With only days left now until Purdue’s opener, this is known about the depth chart: The Boilermakers are as deep as they’ve been in years, perhaps easily more than a decade, yet they also lack the star power they’ve had the last several years under Jeff Brohm.

Yes, Purdue has standout quarterback Aidan O’Connell, but he’ll enter the season without a bona fide No. 1 wide receiver, unlike the last several years when Rondale Moore and then David Bell were racing along the hashmarks. And the defense, while still strong at the line of scrimmage, no longer features George Karlaftis.

Still, Purdue has high hopes for 2022. The offense features returning starters at quarterback, running back and tight end, along with 3 of the 5 projected offensive linemen. Only 1 part-time starter returns to the wide receiver corps, but Purdue is comfortable with its depth on the perimeter.

Defensively, Purdue has 3 starters back on the line, plus a couple of linebackers, 2 cornerbacks and a safety. Plus, several others have starting experience, either at Purdue or elsewhere.

Here’s how each position group stacks up as we inch closer to Purdue’s opener vs. Penn State:


After major scrimmages on each of last 2 Saturdays, Brohm reported that his quarterback looked sharp, confident and ready to go. That’s not a surprise for O’Connell, the veteran signal-caller who ended last season playing as well as anyone in the country. The 6th-year senior might be one of the most accurate passers in Purdue history, which says a lot given the quality of Boilermaker quarterbacks over the years. But O’Connell will have the burden of expectation this season, something the former walk-on hasn’t experienced a lot in the past.

Purdue is likely to list co-No. 2s, with fellow 6th-year senior Austin Burton and sophomore Michael Alaimo. Burton, who started a game back in his UCLA days a few seasons ago, might occasionally play, giving O’Connell a breather as a change-of-pace option QB. Alaimo hasn’t played much, but Purdue likes his size and arm strength. The Boilermakers also have true freshman Brady Allen, a highly-touted prospect but one they’d like to redshirt in ’22.

But make no mistake: This is O’Connell’s team. Whether Purdue wins or loses will rest heavily on his right arm.

Wide receivers

Purdue has featured an All-Big Ten wide receiver every season since 2018.

As it stands right now, that’s unlikely to happen this season, but that doesn’t mean the Boilermakers are talentless. Veteran Broc Thompson, the leading returning receiver, is likely to ascend to a starting role, assuming his surgically repaired shins — he had metal rods placed in each — are up to the task. He was outstanding in the win over Tennessee in the Music City Bowl, with 7 receptions, 217 yards and 2 touchdowns. He did so as Purdue played without Bell (NFL prep) and Milton Wright (academics), as it will do this season.

The Boilermakers’ depth was buoyed by the transfers of former Iowa receivers Tyrone Tracy and Charlie Jones, who will each play impactful roles at Purdue. Tracy is likely the second slot receiver, behind No. 1 slot TJ Sheffield, and will fill a role very similar to Jackson Anthrop, getting touches both as a receiver and as a running back. Jones, who has had an outstanding camp, has likely won himself a starting job, something he desired when he left Iowa City. It helps that he has had a long relationship with O’Connell, dating back to their Chicagoland days as youths.

Purdue has other options too, like uber-talented but often-injured Mershawn Rice and underclassman Abdur-Rahmaan Yaseen, along with Auburn transfer Elijah Canion and sophomore Collin Sullivan, who has enjoyed a breakout camp.

Tight end

Before training camp, Purdue had one of the best 1-2 tight end duos in the Big Ten.

But then injury struck, as backup Garrett Miller, who is perhaps the best NFL prospect of the unit, tore an ACL and will miss the season. Now, Purdue will ride with senior starter Payne Durham, the team’s leading returning pass-catcher with 45 receptions for 467 yards and 6 TDs. Converted quarterback Paul Piferi, who caught a TD in Purdue’s win over Indiana last season, elevates to the backup spot. He’s worked tremendously hard to change his body into that of a tight end, and has the athleticism to be a plus receiver, but perhaps isn’t yet at that level as a blocker.

Purdue might use an extra offensive lineman as a blocker should it need to in short-yardage or red zone situations.

Running back

Senior King Doerue returns as Purdue’s starter, which is good in that the Boilermakers have a veteran presence in their backfield but bad in that Brohm’s not done more to upgrade the position.

Doerue’s strength is that he’s a solid Jack of All Trades, good as a running back (533 yards to lead Purdue last season), as a receiver (20 receptions) and a pass-blocker. But he’s not a game-breaker. Purdue might not have one. Brohm added former Central Michigan 1,000-yard rusher Koby Lewis, who reached the threshold in 2019 before suffering a knee injury. Dylan Downing, a backup last season, has lost weight, perhaps better positioning himself to have a bigger impact now.

Redshirt freshman walk-on Devin Mockobee might be too low on the depth chart to see any action on Saturdays, other than on special teams, but he’s proven to be an underclassmen worth keeping an eye on during this training camp.

Offensive line

Purdue might feel as good about its offensive line as it has in … maybe a decade? Perhaps longer.

The Boilermakers return 3 starters from last season in center Gus Hartwig, left guard Spencer Holstege and left tackle Eric Miller (who started on the right side in ’21). The right side will be new, but potentially solid. Purdue raves about sophomore right guard Marcus Mbow, who has a chance to be one of the Boilermakers’ best interior lineman in their history. Fourth-year junior Cam Craig, who Purdue similarly loved before injuries took a toll, might be rounding back into form; he’s slated to start at right tackle.

But offensive line coach Dale Williams thinks Purdue can go as many as 8 deep, with transfers Sione Finau (FIU) and Daniel Johnson (Kent State) pushing for playing time, along with sophomore Mahamane Moussa.

Defensive line

Purdue loves its defensive line, although it admits that without Karlaftis, it’s likely to have to manufacture more of a pass rush.

The Boilermakers are deep, particularly on the interior, where they return starters Branson Deen and Lawrence Johnson, plus have Penn State transfer Cole Brevard, a big space-eater, and former JC transfer Prince James Boyd Jr. They also have true freshman Mo Omonode, who despite being undersized at only 6-foot has shown the kind of motor that might get him early snaps. D-line coach Mark Hagen was stung by an injury to Damarjhe Lewis, who while not a starter in name had received starter-like snaps. He broke an ankle during camp and is out for the season.

Senior Jack Sullivan takes over Karlaftis’ defensive end position, as he did during the bowl game last season, tallying 4 tackles and a sack vs. the Volunteers. He might not be as naturally talented as Karlaftis, but he plays with a high motor and a lot of want-to. Freshman Nic Caraway might also be hard to keep off the field.

At Leo, Purdue’s hybrid end/linebacker spot, the Boilermakers have returning starter Kydran Jenkins, who had 5 sacks last season, and newcomer Scotty Humpich, a transfer from Murray State. And keep an eye on sophomore Khordae Sydnor, too.


Here’s a crazy number: Linebackers Kieren Douglas and Semisi Fakasiieiki have a combined 13 years of college football experience between them.

And they will both start for the Boilermakers. Fakasiieiki, who missed last season after tearing an ACL during camp, enters his 7th season — he’s the only remaining player from the ill-fated Darrell Hazell era — and Douglas, a former walk-on, his 6th. They are both solid between-the-tackles run-stoppers but more limited in space, meaning Purdue could shuffle its linebackers based on opponent, or even down-and-distance.

Junior OC Brothers, a former Auburn transfer, is a great athlete. Fellow junior Clyde Washington has a ton of upside but is limited in experience.

The star of the group, and maybe Purdue’s defense as a whole, is senior Jalen Graham, a player with a great combination of size and speed that has allowed him to play all over the field. The Boilermakers like to use Graham as a hybrid linebacker/safety, giving him a chance to make plays, and he does. Last season, the 6-3, 220-pounder had 64 tackles, 4 for loss and a sack, along with 7 pass breakups and 2 interceptions (one returned for a TD).

Defensive back

The strength of Purdue’s defense might be its secondary. If it stays healthy … and that might be the question.

The Boilermakers have been working their projected starting cornerbacks, Cory Trice and Jabari Brown, back into practices as they rehab from injury. Trice missed most of last season with ankle, then knee injuries. If they’re good to go, then Purdue will have 2 big, physical corners, with Trice being 6-3, 215 and Brown 6-3, 205.

Purdue would also be comfortable with Indiana transfer Reece Taylor getting plenty of snaps, or even starting. He played a ton for the Hoosiers the last several years, particularly as a nickel back.

The Boilermakers might be a bit thin at safety, especially since Marvin Grant suddenly — and bizarrely — opted to transfer to Kansas during the summer. But senior Chris Jefferson moves up to a starting spot, after being a nickel last season; he’s probably a better cover safety than Grant, but not the hitter. Senior Cam Allen is the other starter, a year after leading the Boilermakers with 4 interceptions. Junior Sanoussi Kane, who was forced to start at cornerback vs. Tennessee, could be an option at safety this season.