a shot to move into the 3rd round. It’s more likely that he’ll go in the 5th. Either way, I think you’ll see him playing in the NFL next year (and not on the bench or practice squad).
Jalen is the wild card in this draft. Payne is a high floor, low ceiling player, and Graham is more of a high ceiling low floor player. That tends to work out well in terms of draft position. He’s a versatile player, but I don’t anticipate him having the speed to play in the back end of an NFL defense.
Purdue’s conservative scheme over the years will hurt somewhat. He has 2 sacks and 12.3 tackles for loss in 4 years. The NFL puts a premium on disruptive linebackers, and Jalen didn’t show much of that at Purdue. At the same time, tight ends have become a key staple in many NFL offenses, and Graham’s best NFL attribute might be his ability to cover tight ends.
He’ll need to test out as an elite athlete at the combine, and he has that potential. Best case scenario is a team sees him as less athletic version of Isaiah Simmons (that’s not an insult, Simmons is a historically good athlete). If he can convince teams that his low sack and tackle for loss numbers was caused by Purdue’s scheme, he could shoot up draft boards.
Right now, he’s probably a 6th or 7th round pick based on his production. He has a chance to move into the 4th or 5th round with a solid combine performance.
Cory Trice Jr
Like Graham, Trice can make himself some money at the combine. His medical evaluation may be the more important than anything else. He was constantly injured at Purdue. He lost most of the 2021 season to a knee injury that never seemed to heal. He came back strong in 2022 and played in 13 games. If his knee (and everything else) checks out, he’ll have a chance to jump into the late rounds. If not, he’ll go undrafted.
Assuming he’s structurally sound, speed will be the next issue. At 6’3”, 210, he has the size NFL teams covet at defensive back, but I’m also 6’3”, 210ish and I’m not on any draft radars (I should fire my agent, I’ve been waiting for a combine invite for 20 years). His value as a corner puts him in the draft. His value at safety makes him an undrafted free agent. If he tests well enough to convince a team he can stay at corner, I expect him to land in the 7th round, with 6th round potential.
In terms of NFL potential, this Purdue draft class isn’t on par with recent classes. I expect Durham to have a solid NFL career, but after that, it’s a bit of toss up. Graham is tweener with a high floor and could do well in the right defense. Charlie Jones has value as a kick returner, and should get drafted. O’Connell profiles as a back-up quarterback, and will need to land in the right spot. The NFL loves big corners, and Trice might cash in on that trend and end up as 3rd day pick if his knee checks out and he runs fast enough.
The 2022 wasn’t loaded with top end talent, but was able to lean on experience to pull out games. Coach Walters needs to push the talent up a notch if Purdue has designs on moving up in the college football world.