This one was tough, Purdue has surplus of receivers, but no one separates themselves from the pack. The last staff relied heavily on the wide receiver #1 and tight end #1 for the majority of receptions. Neither of those guys are around this season, leaving a group of receivers that have either been under utilized or injured most of their career.
To further complicate things, promising Florida Atlantic transfer Jahmal Erdine tore his ACL in camp and is out for the year. He was in-line to start at the boundary and was most likely the lead receiver. That opens up a spot for oft injured players like Yaseen, Rice, and Canion to show what they can do. I like their potential, but its hard to trust any of them until they prove they can stay on the field and produce.
This is a group in flux. T.J. Sheffield and Deion Burks have some experience, but both are slot receivers, one of the two is going to have to bounce outside to the field position. Late Ju-Co addition Jayden Dixon-Veal could also play in the slot or at the field spot. On one hand, you’ve got a relatively untested group, on the other hand, you’ve got a bunch of hungry players that know playing time is up for grabs.
This is an equal opportunity passing offense that spreads the ball around more than the previous offense (not a high bar to clear). I don’t expect one receiver to dominate opportunities, but I expect either Burks or Sheffield to step up as Hudson Card’s “go to” receiver. I’m not sure which one it’s going to be, but it needs to someone. I struggle to think of a good passing offense without a lead receiver.
Overall, I don’t consider this one of the stronger groups heading into the season, but it has potential. Harrell is going to call pass plays, and someone is going to have to catch the ball. Someone should have a breakout season.
Abdur-Rahmaan Yaseen - #2 - R-Jr. - 6’2, 200
Purdue fans have been waiting to see what Yaseen can do since the 4* wide receiver out of Walled Lake, Michigan signed in the 2020 class. He came in with the reputation as a technically sound receiver who gets open. So far at Purdue, he’s only managed to get injured.
He sat as a freshman, appeared in 3 games as a redshirt freshman before an injury ended his season, and managed 8 games in 2022, including a start in a bowl game. Thus far he has accumulated 9 receptions for 127 yards in his three years at Purdue. Graham Harrell and Ryan Walters need him this season. He is the only receiver over 6’0” tall in the starting lineup. If he can block, he’ll stay on the field.
The good news (knock on wood) is that he made it through camp unscathed and managed to snag the starting job. I expect to see him isolated on the boundary where he can use his size and route running ability to pick up first downs. It’s starting to feel like now or never for Yaseen. It looks like he chose “now” in camp, hopefully that carries over to actual games.
T.J. Sheffield - #8 - R-Sr. - 5’11”, 190
It feels like a lifetime ago when Sheffield, a 3* receiver out of Thompson’s Station, Tn, signed with Purdue in the same 2019 that featured George Karlaftis and David Bell. Over the last two seasons he’s been steady, steady but unspectacular. Last season he pulled down 46 receptions for 480 yards and 4 touchdowns, coming in third in pretty much every receiving category behind Charlie Jones and Payne Durham.
This season Purdue is going to spread the ball around more. That should benefit TJ. Physically, he’s not a #1 receiver, and if you’re not #1, you’re fighting for scraps in Jeff Brohm’s offense. Look for him to work over the middle on crossing routes and option routes. Purdue’s biggest question on offense (when everyone is healthy) is wide receiver, a breakout season from Sheffield would go a long way in answering that question.
Deion Burks - #4 - R-So - 5’11”, 195
When you listen to Coach Walters talk about the offense, Burks always comes up as a playmaker. He called him “an action figure” the other day. The former 3* receiver out of Belleville, Michigan, hasn’t done much on the field thus far, but like Sheffield, should benefit from the change in scheme. Last season he pulled down 15 receptions for 149 yards...that’s it, but it sounds like he’s slated to be Purdue’s go-to receiver this season.
Like Sheffield, he’s a natural slot receiver. I have Burks in the slot, but he and TJ are interchangeable. According to Coach Walters he’s the fastest player on the team. In an offense the requires YAC (yards after catch) to function, Burks has a chance to shine, because in theory, that’s what he does best. Purdue needs that theory to become reality.
Boundary/Field Back-Up Options
Mershawn Rice - #9 - R-Sr. - 6’2”, 215
Like Sheffield, it feels like Rice has been on the roster since the Carter administration, but he’s only in his 5th year. Considered a 4* star “athlete” by Rivals coming out of Reynoldsburg High School, he had the ability to play both safety or wide receiver. He stuck on the offensive side of the ball, but hasn’t done much, mainly because of injuries. Before appearing in 14 games last season, he only managed 5 games in 3 years. Rice hauled in 23 receptions for 283 yards and a touchdown. Not much of a breakout but significantly better than a string of DNPs.
Like Yaseen, the good news for Rice is that he made it out of camp in one piece. He’s been plagued by soft tissue injuries, but hopefully that’s in the past. If he’s right, he could be the best deep ball receiver on the team. He had a nice combination of size and speed coming out of high school, and if he hasn’t lost a step to injury, that should help him get on the field this season. I see him as a low volume high yards per catch guy this year.
Elijah Canion - #5 - R-Jr. - 6’4”, 220
Is Elijah Canion any good? One would assume so since he’s playing D-1 football. He certainly looks like a good football player, but he missed last season with injury after transferring from Auburn where he pulled down 7 receptions in two seasons. There will be no better opportunity for the 6’4”, 220 pound receiver out of Hollywood, Florida to show folks what he can do than on this Purdue team stocked almost exclusively with slot receivers.
Best case scenario, he stays healthy, and gives Purdue a physical downfield presence and solid blocking on the outside. This offense likes the wide receiver quick screen, and whoever is the better blocker out of Rice and Canion has a chance to grab extra playing time.
Jayden Dixon-Veal - #0 - Jr. - 6’0”, 185
A late addition to Ryan Walter’s first recruiting class, he’d be playing for Oregon State this season if not for the late defection of an incoming transfer receiver. The JuCo product out of the College of San Mateo via Rancho Cucamonga, California pulled down 24 catches for 272 yards last season. Hardly prolific, but he’s another guy that could get on the field by throwing a few blocks. He’s not the biggest guy, but he’s got some serious guns, and JuCo guys tend to be on the tough side, otherwise they’d never make it out of JuCo ball.
I’d be surprised if he put up big numbers, but at the same time, I was surprised a lightly used punt return specialist turned into the leading receiver in the Big10 last season. Dixon-Veal stepped in late and jumped straight into the 2 deeps. Not sure what that says about the other receivers on the roster, but it tells me he hit the ground running in West Lafayette.
Andrew Sowinski - #26 - R-Jr. - 6’0”, 205
Out of all the receivers outside the top 6, Sowinski is the only guy with experience. The former Chatard star played in 12 games and started 4 games in 2023. He managed to pull down 9 receptions for 96 yards and returned 2 punts for 14 yards. His best game came against Nebraska where he had 4 receptions for 34 yards.
His most important role will be on special teams this year, but again, if he can block, he might move out of the depth category.
Zion Steptoe - #12 - R-Fr. - 5’11”, 190
There was some buzz early in camp for the redshirt freshman, but that got quiet as things rolled along. There are 3 slot receivers in front of him, it would take a couple injuries for him to see regular playing time, but he could be an option in the return game.
Curtis Deville - #6 - R-Fr. - 6’2”, 210
Haven’t heard much about Deville in camp. He has solid size for the position, but I guess he’s not ready quite yet.
Jaron Tibbs - #13 - Fr. - 6’3”, 210
I thought Tibbs might make a move in camp, but he didn’t pick up any traction in the fight for playing time. He’s got nice physical attributes and has solid long term potential. Out of the 3 freshmen, he’s the one most likely to see playing time, but I assume the staff wants to hold him back and save his redshirt.
Arhmad Branch - #17 - Fr. - 6’0”, 180
Quick, name the highest rated recruit in Ryan Walter’s first recruiting class. That’s right, it’s Arhmad Branch. Like Tibbs, he looks like a nice prospect, but will probably be limited to 4 games this season. He’s one to remember down the road.
Ryne Shackelford - #80 - Fr. - 6’0”, 180
I was surprised to learn that Shackelford made 247 Sports “freaks” list in the 2023 recruiting class. It turns out he’s really fast. The former Ohio DII state outdoor champion in the 100, 200 and long jump isn’t just freaky fast, he’s also freaky strong, claiming a 500 pound trap bar deadlift at 180 pounds. That’s good raw material to work with moving forward. He’ll spend the year fine tuning his receiving skills. I like all 3 freshmen as long term prospects.