NDSU Athletics - Ryan Perrault

After 2016 Draft, Bison now an NFL Brand

Carson Wentz was the obvious headline, but NDSU will send 7 of their 14 seniors to NFL camps. Those players will join six active NFL players and free agent Craig Dahl, who played last season. That kind of a professional presence is unprecedented in NDSU history.

#ProBison. That has been a social media point of pride from North Dakota State's athletic department ever since the move to Division I.  It applies to a lot of different people.  The baseball program has put players in the major leagues.  Basketball has had several players play both NBA D-League and overseas professional basketball.  Golfer Amy Anderson is a mainstay on the LPGA tour.

Nowhere, though, do NDSU athletes make an impact quite like they do in the NFL, and never before has that impact been quite so noticeable as it is right now.  NDSU is sending a startling 50% of its 2015 seniors to NFL camps.  Those players will join active NFLers John Crockett of the Green Bay Packers, Billy Turner of the Miami Dolphins, Joe Mays and Kyle Emanuel of the Chargers and Ramon Humber of the Patriots.  Those players, in addition to Craig Dahl, who always seems to end up on a team, would provide the potential for up to 14 former Bison to play NFL football in 2016.

Carson Wentz was obviously the headliner, and one of the leading stories of the entire draft, being selected second overall by the Philadelphia Eagles.  Wentz was the highest quarterback ever selected from a non-FBS program.  He was soon joined by Joe Haeg in the ranks of Bison draftees when the Indianapolis Colts selected him in the 5th round.  Haeg will be expected to immediately compete for playing time on a Colts offensive line that struggled mightily, leading Andrew Luck to repeatedly miss games due to injury.

It certainly wasn't over for the Bison draft hopefuls at that point.  Cornerback CJ Smith signed a college free agent deal with the Philadelphia Eagles.  He will join his former teammate Carson Wentz in the City of Brotherly Love, and will compete for time in a defense that while strong, has a definite need at the cornerback position.  Andrew Bonnet signed a college free agent deal with the Carolina Panthers.  He will compete for a chance to be the heir apparent to Panthers do-everything guy Mike Tolbert.

Three Bison who did not receive NFL contracts after draft weekend will join the four Bison who did.  Ben LeCompte will try out for both his hometown Bears and the Minnesota Vikings.  Vikings fans, in particular, are dissatisfied with Jeff Locke.  Tight End Luke Albers will compete in Arizona's mini-camp and guard Jeremy Kelly will head to Atlanta to try out for the Falcons.

The numbers would tell you that the three players who are heading out on a try-out basis don't have much of a chance of making a 90-man roster, much less the final 53.  There almost certainly won't be 14 Bison playing on Sundays this season.   Even the undrafted free agents have a long road ahead of them.  I will say, though, that when you consider the success of NDSU UDFAs Marcus Williams, Craig Dahl, John Crockett and Ramon Humber, the ability of Bison UDFA's to stick with a team is quite a bit higher than the league average.  A lot of that has to do with NDSU players being under-drafted because of the stigma that playing for an FCS program brings.

It has become clear, though, that even the "FCS" label is having a hard time shielding NFL teams from recognizing the pro talent that is continuously being churned out at NDSU.  Linebacker Nick DeLuca will join his former Bison teammates in the NFL next year (as a draft pick), and it's more than likely he won't be alone. 

Very few programs send half of their graduating seniors to NFL camps, FCS or not.  North Dakota State football is not only in the business of winning championships, but is now clearly in the business of preparing young men for a shot at the NFL.

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