Purdue Football 2021: Position Previews – Linebackers

Incoming co-DC and play caller Brad Lambert takes over this fall after a two year stint as DC at Marshall and seven year run as the Head Coach of Charlotte.  Last year Lambert’s Thundering Herd defense was #1 in scoring defense as well as #2 in yards allowed per game in the entire country.  Lambert will look to bring that stout defense to West Lafayette and will be in charge of a linebacking unit with some solid experience this fall,  Unfortunately the linebacking room already has one season ending injury casualty in Semisi Fakasiieiki who was slated to start at middle linebacker this year but his brothers are ready to answer the call.  Let’s take a look:

Jaylan Alexander – Starter

Alexander would typically play on the outside, but with the aforementioned injury to Fakasiieiki, he will be sliding into the middle this fall.  Alexander has tons of experience with over 29 games participated in and 14 starts in 3 seasons, during that time he has recorded 113 tackles, 73 solo, 8 tackles for loss and two passes defended.  Alexander moves very well for his size and is really solid in coverage, but maybe the biggest question will be his ability to hit the hole hard and fill this fall.  Alexander had off season surgery and was eased back into practice during camp this fall, his sustained health will be paramount this fall as the MIKE linebacker position gets thin after him.  Look for a big year from the senior wearing #36 this year.  

Jalen Graham – Starter

Jalen Graham dives for a tackle against Minnesota in 2019

Jalen Graham is another veteran that will be returning for the Boilers this fall.  The rising junior has played OLB in 17 games, making 13 starts over the two years he has been on the team.  To his name, Graham has 53 tackles, 36 solo, 3.5 tackles for loss, 1 forced fumble and 2 fumble recoveries.  Graham arrived at Purdue highly touted and a Power 5 ready body and has only continued to get stronger throughout the years.  He brings physicality and athleticism to the linebacker room and is quick enough to handle coverage duties and should rarely come off the field for nickel packages this fall, the exception being against super quick and small slot receivers.  With two years under his belt, look for a true breakout season for Jalen Graham

OC Brothers – Starter

OC Brothers makes his way to Purdue after spending two years at Auburn where he appeared in just two games.  Originally part of the 2019 recruiting class, Brothers chose Auburn over offers from Tennessee, Ole Miss, Miami, and Syracuse.  At 6’2” 220 lbs, Brothers brings good speed and great hands to the linebacker position.  In high school Brothers played everything from linebacker to wide receiver to cornerback.  Brothers has big shoes to fill on the outside this fall after Derrick Barnes was drafted in the 4th round by the Lions this past year, but reports out of camp seem to indicate that he is ready to contribute in a meaningful way come Saturday.

Yanni Karlaftis – Potential Contributor

After years of seeing true freshmen start and get significant playing time, Yanni Karlaftis might be the only one to see the field in 2021.  The hometown highly touted 4-star linebacker chose to stay home over offers from nearly every Big Ten program and looks to write his own story on the Boilermaker defense over the next few seasons.  Yanni is coming off a hamstring injury that prevented him from participating in most of his senior season at West Side high school, but is back and healthy and looking to contribute this fall.  At 6’3” 225 lbs, Yanni has already put on some weight to his lean frame and will likely continue to do so as his career moves on.  We want to temper some expectations here as many will expect Yanni to be a day 1 starter like his brother George was, but they play different positions and with that comes different obstacles.  If Yanni is ready and has the playbook down, the coaching staff will give him every opportunity to prove himself and earn snaps this year.  We might not see him right away, but fully expect him as part of the rotation at later in the season if not sooner.

Kieren Douglas – Backup

With Fakasiieiki’s injury, Kierene Douglas’ role as backup middle linebacker becomes that much more important.  During his career has participated in 14 games, with one start at linebacker and has 15 5ackles, 12 solo,  and 2 tackles for loss to his name.   Douglas is a good compliment to Jaylan Alexander in that they fill each other’s weaknesses.  Douglas is very much a downhill type linebacker, similar to Fakasiieiki, but can struggle in coverage.  Douglas will certainly play a significant role on special teams as he has in the past, but will likely see him get some action rotating in on defense as well as short yard situations where a downhill linebacker is needed.    

Khali Saunders – Potential Contributor

2021 will be Saunders’ third year on the Boilermaker defense appearing in 7 games and recording 4 tackles.  At 6’3” 235 lbs, Saunders has good size and length and above average speed.  The rising sophomore plays with an explosive edge and has gotten himself some playing that past few years, but will be looking to work his way into the rotation this year.  

Jacob Wahlberg – Potential Contributor

Jacob Wahlberg is another rising sophomore to watch in the linebacking corps this season.  Wahlberg has above average height for a linebacker at 6’4”, but he has decent weight to him from a numbers perspective, but Wahlberg is one of those athletes that the numbers don’t do him justice.  Wahlberg looks the part in terms of how he carries himself on the field and attacks the hole.  So far in two seasons Wahlberg has appeared in just two games, but like Saunders will be looking to make a jump this year and work his way into the rotation.

Reserves: Ben Kreul, Robert McWilliams, Ben Furtney

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