Purdue football: The 5 biggest holes to fill in the 2021 starting lineup
In 2021, Jeff Brohm’s Boilermakers will have upwards of 17 starters returning, and that’s a good thing.
Or is it?
Purdue finished only 2-4 last season, sliding to a 4-game losing streak to end the year — and seemingly looking worse in each progressing week — and will carry the stretch into spring practices, which start Friday.
Following we take a look at the biggest holes that Brohm and Co., will need to fill, starting with evaluations during this spring’s practices.
Position: Slot receiver
What you need to know: Rondale Moore is gone, having graduated from Purdue in only 2 1/2 years and readying for the NFL. One of the country’s most dynamic players, Moore won’t be easy to replace, to say the least. But at least Purdue has a veteran former starter to put into the slot. Jackson Anthrop, who opted to stick around for a 6th season, is a steady, reliable pass-catcher who actually led the Boilermakers with 47 receptions in 2017. Look for T.J. Sheffield, who has largely served as a return man, to compete for snaps, as well.
What you need to know: Derrick Barnes was the breakout star for Purdue’s defense in 2020, moving back to his original position at linebacker after playing defensive end as a junior. And he blossomed more than anyone could have anticipated, becoming a potential mid-round NFL Draft pick. Who fills the production? Probably a newcomer. Freshman Yanni Karlaftis, Purdue’s highest-profile 4-star 247Sports signee, is a potential starter on the outside in only his first season on campus. But sophomore OC Brothers, a former 3-star prospect, is a possibility after transferring from Auburn. At least, Purdue thinks it’s starting to build depth at a position that hasn’t had much in the last decade-plus.
Position: Left tackle
What you need to know: Grant Hermanns was a stalwart on the blind side for the last 4 seasons and his reliability will be missed sorely. But Purdue thinks it has a quality replacement in sophomore Cam Craig, provided Craig returns from an injury that cost him most of last season. The 6-5, 305-pounder is expected to slide over after taking most of his snaps at left guard in his first 2 seasons. Former graduate transfer Greg Long also is coming back, giving a returning starter at right tackle and helping to solidify the edges of Purdue’s O-line.
Position: Defensive tackle
What you need to know: As expected, Lorenzo Neal is testing the NFL, after a successful return from an ACL injury that had cost him 2019. He was a space-eater, making him a rare physical presence that’s hard to replace. Purdue got good news when fellow senior Anthony Watts decided to return for a 6th season, taking advantage of the NCAA’s extra pandemic year. But who goes fills Neal’s spot? Junior Lawrence Johnson is likely the frontrunner, but Purdue could use Branson Deen on the inside, after the junior-to-be has played a bit of everywhere on the line in his first 2 seasons.
What you need to know: As of right now, Purdue will enter 2021 without a leader to be the place-kicker. J.D. Dellinger, a senior who could have returned, decided to retire because of an ongoing back injury that had plagued him for more than a year. His younger brother, Edward Dellinger, is a possibility, as is Chris Van Eekeren or Caleb Krockover, all three walk-on underclassmen. If Purdue could find a veteran transfer, it certainly would bring him in.