EDITOR'S NOTE: In Jeff Brohm's first season at Purdue, he took what was supposed to be a rebuilding year and turned it into a winning one. The Boilermakers posted their best season since 2011 with a bowl victory and a 7-6 record. As we count down to fall camp and Season 2, we’ll be previewing the Boilermakers position-by-position. This is the second installment in a multi-part series.
If Brohm is going to get closer to the record-setting offensive standard he set at Western Kentucky, the receivers are the most critical position group.
Consider that the rest of the offense is a known commodity. Both quarterbacks are back. We know what they can do. Four of the five starting offensive linemen are back. The top four running backs return.
The receivers, meanwhile, were a group that faced questions of consistency throughout last year, forcing Purdue to continue to change its starting lineup in search of playmakers. At one point, the Boilers started a 27-year-old former professional baseball player (Jarrett Burgess), a player who just months earlier was a quarterback (Jared Sparks) and a 5-foot-11 freshman who had no other major Division-I offers (Jackson Anthrop).
As Purdue enters Year 2 of the Brohm era, receivers are the one offensive position group with the most to prove ... and the most uncertainty. For that reason, their success (or struggle) could swing Purdue's offensive fortune one way or the other.
Key returners: Jackson Anthrop (sophomore), Jared Sparks (sophomore), Terry Wright (senior), Isaac Zico (senior), Jarrett Burgess (senior), KeyRon Catlett (sophomore)
Notable newcomers: Rondale Moore (freshman), Kory Taylor (freshman), Amad Anderson (freshman), Jordan Bonner (freshman), Tyler Hamilton (RS freshman)
Losses: Anthony Mahoungou, Gregory Phillips
Biggest question: Can JUCO transfers make an impact in Year 2?
When he arrived on campus, Brohm tried to fill holes at receiver by adding junior college prospects Zico and Wright. However, both went through their growing pains in their first season of major Division-I football, combining for just a single touchdown in 2017.
The good news for Purdue is it’s not uncommon to see junior college players go through an adjustment period. Remember a few years back, Domonique Young had just 21 receptions for 276 yards as a transfer. Then, as a senior, he was leading the Big Ten in receiving yards through five games before a season-ending knee injury.
Wright and Zico don’t need to lead the Big Ten in receiving. But if they can become solid, dependable receivers, Purdue’s offense will take a major step forward.
Greatest strength? New competition.
Purdue signed four receivers this winter, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see more than one of them make an early impact. Taylor is a big, physical receiver at 6-5. He’s a unique and valuable addition to a roster that features just two other receivers 6-2 or bigger.
But, clearly, Moore has the most potential and hype of the newcomers. The four-star receiver is the highest-rated athlete Purdue has signed in the 247 Sports era. The Kentucky speedster brings 4.33, 40-yard dash speed. On Friday, he wowed social media by posting a video of himself squatting 600 pounds. Moore will eventually become a feature piece of Purdue's offense. How quickly he gets there will go a long way toward determining the success of this position group.
Position battles: Clogged slot.
Anthrop enjoyed a breakthrough season last year with a team-high 45 receptions and seven total touchdowns. But can he stay there?
The Boilermakers’ roster is filled with smaller receivers whose body types would seem ideally suited for the slot. Moore is just 5-9. With his speed and shiftiness, he seems to fit the mold of a slot receiver. Wright was recruited out of junior college as a slot. At 5-11 and with his track background, he has a lot of the same attributes as Moore (though he did play on the outside a bit during spring ball). Then there’s Keyron Catlett at 5-10 and Tyler Hamilton at 5-10.
Worth considering: Big playmakers wanted.
Big plays were a staple of Brohm’s offenses at Western Kentucky. In 2016, the Hilltoppers led the nation with 61 plays of 30-plus yards. But at Purdue in 2017, the Boilers produced less than half that number.
If Brohm’s offense is going to kick into high gear this year, big plays will need to be part of it. Moore and Wright figure to be the two most likely candidates to buck that trend. Both have elite track speed and could be on the field together at times this season. If Purdue can find ways to get them into the open field, they could help solidify the position group and the offense as a whole.