Sulaiman Kpaka - RS Sr.
Grand Prairie, TX (Grand Prairie HS)
6’2” - 280 lbs.
2023 Projection: Definite rotational LDE, could compete for starting time. I have seen a projected depth chart for 2023 putting him as fourth string left defensive end and I don’t care for it one bit.
This 2018 commit (2019 enrollee) has paid his dues.
Sulaiman Kpaka once missed what could have been a breakout season in 2021 with a series of knee and foot injuries.
The former three-star recruit out of Texas returned in 2022 showing serious promise and healthy motion following rehab assignments. He seems to be doing just fine given that his season-by-season career at Purdue looks like this:
2019: Redshirted, no game action.
2020: Redshirt freshman, action in two games and showing good development in gap-plugging and counteracting offensive linemen’s attempts at leverage.
2021: Redshirt sophomore, injuries, out for season.
2022: Redshirt junior, appears in 12 of 14 games, starts two of them, records 19 tackles, 11 of which are solo tackles.
The notable progression in overcoming the injuries and playing a nearly fully healthy year is a very good sign for anyone’s projected production, and at the very least he’ll be a familiar face in obvious running situations this season. He’s now had close to two years getting comfortable moving at full speed again and the results in year one alone showed to be pretty encouraging.
Here’s the thing I really like about a player like Kpaka in a Ryan Walters defense in terms of how Kpaka’s skill set translates from plugger of run gaps into rusher who can also garner the attention of two offensive linemen:
Walters’s secondaries at Illinois pounced on offenses any time a big guy in the 3-4 with cover one and man-to-man coverage behind him could get in the quarterback’s line of vision.
A lot of those interceptions (and last year there were A LOT of passes intercepted by the Illini, as in the most in FBS at 24 passes picked off) resulted directly from bull rushers getting their hands in the face of opposing quarterbacks or getting two OL’s to engage a DL, thus freeing up somebody else to get in the QB’s face.
Kpaka has the motor and size to exist as threat to right tackles and right guards to help force less-than-ideal throws, if not tipping a pass, en route to helping win a turnover battle.
Given his kind of delayed growth schedule, this is not a guy who’s going to tally a whole lot of sacks, but he definitely has the skill set to facilitate some headhunting for the outside linebackers.
Keep an eye on Sulaiman Kpaka in 2023. He seems to be a rare journeyman-holdover-perfect-fit-for-the-incoming-head-coach type of player for Walters.