The top 10 Purdue football players you need to know for the 2016 season.
1. DT Jake Replogle, Sr.
A smart, strong interior pass rusher, the 6-5, 294-pound veteran was one of the key forces up front for a defense that needed to find more playmakers. While he’s not necessarily an anchor to work around, he’s more of a high-motor guy who generated 40 tackles with three sacks and 10.5 tackles for loss in his breakthrough sophomore season, and then he stepped it up to another level last year. Active, quick, and always working, he came up came up with 60 tackles with 14 tackles for loss in what should’ve been an all-star season. He earned Honorable Mention honors, but this year he could be one of the league’s signature defensive stars if he can do just a bit more in the biggest games.
2. LB Ja’Whaun Bentley, Jr.
Built for the middle, the 6-2, 250-pound Bentley was a force two years ago making 76 tackles working both outside and later in. While he has yet to come up with a sack in his first two seasons, he’s got the athleticism to hang out in the backfield coming up with 7.5 tackles for loss along with 49 tackles in just five games last season before suffering a season-ending knee injury. Dominant before getting hurt, he cranked up three double-digit tackle games in his first four with 14 against Bowling Green and 11 against Virginia Tech, and the D was never the same without him. This spring he was back as the leader and tough guy to work everything around. If he can stay in one piece, he’ll be deep in the hunt for all-star honors with massive tackle numbers.
3. SS Leroy Clark, Sr.
The team’s leading tackler last season, the Miami native came up with 88 stops with two picks and nine broken up passes earning Honorable Mention All-Big Ten honors. A fantastic open-field tackler, he registered double-digit stops in four games with 11 against Virginia Tech and Minnesota and ten against both Nebraska and Indiana. The 5-10, 197-pound strong safety was a big recruit for the program and started playing like it from the start – but he was expected to be a cornerback. He turned into a safety and became a surprising hitter with great range to always be around the ball.
4. RB Markell Jones, Soph.
At 5-11 and 211 pounds the former Indiana Mr. Football is a good-sized back with the talent to be the workhorse the entire offense works around. Good enough to run for over 3,500 yards and 60 scores as a high school senior, he came out roaring with 875 yards and ten scores averaging over five yards per try and was a key playmaker for the passing game catching 34 passes for 239 yards and a touchdown. More of a physical back than a speedster, he’s shifty enough to be dangerous in the open field if he can break through the line. He hit Michigan State for 157 yards and two scores on 22 carries, but defenses keyed on him and made life hard for him at times over the second half of the season. Consider him a lock for 1,000 yards this year with well over 200 carries.
5. LB Danny Ezechukwu, Jr.
With the build to work inside and the athleticism to be a factor on the weakside, the 6-2, 251-pound veteran can move around wherever he’s needed and produce. He came up with 3 tackles in his first year, and last season he stepped up when Ja’Whaun Bentley went down finishing second on the team with 79 tackles with a sack and an interception. He came up with three double-digit stop games in a four game stretch – highlighted by an 11-tackle day against Wisconsin – and he became even better in the open field as the season went on. With him, and the healthy return of Bentley, the Boilermakers have the makings of a great linebacking corps.
6. WR DeAngelo Yancey, Sr.
The team’s top receiver, Yancey came up with 48 catches for 700 yards and five scores in a breakthrough season. Big and physical, the 6-2, 216-pounder went from being a spot starter to a go-to target with 117 yards on nine catches against Iowa and 111 yards and two scores against Nebraska. More of a midrange safety valve than a true deep threat, he can still stretch the field from time to time. He can hit a little bit for the ground game, too.
7. QB David Blough, Soph.
The revolving door at quarterback appears to have finally stopped. Blough was thrown into the mix in his freshman season completing 58% of his throws for 1,574 yards and ten touchdowns with eight picks, while running for 94 yards and four touchdowns. At 6-1 and 205 pounds he’s not all that huge, but he’s a good runner with a live arm and good pure passing skills. He got banged up late in the season, but when he was on during the year, the offense worked throwing for 340 yards and two scores against Bowling Green, and most famously he took over against Nebraska throwing for 274 yards and four scores while running for 82 yards and a touchdown. It’s his job now without having to look over his shoulder, and he has to take control and be even more consistent.
8. DE Gelen Robinson, Jr.
Can he become a bigger and better pass rusher? Built like a linebacker, the 6-1, 265-pound veteran made 32 tackles with 1.5 sacks, but he also kicked in nine tackles for loss with three of them in the season finale against Indiana. The son of Big Dog and Purdue basketball legend, Glenn Robinson, he’s more of a mauler than a pure pass rusher, but he’s a good hitter who’s overdue for a breakout statistical season. He’ll have a few dominant performances.
9. OT Martesse Patterson, Soph.
The offensive line didn’t do an awful job in pass protection last season and should have a decent group coming back. If the offense is going to take a big step forward, it needs a huge year from a massive blocker on the outside – likely at left tackle – in Patterson. A good prospect with the 6-3, 340-pound size better suited for the interior, the quickness is there to be a powerful all-around blocker no matter where he works after seeing time at both tackle spots. The line is still a work in progress, but over the next three years, Patterson should be a key part of the puzzle.
10. DE Evan Panfil, Sr.
The Boilermakers need more of a pass rush, and it has to come from Panfil at one end coming off a four sack season with 30 tackles. At 6-5 and 268 pounds he’s got excellent size, and he’s got the power against the run at times, but it’s his job to crank up the motor and camp out behind the line. It’s taken a few years to become a factor, and now in his final year, and with a starting gig all to himself, he’ll have to turn it loose.