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2023 Purdue Football | Wide Receivers

The position still teems with potential but is a known commodity making their way back?

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: JAN 02 Cheez-It Citrus Bowl Photo by David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The position that thrived under former head coach Jeff Brohm during his time at Purdue still has lots of talented players waiting to seemingly break out. Players like Abdur-Rahmaan Yaseen, Mershawn Rice, Colin Sullivan, and Broc Thompson are hoping to remain healthy at a position that should flourish under new offensive coordinator Graham Harrell and position coach Cory Patterson. The key may be the potential return of Milton Wright who flashed the ability to be an all conference level player in his first two years at Purdue before becoming academically ineligible in the spring of 2022. Let’s take a bit of a more in-depth look at the position.


This one is hard to gauge simply because a brand new scheme under new offensive coordinator Graham Harrell and what he is looking for but there is one definite known commodity who has played consistently over the past few seasons. TJ Sheffield isn’t the fastest wide receiver but he has played a ton of snaps over the last two seasons and has caught 86 passes for 828 yards and 9 touchdowns. Sheffield is more of an inside receiver but has the ability to play outside and run the ball off jet sweeps.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 03 Big 10 Championship - Michigan vs Purdue Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Outside of Sheffield, Purdue has a lot of players who haven’t really shown the ability to stay healthy but if they can give Purdue probably one of the deeper position groupings remaining on the roster. Broc Thompson has the ability to be a clear number one type of receiver on the outside and flashed potential in the opening game against Penn State in 2022 before his leg injuries seemed to pop up again and he sat the rest of the season. Abdur-Rahmaan Yaseen also has big play making ability that he has flashed at times throughout his career but is another wide receiver that hasn’t had the ability to stay healthy for long stretches. His size at 6’2 and 200 pounds allow him to be a mismatch deep into a defense and has shown some ability to stretch the ball downfield but injuries to his legs have hampered his ability to practice and then get onto the field.

Elijah Canion is one of the more intriguing prospects Harrell has to work with if he can stay healthy. The 6’4 220 pound transfer from Auburn was touted as a player who could provide mismatches but only played in one game for Purdue last season and did not record a catch.

One Boilermaker that the new staff will rely on heavily this upcoming season will be Mershawn Rice. The redshirt junior has flashed immense potential throughout his time at Purdue and has recorded 29 receptions for 352 yards and 2 touchdowns but has also seemed to get bitten by the injury but in his time at Purdue or was playing second or third fiddle in the offense to David Bell, Charlie Jones, and Payne Durham. Rice has all of the physical tools to be a threat wherever the staff places him and at 6’2 and 205 pounds can catch passes underneath or stretch the defense vertically.

Purdue v Wisconsin Photo by John Fisher/Getty Images

The biggest question mark revolves around the potential return of Milton Wright to Purdue under this new staff. Wright was deemed academically ineligible in the spring of 2022 and was unable to return for either the 2022 season or spring ball in 2023. Rumors abound about Wright’s current status but he was on campus for Purdue’s pro-day and speculation abounds that Wright is in Florida to train while taking courses online to get his grades in order. If Wright is able to come back to the roster, it would give Purdue three legitimate targets for Hudson Card to throw to with as difficult a slate of games as a new staff may ever see in the B1G.

What To Expect:
The Air Raid offense under Graham Harrell is likely to use four wide receivers or three receivers with a tight end, with a focus on short and intermediate routes. The offense is designed to create mismatches by spreading out the defense and utilizing quick passes to get receivers in space looking to make short catches for big gains.

One of the keys to the Air Raid offense is having talented and versatile wide receivers. These receivers must be able to run precise routes, catch the ball in traffic, and make plays after the catch. Harrell often uses his receivers in multiple positions, moving them around the field to create mismatches against defenders.

The most important concept in Harrell’s offense will be ‘mesh’ which provides the offense the ability to get downfield completions with shorter routes looking to stay moving against man to man coverage or sitting into open voids left by zone defenses. In the mesh concept, two wide receivers (usually the slot receivers) will cross in opposite directions and create a “mesh point” in the middle of the field. The goal of this crossing action is to create confusion among the defenders and force them to navigate through the traffic created by the crossing routes.

One of the keys to the success of the mesh concept is precise timing between the two crossing routes. If the receivers cross too early or too late, the defenders can easily cover both routes or disrupt the timing of the play. Therefore, this concept requires significant practice and repetition to perfect the timing and execution of the crossing routes. This is something Harrell has often spoken about publicly and the need for wide receivers to stay healthy will be a determining factor in the success of the season.

Two Deep :
Operating under the assumption that Milton Wright won’t be back to Purdue, this is how the two deeps for wide receivers may look like:
X: Broc Thompson / Abdur-Rahaan Yaseen / Colin Sullivan
Y: Mershawn Rice / Deion Burks / Elijah Canion
Slot: TJ Sheffield / Andrew Sowinski / Zion Steptoe