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Big Ten Football 2023: Purdue Portal Kombat 2 - The Defense

A look at the roster changes to Purdue’s new look defense

NCAA Football: Nebraska at Purdue Robert Goddin-USA TODAY Sports

As we covered yesterday, the entire Purdue Boilermakers roster saw some pretty massive changes following a head coaching change this offseason. That shouldn’t be much of a surprise in the era of the portal and NIL where a lot of players are ready to move onto their 2nd (or 3rd or 4th) school at the drop of a hat without a coaching change.

On the defensive side of the ball, the changes were perhaps more significant. This is due to the fact that several defensive starters were looking to transfer anyway, the neglect that outgoing head coach Jeff Brohm sometimes inflicted on the state of the defense, and the change in defensive scheme away from the 4-3 to whatever you want to call Ryan Walters defensive alignment.

17 defensive players (including 7 starters) from last year’s Big Ten West championship squad have departed. In their place, the new look Boilermakers have brought in 17 new scholarship defenders in addition to three walk-ons and two athletes that may eventually see time on defense. To save you from embarrassing yourself by asking questions like “who is that guy?” or “whatever happened to _______?”, today’s article will show all the outgoing and incoming defensive players.

Apologies again for all omissions and mistakes. This is not the easiest article to put together without an editor.

Where did everybody go?

Defensive Line Outgoing Players

Syndication: The Herald-Times
Jack Sullivan with the Old Oaken Bucket
Rich Janzaruk/Herald-Times / USA TODAY NETWORK

DT Branson Deen -> Miami Florida

DT Lawrence Johnson -> Auburn

DT Greg Hudgins -> Charlotte

DE Jack Sullivan -> Southern Cal

Three starters from last year’s defensive line in Deen, Sullivan, and Johnson all transferred out with Deen making the decision prior to the bowl game. The trio had their moments for the Boilers and helped hold together what was probably the best defensive unit for Purdue last year. They were joined in departing by former 4 star recruit Greg Hudgins who made the move down to the G5 ranks after only appearing in two games as a redshirt sophomore.

Linebackers Outgoing Players

NCAA Football: Northwestern at Purdue
Jalen Graham makes the tackle
Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

LB Jacob Wahlberg -> Western Michigan

LB Kieren Douglas -> graduated, now a GA at Louisville

LB Tristan Cox -> Ohio

LB Ben Kreul -> no longer on roster, not in transfer portal

LB/S Jalen Graham -> San Francisco 49ers (7th round pick)

Two of Purdue’s three starting linebackers (Douglas and Graham) have gone on to new challenges outside of college football, but both were also out of eligibility. Jacob Wahlberg was a late transfer portal entry as he opted out of the Purdue program after spring ball in what was a somewhat surprising decision considering the state of Purdue’s linebacker depth this season. Cox and Kreul have also moved on from the Purdue roster. From what I can tell, Kreul appears to still be enrolled at Purdue, just no longer a part of the football team.

Defensive Backs Outgoing Players

Syndication: The Herald-Times
Trice with the pick six
Rich Janzaruk/Herald-Times / USA TODAY NETWORK

CB Bryce Hampton -> graduated

CB Tee Denson -> In portal (no new home)

CB Jordan Buchanan -> South Alabama

CB Cory Trice -> Pittsburgh Steelers (7th round pick)

CB Brandon Calloway -> Georgia Southern

CB Reese Taylor -> Kansas City Chiefs (UDFA)

S Jah’von Grigsby -> in portal (no new home)

S Chris Jefferson -> departed team midseason for mental health/eligibility has been exhausted

S - Ryan Brandt -> graduated. Still has eligibility but no longer on roster/doesn’t appear to be transferring

Other than the QB position, the defensive backfield saw the highest amount of turnover anywhere on the Boilermakers roster. Trice and Taylor are off to the NFL. Hampton and Jefferson are out of eligibility after both starting at various points last season. Buchanan and Calloway have found landing spots elsewhere in college football while Denson (after not playing due to an injury and previously transferring from Kansas State) and Grigsby are apparently still looking. Brandt appears to have graduated this spring and despite having 1 year eligibility remaining doesn’t appear to be playing anywhere this upcoming season.

Incoming Superstars

The next All-B1G Defensive Linemen

NCAA Football: Auburn at Mississippi State
M’Ba forces a fumble
Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

DE Jeffrey M’Ba (redshirt junior from Auburn)

DE Malik Langham (redshirt senior from Vanderbilt)

DE Isaiah Nichols (graduate transfer from Arkansas)

DL Jamarrion Harkless (early enrollee, 3 star)

DL Drake Carlson (true freshman, 3 star)

M’Ba, Langham, and Nichols bolster the defensive line and are likely to compete for the starting DE spots as they fit the bigger body run stopper molds that Walters is looking for at those positions. Incoming freshmen Harkless and Carlson seem destined for redshirts due to the depth in front of them. Harkless has the size to play nose tackle now, but so do several upperclassmen in front of him. Carlson likely needs to add a little weight to play as a DE in Walter’s scheme, but should be able to.

The next All-B1G Linebackers

Syndication: Journal-Courier
Purdue has the Moon
Alex Martin/Journal and Courier / USA TODAY NETWORK

LB Will Heldt (early enrollee, 3 star)

LB Mondrell Dean (true freshman, 3 star)

LB Owen Davis (early enrollee, 3 star)

LB Joey Sumlin (walk-on)

Purdue took zero transfers at the linebacker positions despite 5 linebackers departing from last season’s roster. This hints at Walters’ defensive plans for the program: several former defensive ends are moving to the outside linebacker position where they will play on the line and Purdue may also plan to lineup with 5 defensive backs at times.

Among the incoming freshman, Will Heldt has been mentioned as impressing that coaching staff, but if he’s going to play this year its going to need to be at a ILB spot while the official roster has his listed as an OLB. Dean projects as a OLB and Davis as a ILB moving forward but I expect both to redshirt this season. Joey Sumlin is the son of a former Purdue walk-on who went on to be a very successful starting linebacker for the Boilermakers and then a less successful college head coach: Kevin Sumlin. Interesting that Joey isn’t playing for the Terrapins where Kevin has landed as an assistant for this upcoming season.

Name change alert: the player formerly known as Nic Caraway is now Nic Scourton as he has taken his father’s last name this offseason.

The next All-B1G Defensive Backs

NCAA Football: Ohio at Penn State
Wilson makes a tackle
Matthew OHaren-USA TODAY Sports

CB Marquis Wilson (redshirt senior from Penn State)

CB Salim Turner-Muhammad (redshirt senior from Stanford)

CB Markevious Brown (redshirt sophomore from Ole Miss)

CB Botros Alisandro (sophomore from JUCO)

CB Braxton Myers (redshirt freshman from Ole Miss)

CB Zion Gunn (early enrollee, 3 star)

CB Luke Pettaway (walk-on)

S Anthony Brown (redshirt freshman from Arkansas)

S Ethon Cole (early enrollee, 3 star)

S Dillon Thieneman (early enrollee, 3 star)

S Winston Berglund (true freshman, 3 star)

DB Landon Heard (walk-on)

DB Derrick Rogers (true freshman, 3 star)

With the massive number of departures in the defensive backfield, it should come as no surprise that the Boilermakers brought in a bunch of transfers to steady the ship. Wilson and Turner-Muhammad should fight for starting CB spots. Alisandro and Markevious Brown are expected to be in the rotation as well. At the safety position, Anthony Brown may not start this year but he could crack the rotation.

For the freshman, most will probably end up redshirting due to the reinforcements brought in via the portal. Braxton Myers joined Markevious Brown in following his position coach to Purdue and was a four star recruit before redshirting last season. Gunn, Thieneman, and Cole were early enrollees. Thieneman continues the long Theineman family presence on the Purdue roster and has impressed the coaching staff early. Berglund could be more of a linebacker (at one point he was listed as both on the roster). Derrick Rogers was originally listed as an athlete on the Purdue roster who might play either WR or DB. He appears to have chosen the defensive side of the ball as that’s what he shows up on for the latest version of the roster.

Walk-ons Luke Pettaway and Landon Heard round out our list of roster additions. Both were late additions to the roster.


Purdue lost 7 starters from last year’s defense. Last year’s defense however didn’t just bend. It broke a lot of the time too. Up to 4 new starters have been brought on board and the depth (particularly in the defensive backfield) has been improved. The aggressive use of the transfer portal was needed to fill holes and put forward a competitive defense this season. The incoming high school recruits weren’t part of the highest rated class but there is some intriguing talent to watch develop there. Will it be enough in year 1? Or will Purdue’s defensive rebuild take another season?


Biggest loss from last year’s defense?

This poll is closed

  • 21%
    (7 votes)
  • 6%
    (2 votes)
  • 6%
    (2 votes)
  • 33%
    (11 votes)
  • 27%
    (9 votes)
  • 6%
    (2 votes)
33 votes total Vote Now


Most important newcomer for Purdue’s defense this year?

This poll is closed

  • 52%
    (12 votes)
  • 4%
    (1 vote)
  • 4%
    (1 vote)
  • 30%
    (7 votes)
  • 8%
    (2 votes)
23 votes total Vote Now