Each year it seems more and more like the NFL "Herd" is growing. Word out of San Diego Chargers camp is that former NDSU defensive end and 5th round pick Kyle Emanuel is impressing. The Green Bay Packers reached out to former Bison running back John Crockett immediately after the NFL Draft. The club released him in final cuts but immediately re-signed him to the practice squad. The two new professional Bison seem to be the latest in an increasing movement of former North Dakota State athletes making it in professional football.
Emanuel was almost guaranteed to be drafted. He was projected anywhere from the 3rd to 7th round and fell right in the middle of the expected range, being selected 153rd overall by the Chargers. Emanuel played defensive end in college, but was projected as a linebacker for NFL purposes. San Diego was the perfect landing place. The Chargers have been shifting undersized edge rushers to linebackers for years.
Chargers defensive leader Eric Weddle has been raving about Emanuel. "He looks like a first round pick to us" said Weddle. "When you look at him and you look at other first rounders, our second rounders it's no different. His athleticism, how he mentally approaches the game, what you have to do as an outside linebacker -- it's no different from him, Melvin and Jerry (Attaouchu). Athletically, physicality and all that stuff is right there with those guys".
Emanuel's athletic ability as always pointed to him being a key special teams contributor in the NFL. His impressive work in camp and in the preseason gives him a chance to contribute on defense. Young pass rushers often struggle, but Emanuel brings the kind of motor that makes up for technical deficiencies.
John Crockett took a slightly different path to Green Bay than Emanuel did to San Diego. "Taz" was able to generate buzz about himself, both by playing in all-star games and getting himself invited to the combine and by appearing on ESPN's Draft Academy. Many outlets were projecting Crockett as a draftee. Things didn't quite go like that.
Green Bay called and as a team without a solid option at third on the running back depth chart and Crockett answered. An ankle injury in OTAs slid Crockett to 5th on the depth chart and he almost never recoverd. It was only in the 4th preseason game against New Orleans in which Crockett amassed 92 total yards and a touchdown. That performance earned him a spot on the practice squad.
Crockett and Emanuel aren't the only ones in the big leagues, though. The success of the program has not come without talented players. More and more Bison are making it at the next level, and more will soon. More on that later.
Marcus Williams had maybe the most impressive offseason. "MWill" also came into the NFL without being drafted. He elevated himself from the practice squad into the starting lineup a year ago and played admirably. He looked poised to contribute to the Jets in 2015.
Then the offseason happened. The Jets signed the best cornerback in football, Darelle Revis. They also signed his former running mate, Antonio Cromartie. Just when I thought things couldn't get an uglier for Williams, the Jets signed talented and experienced nickel back Buster Skrine. Williams responded by playing like a monster in the preseason, amassing 12 tackles, forcing a fumble and catching an interception in the 2015 preseason. His consinstent playmaking earned him a spot on the Jets' 53.
Craig Dahl was released by the 49ers during final cuts. He signed wth the New York Giants, the team with which he knows the defensive coordinator and also has a Super Bowl ring. At this point in Dahl's career his value is as a core speial teamer and solid run-defending safety. Dahl's seven year run in the NFL is impressive for any player, much less an undrafted one.
2014 was a trying year for Billy Turner. As a 3rd round pick, Turner had reasonable expectations of playing right away. Not only that, but the Dolphins didn't have a great offensive line a season ago. Instead Turner battled injuries all season long and didn't make an impact. Turner was one of the most highly drafted Bison of all time, and 2014 was disappointing. Turner made the 2015 roster, but isn't currently listed as a starter on the depth chart. The talent is still there, but soon the Dolphins will want to get more out of a top 70 pick.
Ramon Humber continues to be a dependable special teams contributor and rotational linebacker for the New Orleans Saints. As a 7th year pro, Humber knows the ins and outs of the league, and made some plays last year in Rob Ryan's defense.
Joe Mays was recently released by the Jets. It's likely that he will again find work in the league after week one. NFL contracts are non-guaranteed if a player is signed after week one.
The Herd of Pro Bison will grow by at least two next season as well. Both Carson Wentz and Joe Haeg are more than likely going to be drafted. Both players are supremely talented and offer height/weight combinations that don't jive with the "undersized" labels many FCS players receive. The success of NDSU's program keeps attracting better athletes. Those athletes are being developed by a proven staff and by an increasing percentage making it to the next level. As NDSU continues to grow as a program expect to see more of the Bison on Sundays.