Time to look into the crystal ball and try to predict the future.
Just want to remind everyone that Hammer and Rails is made up of several different people. This is my own personal opinion. Kyle and Travis may have totally different views on this subject.
2021 is the year I had circled as Jeff Brohm’s breakout year at Purdue…or at least it’s the year I had circled when Purdue pulled in their stellar 2019 recruiting class. My optimism has been substantially diminished over the last 2 seasons, but I’m ready to go all-in on 2021. If Brohm is going to get this thing back on the tracks, he won’t get a better shot in the near future.
All the frustrations of the last two years can be wiped away with stellar 2021, and it all starts at quarterback. It’s the most important position in sports, and one Purdue, in theory, should be well equipped to fill it with Jeff Brohm at the helm.
Strangely though, the “cradle of quarterbacks” has been decent, but not outstanding in recent years. Recruiting has been average, at best, for a coach that should be able to bring in premium talent every year with the promise of a wide open passing attack. It’s not that the quarterback position has been a problem, but it hasn’t been a strength either. Some of that is obviously due to unavoidable (for the most part) injuries, but if I’m ranking Big10 teams on pure quarterback talent, Purdue is in the bottom quarter of the conference at the moment.
My depth chart is going to look different than most, because I’m gambling on talent over experience. For Purdue to maximize their potential in 2021, Brohm can’t be forced to game plan around his quarterback. I like Jack Plummer and Adan O’Connell, but neither are franchise quarterback material. They are solid Big10 QBs, but Purdue needs more than a solid quarterback to take the next step. If this were Northwestern or Wisconsin, or even Iowa, either of those two would be fine, but it’s not.
Drew’s 2021 QB Depth Chart (Pre-Summer)
- Austin Burton
- Aidan O’Connell
- Jack Plummer
- Michael Alaimo
I was skeptical when Brohm brought Austin into the program. Adding another junior to quarterback room wasn’t the move I was expecting, but after watching the 2020 season, I’m desperate for a more athletic option at quarterback.
The tackle situation for the Boilermakers is far from settled heading into 2021 and Burton’s ability to scramble out of trouble and extend plays might be his most valuable skill. Burton averaged 4.3 yards an attempt as a sophomore at UCLA. He’s a significantly better runner than either Plummer or O’Connell, and that should open up some things in the run game next year. Purdue has been bad in short yardage situations over the last 2 seasons, and part of the problem is at quarterback. The other team’s defensive coordinator doesn’t have to worry about O’Connell or Plummer pulling the ball and getting to the edge. Burton brings something different to the running attack. He spent two years working on his read option skills with Chip Kelly, and I want to see what that looks like paired with Jeff Brohm’s passing attack.
I don’t know if he can throw the ball, but that’s where Jeff Brohm, in theory, should help. Based on the film I’ve seen, Burton is physically capable of making all the throws. Brohm should be able to coach him up in the offense. It’s tough to start over at quarterback yet again, but another 3 years of Plummer or two years of O’Connell doesn’t do it for me. If Brohm didn’t think he was capable of starting, he wouldn’t have brought him into the program.
Purdue needs a dynamic quarterback and Burton is their best bet.
I’ve got Alaimo listed 4th on the depth chart, but for my money, the starting job should be a fight between Burton and Alaimo. I know that doesn’t make much sense, but hang with me more for a second.
In terms of arm strength, Alaimo is probably the best quarterback on the roster. He’s not as athletic as Burton, but his ability to consistently attack down the field could make up for this shortcoming. When Brohm’s offense is clicking, he’s able to isolate his receivers on the outside and take yardage in chunks. Next season, Purdue has two outside receivers (Bell and Wright) that should be able to terrorize teams outside the numbers, and if Alaimo is the quarterback that best utilizes their potential, he should start.
Physically, he’s got the frame and arm strength you’re looking for, but it’s going to come down to his ability to read defenses, find the proper matchup, and exploit it. If the other team decides to double Bell and Wright on the outside, he needs to be able to rip the seam the route instead of throwing into double coverage.
If he doesn’t win the job, he probably moves to the back of the pack with Plummer and O’Connell both having significantly more experience. I want a seasoned option coming off the bench or stepping in for a game or two if necessary, but in terms of starting material, he’s the wildcard. I wouldn’t mind him taking the job and making it his own for the next three seasons.
I like Plummer’s accuracy in the short-to-intermediate passing game, but his ability to attack down the field is lacking. If he can’t make the deep throw outside the numbers, it takes away David Bell’s best skill. It’s harsh, but I look back to the end of the Nebraska game, and he underthrew Bell on 2 consecutive Go routes when the Boilermakers were in desperate need of 4th quarter points. A quarterback with a stronger arm turns one of those opportunities into points.
He’s a statue in the pocket, and doesn’t have a great feel for pressure. He gets the ball out of his hand quickly, but doesn’t have much zip on it. Too often, by the time a Purdue receiver catches the ball, a defender is draped all over them because of Plummer’s lack of arm strength. Some of Rondale’s inability to break the big play this season is squarely on both Plummer not being able to hit him in stride with a strike.
Again, I think Jack’s a good quarterback. He’s extremely accurate and if you’re running an air raid attack that requires your quarterback to throw 40 short/intermediate routes, he’s a solid option, but that’s not what Brohm’s offense does best.
O’Connell has a little bigger arm than Plummer, but makes Jack look like Johnny Manziel in the pocket. There is no freelancing with him. If the play works, he’s good. If the play breaks down, he’s toast. Sometimes your quarterback has to make a play when things go sideways. That’s goes doubly when your offensive line has huge question marks at the tackle position.
It’s a toss up between Plummer and O’Connell, and I could have easily listed O’Connell in the 2nd spot. I see them as similar quarterbacks with relatively high floors but limited ceilings. I like what they bring to the table in the short/intermediate game, but both lack mobility and the ability to make things happen outside the offense.
I look back to the quarterback situation when Brohm arrived at West Lafayette, and I think that’s the best dynamic for the team. Blough had the ability to improvise outside the pocket and keep drives alive with his legs. Sindelar had a cannon for an arm and the size to stand in the pocket and deliver strikes deep down the field or fit the ball into tight windows and allow his receivers to run after the catch.
I see some Blough in Burton’s game and I see some Sindelar in Alaimo’s game. Plummer and O’Connell are both solid options, but Purdue needs more than solid at quarterback. I hope Brohm gambles on talent in 2021 at quarterback, otherwise, I think we’ll be talking about another 5-6 win season.