Purdue’s 2023 NFL Draft prospects led by Jalen Graham, Aidan O’Connell

With the losses of George Karlaftis and David Bell, who is set to represent the Purdue Boilermakers' class in the 2023 NFL Draft?

The 2023 NFL Draft likely won’t see the same success for the Purdue Boilermakers. But having a first-round pick and a third-round pick is a high bar to clear for a mid-tier Power 5 team. If Purdue can at least sustain a steady presence in the NFL Draft, they’ll be well on their way to making this a seasonal recurrence.

Purdue prospects in the 2023 NFL Draft

The Boilermakers aren’t lacking in talent, but that talent isn’t spread evenly across the roster. Some position groups are relatively depleted and in need of new contributors, while others are stocked with talent that’s built up over recent seasons. Here’s a look at some of the top Purdue 2023 NFL Draft prospects in the cycle’s early stages.

Aidan O’Connell, QB

Quietly, Aidan O’Connell is one of the better quarterbacks in the Big Ten. The 6’3″, 210-pound passer isn’t much of a scrambler, but he’s shown to have the tools to direct an efficient and effective passing offense.

In 2021, O’Connell completed 71.6% of his passes for 3,712 yards, 28 touchdowns, and 11 interceptions. O’Connell lacks much of a creative element. But in the pocket, he’s poised, has good field vision, and also has enough arm strength to fit the ball into small pockets downfield. Once a walk-on, O’Connell now has a chance to break into the NFL.

King Doerue, RB

The Purdue offense still has more than enough firepower to work through the passing game. Nevertheless, offenses always require balance, and the Boilermakers know they can also rely on King Doerue when they need to.

Doerue has a decent frame, sized at 5’10”, 205 pounds. He also ran a 10.94 in high school, so he has the long speed to stretch seams as well. Also present with Doerue is smooth lateral agility, which he can use to make defenders miss in open space. Doerue racked up 533 yards and two scores in 2021. In 2022, he’s once again on track to be the Boilermakers’ leading rusher.

Tyrone Tracy, WR

Just a couple years ago, Purdue had both Rondale Moore and David Bell. Now, they have neither. It’ll take a lot of work to replace the impact of both players, but Purdue isn’t skipping a beat when it comes to effort.

They reached into the transfer pool this offseason, acquiring former Iowa wideout Tyrone Tracy. Tracy peaked in 2019 when he caught 36 passes for 589 yards and three touchdowns and ran for a fourth. But Purdue’s pass-oriented offense could provide a catalyst for a late resurgence from Tracy.

TJ Sheffield, WR

If there’s anything we know about the Purdue wide receiver group, it’s that someone is going to break out. It’s just a matter of who. A former four-star recruit, TJ Sheffield could potentially be in line to be that guy.

Sheffield was a star at Independence High. Now several years removed from that time, he’s a redshirt junior with 40 catches, 348 yards, and five scores to his name through three seasons. At 5’11”, 190 pounds, Sheffield is a bit light. But he has visible short-area athleticism and burst, and flashes good instincts on select opportunities.

Broc Thompson, WR

Another compelling breakout option at Purdue is senior Broc Thompson. In 2021, Thompson transferred over from Marshall and had a respectable season. He totaled 30 catches for 457 yards and four touchdowns. But almost half of that entire total came in one game — the bowl game against Tennessee.

In the final contest of the year, Thompson caught seven passes for 217 yards and two scores. The 6’3″, 190-pound big-play threat flashes excellent instincts and uses quickness to extend plays in the deep range. He’s a very deep but legitimate 2023 NFL Draft sleeper.

Payne Durham, TE

Purdue will need someone to step up at wide receiver this year. But the Boilermakers can also take comfort in the fact that they have one of the better tight ends in the league in Payne Durham.

Durham caught 45 passes for 467 yards and six scores in 2021. He isn’t much of a speed threat, but at 6’5″, 255 pounds, he offers great size and toughness after the catch. And at the catch point, he naturally tracks and corrals passes over his shoulder. His flashes as a route runner, sustaining acceleration through transitions, are just as exciting.

Branson Deen, DT

Branson Deen might be one of the more underrated defensive tackle prospects in the 2023 NFL Draft. Although he’s undersized at 6’2″, 280 pounds, Deen is a ball of energy on the line. He’s twitched up and hits hard with his hands. He features a quick first step off the line, good lateral agility, and stellar closing burst in pursuit of the quarterback.

Those traits helped Deen put up three sacks and 9½ tackles for loss in 2021. In 2022, he’ll have a chance to expand on those numbers and build on his NFL draft imprint.

Lawrence Johnson, DT

Deen is the superior of the two prospects, but Lawrence Johnson is also a player worth watching on Purdue’s defensive front. Johnson brings good size at 6’3″, 310 pounds. And with his sheer width and density, he can be a lot to handle.

Johnson doesn’t have much of an explosive first step, and his hand usage and coordination can still improve. But after notching 4½ tackles for loss and a sack in 2021, he’s at least on the radar. His run defense upside is the most compelling part of his game.

Jack Sullivan, EDGE

Now a senior, Jack Sullivan will take on most of the responsibility when it comes to replacing George Karlaftis in 2022. Sullivan only logged three sacks and five tackles for loss in 2021, but he flashes the traits to adequately succeed the 2022 first-round pick.

With his length and 6’5″, 275-pound frame, Sullivan can set the edge effectively. As a pass rusher, he has enough burst and power capacity to be disruptive. His power, in particular, is a defining part of his game, allowing him to exploit lighter tackles.

Scotty Humpich, EDGE

Replacing Karlaftis isn’t a one-man job, of course. Sullivan will be relied upon, but the Boilermakers also sought help through the transfer portal, acquiring Scotty Humpich from Murray State.

Humpich has good size at 6’4″, 255 pounds, and has shown promise in spurts. However, over the past two seasons, he’s played just seven games total, accruing four sacks and seven tackles for loss in that span. If Humpich can finally get fully healthy, there’s a chance he could help the Boilermakers produce off the edge.

Jalen Graham, LB

One of the most intriguing 2023 NFL Draft prospects on the entire circuit might be Purdue’s Jalen Graham. Graham is a former safety and often plays in the overhang slot, matching up against tight ends and big slots. But at 6’3″, 220 pounds, he also plays closer to the line, where he shows great explosiveness, playmaking instincts, and physicality.

Graham is a hybrid in the mold of the modern NFL linebacker. Last year, his skills afforded him 64 tackles, four tackles for loss, a sack, two picks, and seven deflections. A strong final season could help him rise up boards.

Kieren Douglas, LB

He’s the lesser-known of Purdue’s LB  prospects this cycle, but Kieren Douglas has an interesting profile. Douglas is more of a pure second-level defender. Standing at 6’2″, 240 pounds, he offers good size and has proven production. In 2021, Douglas amassed 67 tackles, three tackles for loss, an interception, and two pass deflections. With Jaylan Alexander moving on to the NFL, Douglas will be asked to carry the torch.

Cory Trice, CB

Cory Trice missed most of the 2021 campaign due to injuries. In fact, injuries have been a constant throughout Trice’s collegiate career. But if the Purdue CB can stay healthy in 2022, he could be a breakout candidate on the Purdue defense.

The 6’3″, 215-pound defender can play at cornerback or safety, or in the slot. Trice has shown that he can use surprising hip fluidity and acceleration capacity to match receivers off the line. Health is a prerequisite, but Trice has legitimate 2023 NFL Draft potential.

Jamari Brown, CB

Another name to watch in Purdue’s secondary is Jamari Brown. Similar to Trice, the 6’3″, 205-pound cornerback brings great size. He’s also a former Kentucky standout. As a redshirt freshman with the Wildcats, he had seven pass deflections. He appeared on the uptrend after 2019, but injuries hampered his progress in 2020.

Brown transferred to Purdue in 2021 and showed similar flashes of promise, garnering 32 tackles, 1½ tackles for loss, a sack, six deflections, and two forced fumbles. Brown isn’t the most fluid or explosive player, but his length alone gives him great disruptive capacity.

Reese Taylor, CB

With there being so much uncertainty in the Boilermakers’ secondary, it could be a situation ripe with opportunity for a player like Reese Taylor. Over the past four seasons, Taylor played two hours south of West Lafayette, for the Indiana Hoosiers in Bloomington.

Rotating in as a third cornerback alongside Jaylin Williams and Tiawan Mullen, Taylor had modest success. In 2020, he notched a pick and seven deflections. His experience will likely be an asset for Purdue in 2022.

Cam Allen, S

With two returning players on the back end, Purdue quietly has one of the better safety duos in the Big Ten, along with teams like Minnesota and Rutgers. Allen is one of the leaders on Purdue’s defensive unit. In 2021, he managed 65 tackles, four interceptions, and three pass deflections.

At 6’1″, 195 pounds, Allen holds up well enough in contact situations, but he also shows the straight-line burst and instincts to read and react to passes in the open field. He’s not incredibly fluid in open space, but he has some appeal.

Chris Jefferson, S

Chris Jefferson isn’t an overwhelming size threat at 5’11”, 190 pounds, but he’s a playmaker. That’s something he’s shown at every juncture. Before Purdue, Jefferson played at Findlay, where he was a star on the defensive side of the ball. He tied for the league lead in 2019 with nine interceptions and added two more in 2020.

The 2021 season was Jefferson’s first year with Purdue. Accumulating 47 tackles, 2½ tackles for loss, a pick, and four deflections, he made it count. If those playmaking instincts continue to show up in 2022, it’ll only be to Jefferson’s benefit.

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