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Key Players to Watch: Impact Freshman

Head Coach Ryan Walters wasn’t given a lot of time to get his class together but can any of them contribute in 2023?

Syndication: Journal-Courier Alex Martin/Journal and Courier / USA TODAY NETWORK

Purdue was right to take their time to find their next head coach after Jeff Brohm took himself, and his entire family, with him south on I-65 home to Louisville. Athletic Director Mike Bobinski has consistently made good hires in his time at Purdue, most notably hiring a very young Katie Geralds to head the women’s basketball program along with Jeff Brohm to resurrect both of those seemingly dead or dying programs. The issue with taking that time to get it right and ensure everything goes smoothly is that it can hurt the groundwork that had been laid in recruiting.

Even with that late hire and the staff that was held over the help coach the bowl game seemingly more interested in recruiting for their new jobs at Louisville, Walters was able to pull in a respectable 2023 class that has actually been bolstered with some transfer players and late de-commitments. According to 247, Purdue’s 2023 class ranked 67th in the country (13th in the B1G) but their average recruit ranking places them solidly in the mid-pack for the B1G. Ryan Walters seemingly looked to the portal to bolster his roster and he was able to strike gold early on with players like QB Hudson Card (Texas), Jeffrey M’ba (Auburn), Marquis Wilson (PSU), Isiah Nichols (Arkansas), and Anthony Brown (Arkansas).

There were needs the staff filled with those portal transfer players but what kind of impact can we expect from the incoming freshman class? Let’s take a look at the five most likely freshman who will make an impact this upcoming season:

#1: Braxton Myers - Defensive Back

It is no secret that Purdue needed a severe overhaul at the cornerback position following the graduation of two NFL quality corners, led by Cory Trice (Pittsburgh Steelers). The depth that was left was, simply put, below B1G standards and the staff seemed to make it abundantly clear that they were not happy about that. They jumped into the portal and grabbed a handful of guys who can make an impact on the defensive side, but surprised a lot of people by nabbing 2023 cornerback Braxton Myers from Ole Miss after enrolling early and participating in spring ball.

Myers was a top 160 nationally ranked player and as the 11th overall safety in the 2023 class, according to 247 Sports. He projected well as a cornerback and that is where he will play for the Boilers who now feature a wealth of talent in Marquis Wilson (PSU), Salim Turner-Muhammed (Stanford), and Alisandro Botas (JUCO). It is like Myers will fit into a role at Purdue with his athleticism and length (6’1) and will likely get snaps throughout the season.

Season Outlook: Contributor/Back-up

#2: Jaron Tibbs - Wide Receiver

Another position that seemed to see a wealth of potential leave with the new staff was likely the most well built group of the program throughout the Brohm-era. That depth and talent seemed to have taken a bit of a dip as Charlie Jones’ single season ended, Broc Thompson was forced into a medical retirement, Colin Sullivan transferred, and Milton Wright just couldn’t seem to get his grades back in order (look for him in the reinstated NFL Supplemental Draft coming up though).

Purdue seemed to strike big by taking another high value transfer from Marshall in Corey Grammage who appeared to be easily slotted into one of the starting positions but recently flipped his commitment to Central Florida instead. That left the wide receiver room needing some depth as guys like TJ Sheffield, Mershawn Rice, Deion Burks, Elijah Canion, and Abdur Rahman-Yaseen have all flashed but have yet to really stand out. That leaves a space for a high level athlete like Jaron Tibbs to come in as a freshman and make a big impact.

Tibbs could have easily garnered legit D1 interest as a basketball player at Cathedral where he starred next to Michigan State recruit Xavier Booker. Tibbs is a legit 6’4 and near 200 pounds and those types of athletes just rarely have shown up at the wide receiver position for the Boilers. When they have, they have generally had good results at Purdue. Tibbs big body frame and athleticism may help him find a pathway to early playtime this fall as a true freshman, especially if those unproven older guys like Rice, Burks, and Rahman-Yaseen continue to struggle to stay healthy.

Tibbs’ high school coach Bill Peebles recently had this to say:

Season Outlook: Back-Up

#3: Jayden Dixon-Veal - Wide Receiver

I think this one is obvious because of what I stated above about why Jaron Tibbs might have a chance to see the field early this next season. Dixon-Veal comes from a run heavy JUCO offense where his opportunities were limited to just 24 receptions, 272 yards, and 2 touchdowns. He is a 6’1 wide receiver and is very similar to current Boilermaker TJ Sheffield, which is likely where Dixon-Veal may be able to make his impact felt. Although Sheffield will likely stick to a slot role this season, Dixon-Veal appears to be able to play both inside and outside like Sheffield has in his career at Purdue.

Dixon-Veal has good speed out of his stance and frames the ball well by high pointing it around the field to make a catch. He also appears to have good speed with a reported 40 yard dash time of 4.5 seconds. All of these factors point to him being a contributor next season in the same frame of thought as Jaron Tibbs but with Grammage leaving, Jahmal Erdine (transfer-FAU) appears to be the first to take over that position.

Season Outlook: Back-Up/Contributor Due to JUCO Experience

#4: Jamarrion Harkless - Defensive Line

Harkless making his way to Purdue was probably one of the more surprising recruiting wins for Purdue as Head Coach Ryan Walters and new Defensive Line Coach Brick Haley were able to secure his commitment after decommiting from Auburn University. Harkless was considered to be one of the most talented big body defensive lineman in the country and his 6’4, 320 pound frame backs that up.

Harkless enters a position group that saw three starters transfer out to big programs in Branson Deen (University of Miami), Jack Sullivan (Southern California), and Lawrence Johnson (Auburn) which left the cupboard a little bare. With the new scheme that Head Coach Ryan Walters wants to run, there will be a focus on bigger defensive tackles playing a nose tackle. Purdue has a tailor-made nose in Cole Brevard and another young guy in local product Mo Omonode, but a guy with the size and capability of Harkless may be hard to keep off the field for too long. With the redshirt guidelines now, it may be one where Harkless gets his snaps in the later part of the year without burning his redshirt.

Season Outlook: Backup Role/Potential Redshirt/Late Season Snaps

#5: Dillon Thieneman - Safety/Defensive Back

Ryan Walters was looking for high level players in his first spring and his comments about Thieneman rang out this spring, stating that Thieneman may have been the best defensive back that the Boilers had this spring. Thieneman has the size, athleticism, and mentality to be very good as the free safety spot and the reported 4.45 laser timed 40 yard dash adds to that. Thieneman did have to struggle through an injury riddled senior season but reports are that he has healed fully from that injury and had a very strong spring.

Thieneman has some experience in front of him with Cam Allen coming back for a 5th season and Antonio Stevens hopefully returning back to form after devastating knee injury has cost him the better part of two full seasons to recover from. Allen, although the upside for big plays always looms with 10 career interceptions, the downside of big plays and missed tackles has hurt him in his career. Walters wants a very sound defense and one that makes the offense earn everything that they gets and giving up big plays would be a quick way for veteran players to find the sidelines and young guys to get a chance to see what they can do. Although the outlook wouldn’t bode well for Thieneman to see lots of playing time this season, his measurables say he might be able to contribute on special teams and eventually see the field if needed.

Season Outlook: Special Teams Contributor/Potential Redshirt

Notable Omissions:
#6: Will Heldt - Linebacker
#7: Christian Womack - Running Back
#8: Arhmad Branch - Wide Receiver
#9: Ryan Browne - Quarterback (Had Purdue not gotten Bennett Meredith, Browne likely is in the top 3 of this list)