Only the elite hang on in the survival of the fittest roster competition that is the NFL. After the second round of rookie mini-camps, the list of former Big Sky Conference standouts still alive for NFL roster spots continues to shrink.
A total of 28 athletes who played football in the Big Sky Conference last season received calls from NFL teams by the opening of the first round of rookie mini camps the first weekend of May.
The Minnesota Vikings, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, San Francisco 49ers, Green Bay Packers, Carolina Panthers, New York Jets, Oakland Raiders and Kansas City Chiefs hosted rookie mini-camps May 4-8. The rosters featured drafted players, priority undrafted free agents and sometimes as many as 60 tryout players.
The rest of the league opened and closed rookie mini-camp the weekend of May 12-14 and several more former Big Sky stars saw their NFL dreams come to an end.
Each player in the mini-camp, particularly those not under contract, vied for spots on their respective team’s 90-man rosters for training camps, which start in mid-June. NFL teams must whittle their active rosters to 53 players by the first week of the regular season.
Former Big Sky athletes who saw their NFL dreams come to an end, at least for now, after not earning training camp invites last weekend include: wide receiver Mike Sharp formerly of Southern Utah, defensive tackle Myles Overton formerly of Northern Colorado, quarterback Jordan West formerly of Eastern Washington, quarterback Brady Gustafson formerly of Montana, wide receiver Delshawn McClellon formerly of Northern Arizona, running back Jakori Ford formerly of Idaho State and running back/fullback Chad Newell of Montana State.
A total of 14 players who played in the Big Sky last season will be on rosters when training camps open June 12 after North Dakota offensive lineman Michael Coe “left the squad” during Dallas Cowboys’ mini-camp according to a report of Mark Lane of Fox Sports.
Below, you can find the various statuses of players from around the Big Sky, from draftees to undrafted free agents who have 90-man roster spots secured because of priority free agent contracts to the players gunning for training camp invites. You will also find an update on all 36 former Big Sky stars listed currently on NFL rosters.
- Samson Ebukam, Eastern Washington, defensive end/outside linebacker – 4th round, 125th overall by Los Angeles Rams.
The Rams wrapped up rookie mini-camp on Sunday. Kupp garnered rave reviews from new coach Sean McVay, who said “Cooper was a guy that consistently showed up.”
Kupp was the first name McVay mentioned when asked by reporters for standouts from the morning’s first of two practices.
“I think it was always good to see some of those guys that we drafted that we’re counting on to be contributors show up,” McVay said. “I thought Cooper Kupp showed why we like him so much. (He’s) savvy. He’s a polished route runner (with) good aggressive hands.”
To Ebukam, one of the draft’s most meteoric risers after running an astounding 4.40 seconds in the 40-yard dash at EWU’s pro day, the standout performance was must more of what he saw in Cheney over the last four years from his four-time first-team All-American teammate.
“He’s still being Coop,” Ebukam told the media Saturday. “He’s still catching balls and making people look silly, so I’m not really surprised at all. That’s just what he does.”
Ebukam himself performed admirably in his first showing playing true outside linebacker. The 6-foot-2, 240-pounder earned first-team All-America honors as a Buck defensive end/outside linebacker his senior season.
“I’m in a different situation because it’s a new position for me so it’s a lot but I think I can handle it, honestly,” Ebukam said. “It’s only like five plays. If I can’t, I don’t need to be in the NFL (laughs).
“Being in a two-point stance, being able to do it all, that’s the challenge.”
LOS ANGELES RAMS UPCOMING SCHEDULE
OTAs: May 23-25, May 30-31, June 1, June 5-8
Mandatory Minicamp: June 13-15
BIG SKY CONFERENCE NFL FREE AGENT SIGNEES
Former Montana Grizzlies
Montana defensive lineman Caleb Kidder, a three-time All-Big Sky pick and a second-team selection at end last fall, signed a free agent contract with the Minnesota Vikings. The 6-foot-5, 270-pounder officially signed his contract on May 5 during Vikings’ rookie mini camp and will be part of the 90-man roster when Minnesota mandatory mini-camp opens on June 13. Kidder is wearing No. 74 and is one of nine defensive ends currently on the Vikings’ roster.
- Montana cornerback J.R. Nelson signed a priority free agent deal with the Kansas City Chiefs, per his agent Bill Lower. Nelson participated in KC’s rookie mini-camp on May 6-8. The 6-1, 187-pounder officially signed his contract on May 5 and will be part of the 90-man roster when Chiefs’ mandatory mini-camp opens on June 13. Nelson is wearing No. 18 (his college number) and is one of five true cornerbacks listed on Kansas City’s roster.
- Former Montana wide receiver Jamaal Jones, a first-team All-Big Sky selection in 2015 who finished as the Grizzlies’ all-time leader in career receiving yards, is listed as a rookie wide receiver on the Los Angeles Chargers’ roster as No. 1. The 6-1, 187-pounder signed with the then-San Diego Chargers as an undrafted free agent last spring but broke his thumb during training camp.
Former Montana State Bobcats
- Montana State offensive lineman J.P. Flynn, a four-time All-Big Sky selection who earned first-team honors as a senior, signed a free agent deal with the San Francisco 49ers. The 6-5, 304-pounder participated in San Francisco rookie mini-camp May 5-7 along with 18 other undrafted free and 56 tryout invites. He will be on 49ers’ 90-man roster for mandatory mini-camp June 13-15. Flynn is currently not listed on San Francisco’s two-deep depth chart. Flynn, who is listed as John — his given name is John Paul Flynn — is wearing No. 99 and is one of four offensive guards and 16 total offensive linemen listed on the San Fran roster.
Former Eastern Washington Eagles
- Eastern Washington wide receiver Kendrick Bourne, a three-time All-Big Sky selection, signed a free agent deal with the San Francisco 49ers. The 6-2, 200-pounder participated in San Francisco rookie mini-camp May 5-7 along with 18 other undrafted free and 56 tryout invites. He will be on 49ers’ 90-man roster for mandatory mini-camp June 13-15. Bourne is currently one of 14 wide receivers on the 49ers’ roster and is wearing No. 11.
- Eastern Washington wide receiver Shaq Hill,a first-team All-Big Sky selection last season, signed a free agent deal with the Houston Texans. The 5-10, 185-pounder is not currently listed among the 79 players on Houston’s roster but has not officially been cut.
Former Southern Utah Thunderbirds
Southern Utah cornerback Josh Thornton, a second-team All-Big Sky selection as a senior, signed as a free agent with the Lions on May 12, joining former SUU safety Miles Killebrew in Detroit. Thornton is not listed on the depth chart following rookie mini-camp. Killebrew is Detroit’s backup strong safety. The 5-11, 184-pounder is listed as No. 47 on the roster linked to Detroit’s official website.
- Southern Utah tight end Steven Wroblewski, an honorable mention All-Big Sky pick last fall, signed a priority free agent contract with the Arizona Cardinals. The 6-foot-7, 265-pounder participated in rookie mini-camp on May 12-14. He is not listed among Arizona’s top four tight ends heading into training camp but remains on the active roster. He is No. 88 and is one of four tight ends currently on the Cardinals.
- Southern Utah’s Raysean Pringle received a rookie mini-camp invite from the Green Bay Packers. Pringle played wide receiver and running back at SUU. He practiced for three days as a cornerback and was signed as a free agent by the Packers after the mini-camp’s conclusion on May 7. It was initially reported the 6-1, 184-pounder had made the team as a cornerback but he is listed on the roster as a wide receiver wearing No. 85. Pringle is one of two tryout players to earn free agent contracts after rookie mini-camp along with former Cal Poly outside linebacker Josh Letuligasenoa, who also signed with the Packers.
Former Northern Colorado Bears
- Northern Colorado Kyle Sloter quarterback, an honorable mention All-Big Sky selection in his one year as a starter at UNC, signed a free agent deal with the Broncos, choosing Denver over offers from the Washington Redskins, Green Bay Packers and Oakland Raiders. The Broncos nearly used the last pick of the seventh round of the draft on Sloter but instead selected Ole Miss standout quarterback Chad Kelly. The Broncos hosted rookie mini-camp on May 12 and 13. Denver opens its first mandatory mini-camp on June 13. The 6-4, 223-pounder is not listed among Denver’s top three quarterbacks currently nor is he listed among the 79 players currently on Denver’s roster but has not been officially cut.
Former Cal Poly Mustangs
Cal Poly outside linebacker Josh Letuligasenoa received an invite to rookie mini-camp by the Green Bay Packers. He made the 90-man roster and will return for mandatory mini camp in June. The 6-foot-2, 245-pounder is one of 13 linebackers on Green Bay’s roster and is wearing No. 48, his college number.
Former Portland State Vikings
- Portland State cornerback Xavier Coleman, a two-time All-Big Sky selection and first-team pick as a senior, signed a free agent deal with the New York Jets. He participated in rookie mini-camp the first weekend of May and will be among 90 players who report to mandatory mini-camp on June 13. The 5-11, 190-pounder is not currently listed among the top five cornerbacks on the Jets’ depth chart. Coleman is one of 10 cornerbacks currently on New York’s roster.
- Portland State offensive lineman Cam Keizur, a three-time All-Big Sky selection who landed on the first team as a senior last season, has signed a free agent deal with the Atlanta Falcons. Following rookie mini-camp, the 6-4, 311-pounder is listed as No. 68 and as one of four centers on Atlanta’s roster.
Former Weber State Wildcats
- Weber State linebacker Tre’Von Johnson, a two-time All-Big Sky selection and a first-team pick as a senior in 2016, signed a free agent deal with the Arizona Cardinals. He participated in rookie mini-camp last weekend in Phoenix and is one of 13 linebackers on Arizona’s current roster. The 6-foot-1, 220-pounder is wearing his college number, 23.
Former North Dakota Fighting Hawks
- North Dakota offensive lineman Michael Coe, a first-team All-Big Sky selection last season after graduate transferring to UND from Western New Mexico, “left the squad” during Dallas Cowboys’ rookie mini-camp according to a report of Mark Lane of Fox Sports.
BIG SKY PLAYERS WITH ROOKIE MINI-CAMP TRYOUTS NOT RETAINED
Montana State cornerback John Walker, an honorable mention All-Big Sky pick his only season at MSU after grad transferring from Colorado, received a rookie mini-camp invite from the San Francisco 49ers. The 5-9, 184-pounder was not among the three players the 49ers signed to free agent contracts of the 56 who tried out after the camp.
- Montana State fullback Chad Newell, an All-Big Sky selection at running back, fullback and on special teams during his career, accepted a rookie mini-camp tryout from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers the first weekend of May. He was not among the players signed to a free agent contract. The 6-1, 215-pounder attended Seattle’s rookie mini-camp the second weekend of May but was not retained.
- Montana safety Yamen Sanders has received a rookie mini-camp invite from the Oakland Raiders. Following the Raiders’ rookie mini-camp the first weekend of May, the 6-4, 212-pound former Arizona transfer was not among the three players Oakland signed to free agent contracts.
- Montana quarterback Brady Gustafson has been invited to rookie mini-camp by the Chicago Bears. The 6-foot-7 Billings West product was not among the four quarterbacks retained following the three-day tryout.
- Weber State offensive lineman Calvin Steyn, a second-team All-Big Sky offensive tackle as a senior, signed a free agent contract with the Seattle Seahawks. Following rookie mini-camp, Steyn is no longer listed on Seattle’s current roster.
- Weber State offensive lineman Cameron Young, a two-time All-Big Sky pick who started all 47 games of his career, received a training cam invite from the Detroit Lions, according to Weber offensive line coach Brent Myers but did not make the team.
- UC Davis offensive tackle Christian Schneider, an honorable mention All-Big Sky pick last fall, signed a free agent contract with the Green Bay Packers. The 6-6, 305-pounder participated in rookie mini-camp May 6-8 but is no longer listed on Green Bay’s roster.
- Eastern Washington quarterback Jordan West, EWU’s starter for most of 2015 before losing the spot to Walter Payton finalist Gage Gubrud last season, received an invite to rookie mini-camp from the Chicago Bears but was not retained.
Southern Utah wide receiver Mike Sharp received a rookie mini-camp tryout with the New Orleans Saints and participated the second weekend of May. The two-time All-Big Sky selection was not retained.
- Northern Colorado defensive tackle Myles Overton, an honorable mention All-Big Sky selection as a senior, received a rookie mini-camp tryout with the Atlanta Falcons but was not retained.
- Northern Arizona wide receiver Delshawn McClellon has been invited rookie mini-camp by the Seattle Seahawks after an impressive pro day that saw him run a 4.30 in the 40 but was not retained.
- Idaho State running back Jakori Ford has been invited to rookie mini-camp by the Indianapolis Colts but was not retained.
Former Montana State quarterback Dakota Prukop, who spent his senior season at Oregon after graduate transferring, participated in Eagles’ rookie mini-camp last week but is not one of the three QBs still listed on Philadelphia’s roster.
TRANSACTIONS FOR OTHER RECENT BIG SKY STANDOUTS
Former North Dakota linebacker Will Ratelle, a first-team All-Big Sky selection in 2015, was released by the Kansas City Chiefs on May 9. Ratelle nearly made the Atlanta Falcons’ active roster as a fullback last season. He was listed as a fullback on KC’s roster as well.
- Former Portland State offensive lineman Cornelius Edison, a first-team All-Big Sky selection in 2015, was waived by the Chicago Bears on May 11. Edison spent last season on Chicago’s practice squad. UPDATE: Edison signed a free agent contract with the Atlanta Falcons on May 17.
- Former Montana cornerback Trumaine Johnson is entering his seventh NFL season, all with the Rams. During the team’s first season in Los Angeles, The former third round pick will be the highest paid corner in the NFL because of his franchise tender, earning $16.7 million next season.
- Former Montana State cornerback Bryson Keeton remains on the active roster for the New York Jets. He spent most of last season on NY’s practice squad. He played in one game last season, on New Year’s Day, and made one tackle in the Jets’ win over the Bills.
- Former Sacramento State linebacker Todd Davis is entering his fourth season with the Denver Broncos. Last season, his first as a starter, he piled up 96 tackles and forced a fumble.
- Former Montana State offensive lineman Mike Person, a 7th-round draft pick by the 49ers in 2011, is entering his eighth season in the NFL, including his first with the Kansas City Chiefs. The Glendive native is currently listed as Mitch Morse’s backup at center for the Chiefs.
- Former Southern Utah safety Miles Killebrew is entering his second season with the Detroit Lions after the team selected him in the fourth round of last season’s NFL Draft. As a rookie, he notched 28 tackles and had an interception.
- Former Southern Utah cornerback LeShaun Sims is entering his second NFL season, both with the Tennessee Titans, the team that selected him in the fifth round of last season’s NFL Draft.
Former Montana State tight end Beau Sandland is on Green Bay’s roster wearing No. 85. The 7th round draft pick by Carolina last season spent time on the Panthers’ and Packers’ practice squads.
- Former Montana linebacker Jordan Tripp, a three-time first-team All-Big Sky selection at UM, is entering his fourth NFL season. The former 5th-round pick is in his second with the Green Bay Packers.
- Former Montana linebacker Brock Coyle, a teammate of Tripp’s two-time All-Big Sky selection at UM, is entering his fourth NFL season as well. After spending three years with the Seahawks, the Bozeman product is entering his first training camp with the 49ers.
- Former Eastern Washington offensive tackle Clay DeBord, a three-time All-Big Sky selection, is on the Dallas Cowboys’ roster. Listed as No. 62, he is one of 11 offensive linemen currently vying for a roster spot.
- Former Portland State defensive back DeShawn Shead started for the duration of last season with the Seattle Seahawks, notching 81 tackles and snaring an interception in his sixth NFL season. He remains on Seattle’s roster.
- Former Montana offensive lineman William Poehls is currently on the Chicago Bears roster. The 6-8, 334-pounder bounced around during his second NFL season last fall.
- Former Idaho State tight end Josh Hill is entering his fifth NFL season, all with the New Orleans Saints. The 6-5, 250-pounder caught 15 passes for 149 yards and a touchdown last season, giving him 51 catches for 489 yards and nine touchdowns in his career.
- Former Eastern Washington offensive guard Aaron Neary is currently listed on the roster for the Philadelphia Eagles. The 6-4, 284-pounder is one of three centers battling for a roster spot.
- Former UC Davis punter Colton Schmidt is entering his fourth season with the Buffalo Bills. He averaged 42.4 yards per punt last season.
- Former Portland State tight end Julius Thomas is entering his seventh NFL season, including his first with the Miami Dolphins. Thomas caught 30 passes for 281 yards and four touchdowns last season with Jacksonville.
Former Portland State safety Patrick Onwuasor, a finalist for FCS Defensive MVP honors in 2015, is entering his second season as a linebacker for the Baltimore Ravens. As a rookie, the 6-0, 217-pounder played in 10 games and totaled 21 tackles.
- Former Montana defensive end Tyrone Holmes, the 2015 Buck Buchanan Award winner as the best defensive player in the FCS, is entering his second NFL season. After being selected in the sixth round of the 2016 NFL Draft by the Jacksonville Jaguars, the 6-2, 253-pounder played in 11 games for the Cleveland Browns, notching one sack.
- Former Idaho State center Evan Smith (formerly Evan Dietrich-Smith) is entering his eighth NFL season, including his third with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
- Former Cal Poly linebacker Nick Dzubnar is entering his third season with the Los Angeles Chargers. The 2014 first-team All-Big Sky selection played in four games and made six tackles last season.
- Former Eastern Washington running back Taiwan Jones is entering his seventh NFL season, all with the Oakland Raiders. The 6-0, 195-pounder was a fourth-round pick in the 2012 NFL Draft on the heels of earning Big Sky Offensive MVP honors. He has played both running back and cornerback for the Raiders, carving out a niche as a special teams player for the duration of his career.
- Former Southern Utah defensive end James Cowser, the 2015 Big Sky Defensive MVP, is in his second year with the Oakland Raiders. The FCS’ all-time leader in sacks and tackles for loss went undrafted last season before signing a free agent contract with the Raiders. The 6-3, 247-pounder missed the first 10 games of his rookie year before making nine tackles and notching a sack during the final six games of his first season.
Photos by Brooks Nuanez. All Rights Reserved.