Analysis

Thirty former BSC player remain in NFL, including 18 on active rosters

on

In May, four former Big Sky Conference players were selected in the annual NFL Draft and another 22 signed undrafted free agent contracts or received invites to rookie mini-camps.

Former Southern Utah safety Miles Killebrew was the first player drafted at 111 in the fourth round by the Detroit Lions. One round and 46 picks later, former Southern Utah cornerback LeShaun Sims went to the Tennessee Titans. Montana defensive end Tyrone Holmes, the FCS National Defensive Player of the Year, and Montana State tight end Beau Sandland, a first-team All-America in 2015, rounded out the Big Sky draft selections. Holmes went in the sixth round, 181st overall, to the Jacksonville Jaguars. Sandland was the second to last selection, going 252nd overall to the Carolina Panthers.

After the judgment day for the entire league, very few of the most recent Big Sky standouts are left standing. Killebrew and Sims each made the active 53-man rosters for their respective teams when the deadline came and went at 3 p.m. on Saturday. Jacksonville cut Holmes and former Griz linebacker Jordan Tripp. Holmes signed with the Cleveland Browns practice squad and Tripp signed with the Seattle Seahawks practice squad. The Panthers cut Sandland only to sign him to their practice squad.

All told, 38 former Big Sky players made it through the NFL preseason to final cuts, with 18 making active rosters and 12 more making practice squads. Practice squad players get paid $87,500 split into one-week increments for six weeks, none of the contract guaranteed. The NFL league minimum for rookies is $330,000, none guaranteed.

In 2011, the NFL passed a rule that teams can bring 90 players to training camp and hold that number on its roster until the third week of preseason games. Two days before the fourth and final week of the preseason, rosters must be cut to 75 players. Two days after the final preseason game, the final 53-man roster for each team must be submitted.

Former Big Sky players like former Southern Utah quarterback Ammon Olsen (Indianapolis Colts), tight end Anthony Norris (Denver Broncos) and safety Tevin Carter (Washington Redskins), former Northern Arizona tight end RJ Rickert (Chicago Bears), former Portland State running back David Jones (Washington Redskins) and cornerback Aaron Sibley (Atlanta Falcons), Cal Poly quarterback Chris Brown (Dallas Cowboys) and former Montana linebacker Herbert Gamboa (Kansas City Chiefs) were invited to rookie mini-camps or training camps but did not make it to the preseason.

Here is a list of all the former Big Sky players who competed in the preseason with various NFL teams.

Montana (12)

Dan Carpenter, kicker, Buffalo Bills — In 2014, the former Helena High standout signed a four-year, $9.95 million deal that included $2.15 million guaranteed and a signing bonus of $2.15 million. The steady kicker has hit 85 percent of his 256 field goal attempts over his NFL career, including 34-of-38 in 2014, his second season in Buffalo. In the preseason, he is 1-of-2, connecting on a 37-yarder in the loss to the Colts.

Trumaine Johnson, cornerback, St. Louis Rams — After being drafted in the third round of the 2012 NFL Draft, Johnson has forged the most successful career of any former Grizzly in the league outside of Carpenter. He started 12 games his second season, snaring three interceptions. Last season, the 6-foot-2, 208-pounder had a career year, snaring seven interceptions and totaling 71 tackles, including 58 solo tackles. His interception total ranked behind just Bengals’ safety Reggie Nelson for the most in the NFL. In the off-season, the Rams pinned Johnson with the franchise tag, meaning he will make $13,952,000in 2016. He is slated to start for a second consecutive season.

Colt Anderson, safety, Buffalo Bills — the “Butte Missile” has made a living as a special teams standout over his seven NFL seasons. The 5-foot-10, 190-pounder spent his first four with the Philadelphia Eagles and his last two with the Indianapolis Colts. In the off-season, he signed a 1-year, $840,000 contract to join the Bills. He is currently listed the third safety behind Corey Graham and Robert Blanton. He will be on an active roster for the sixth straight season after spending two years on the Minnesota Vikings’ practice squad.

 Chase Reynolds, running back, St. Louis Rams — The Drummond native bounced around practice squads for two years after leaving Montana as the Grizzlies’ all-time leader in touchdowns. In 2013, he caught on with the Rams and has appeared in 43 games over the last three seasons. The 6-foot, 205-pounder signed a one-year, $862,500 contract in the off-season. He is listed behind Todd Gurley, Benny Cunningham and Malcolm Brown on the depth chart.

Brock Coyle/ photo by Morgan Braby

Brock Coyle/ photo by Morgan Braby

Brock Coyle, linebacker, Seattle Seahawks — The Bozeman native was not even a first-team All-Big Sky selection his senior year despite putting up MVP-worthy production (http://www.bobcatnation.com/node/655). Tripp and John Paul Kanonga’ata each earned first-team recognition instead yet Coyle’s stellar Pro Day earned him a roster spot with one of the NFL’s best squads as a rookie. As the 6-foot-1, 245-pounder enters his third season, he is strongly entrenched behind Bobby Wagner as Seattle’s middle linebacker. Before the 2014 season, Coyle signed a three-year, $1,533,000 contract with a $3,000 signing bonus.

Marc Mariani, wide receiver, Tennessee Titans — As a rookie, the Havre native made the Pro Bowl as a kick returner and set a Pro Bowl record for kick return yards in the game. Before his second season in 2011, the NFL changed the kickoff positioning, largely rendering Mariani’s skill set irrelevant. In 2014, his first in Chicago, Mariani suffered a grotesque compound fracture to his left leg during a kick return. But Mariani persevered and the friendship he forged with Jay Cutler, a Nashville native, that paid off for one season. Last season, Mariani had the most productive receiving season of his NFL career, catching 22 passes for 300 yards in 16 games, including five starts. In the off-season, Mariani signed a one-year, $840,000 contract but did not make it through final cuts. He was released on Saturday but signed a one-year, $760,000 contract with the team that drafted him earlier this week.

Former Montana defensive end Tyrone Holmes / by Brooks Nuanez

Former Montana defensive end Tyrone Holmes / by Brooks Nuanez

Tyrone Holmes, defensive end, Cleveland Browns — The explosive 6-foot-3, 254-pounder led college football with 18 sacks last fall. Many wondered if he had the size and athleticism to play in the NFL. A stellar Pro Day put that notion to rest as Holmes was a sixth-round draft pick. He signed a four-year, $2,487,687 contract with a $147,687 signing bonus. He was listed as the fifth defensive end on the Jaguars’ defensive depth chart behind Dante Fowler, Yannick Ngakoue, Chris Smith and Bjoern Werne before being released in Jacksonville. He was claimed off waivers by Cleveland and is on the 53-man active roster.

PRACTICE SQUAD SIGNEES

Jordan Tripp, outside linebacker, Seattle Seahawks — The Missoula product has battled injuries in his two years in the NFL, bringing a paramount year to the forefront. The 6-foot-4, 244-pounder played in 12 games last season, notching 14 tackles. He is in the second year of a two-year, $1.1 million contract. He was listed as Telvin Smith’s backup at outside linebacker before being cut on the final day. He signed with Seattle on Monday and will reunite with Coyle, a friend and former teammate who started next two him for two years in Missoula.

Ben Roberts, wide receiver, Tennessee Titans — The former Missoula Sentinel three-sport star was drafted in the seventh round of the MLB draft out of high school. After spending four seasons playing baseball at Washington State, he used his final season of collegiate eligibility to play wide receiver at UM. The 6-foot-4, 215-pounder caught 66 passes for 649 yards and five touchdowns, turning the heads of scouts throughout his lone college football season. His leaping catch in Montana’s season-opening victory over four-time reigning national champion North Dakota State came in front of a slew of scouts and his stock rose from there. He earned an invite to training camp after a standout performance at a rookie mini camp. He was listed fifth on the depth chart in Tennessee behind Rishard Matthews, Andre Johnson, Harry Douglas and Tre McBride before his release. He was signed to the Titans’ practice squad on Sunday. Roberts signed a three-year, $1.62 million contract this summer, none of it guaranteed.

RELEASED ON FINAL DAY

Kroy Biermann, defensive end, Buffalo Bills — Earlier this summer, the 6-foot-3, 255-pounder from Hardin signed a one-year deal, $885,000 deal to leave Atlanta after eight successful seasons in with the Falcons. In Atlanta, Biermann started 37 games over eight seasons, notching 331 tackles and 23.5 sacks in the process. The 2007 Buck Buchanan Award winner was expected to push for time at defensive end and outside linebacker in Buffalo’s 3-4 scheme but was abruptly released. He remains a free agent.

Jimmy Wilson, strong safety, Cincinnati Bengals — Wilson has a well-chronicled saga of breaking into Montana’s starting lineup as a freshman, staring for two seasons, then spending the next two years in LA County jail fighting murder charges he eventually beat (http://www.hearstawards.org/competitions/writing/2009-10/first-place-writing-personalityprofile/). By 2010, Wilson was an All-Big Sky cornerback and by 2011, he was an NFL Draft pick. The fearless 5-foot-11, 205-pounder spent four seasons with the Miami Dolphins, starting 21 games and snaring four interceptions. Last season, he started six games for the San Diego Chargers, notching 44 tackles and an interception. In the off-season, he signed a one-year, $760,000 contract and was listed behind Shawn Williams and Floyd Raven at strong safety for the Bengals before his release. He remains a free agent.

William Poehls, offensive tackle, Tennessee Titans — The 6-foot-8, 334-pounder has as great a size advantage as any football player in the world. He spent the 2013 and 2014 seasons bouncing around on various practice squads. After spending the off-season in Bozeman training, the former Grizzly guard as listed as Jack Conklin’s backup at right tackle before his release. In the off-season, he signed a two-year, $990,000 contract but currently remains a free agent.

PORTLAND STATE (7)

Julius Thomas, tight end, Jacksonville Jaguars — The former Viking basketball player had a tip-in dunk at the buzzer to beat Montana State and help lift Portland State into the 2011 NCAA Tournament. After playing just one season of football, the 6-foot-5, 260-pounder earned a free agent tryout with the Denver Broncos. By his third year, he became Denver’s starting tight end and one of Peyton Manning’s top red-zone targets. He caught 12 touchdowns in two consecutive seasons, earning himself a five-year, $46 million with a $6 million signing bonus and $24 million guaranteed, making him the highest paid former Big Sky player in the NFL.

DeShawn Shead, safety, Seattle Seahawks — After earning two straight All-Big Sky honors, including first-team accolades in 2011, the former PSU cornerback signed with the Seahawks as a safety. He was released and signed wth the practice squad. The 6-foot-2, 220-pounder made the active roster in November of 2013 and has been in the rotation ever since. After Seattle’s Super Bowl loss to the Patriots, Byron Maxwell signed with the Eagles, leaving a starting spot open opposite Richard Sherman. He won the job and started all 17 games. He recorded his first interception the final week of last season and signed a 1-year, $760,000 contract in the off-season.

Kameron Canaday, long snapper, Arizona Cardinals — The only player of his kind from the Big Sky battled for the starting long snapper spot with fellow rookie Danny Dillon, winning the job as of August 29. The 6-foot-3, 245-pound Canaday signed a three-year, $1,620,000 contract in the off-season, none of it guaranteed.

PRACTICE SQUAD SIGNEES

Former PSU safety Patrick Onwuasor/by Troy Wayrynen

Former PSU safety Patrick Onwuasor/by Troy Wayrynen

Patrick Onwuasor, inside linebacker, Baltimore Ravens — The runner-up for FCS Defensive Player of the Year snared nine interceptions as a free safety to spearhead Portland State’s historic nine-win season last fall. The former Arizona transfer played inside linebacker in Baltimore’s 3-4 defense all preseason, extending a new trend in the NFL of moving physical, big safeties to inside the box. He is listed was Baltimore’s third inside linebacker behind Zachary Orr and Kamalei Correa before his release. “Peanut” signed a three-year, $1,620,000 contract with no signing bonus in the off-season and now will make a practice squad salary.

Cornelius Edison, center, Chicago Bears — Edison started for three seasons at Portland State, earning All-Big Sky honors in 2012-2014. He signed with the Bears as an undrafted free agent, then spent the season on the practice squad. This off-season, he climbed his way up to a backup spot at center for the Bears and battled for the starting job. He initially made the 53-man roster but the Bears claimed Eric Kush off waivers from the Rams and Edison was cut in the final hour before the deadline. He signed with the practice squad later that day.

RELEASED ON FINAL DAY

Mitchell Van Dyk, offensive tackle, Indianapolis Colts — After earning first-team All-Big Sky honors in 2013, Van Dyke was a seventh-round draft pick by the St. Louis Rams the following spring. He was one of the final cuts from the roster but signed a futures contract with the Steelers in January of 2015. The 6-foot-7, 299-pounder spent all of last season on injured reserve after being waived by the team in September. Van Dyke signed with the Colts in the spring, was cut in May only to be resigned in June for two years, $990,000, none of it guaranteed. He remains a free agent.

Sadat Sulleyman, outside linebacker, Denver Broncos — Although Sulleyman never attained first-team All-Big Sky honors — he was a second-team all-league selection as a senior — the physical specimen earned a shot with the Broncos nonetheless. The 6-foot, 254-pounder was playing outside linebacker in Denver’s 3-4 scheme before his release. He was not listed on the Broncos’ depth chart. He remains a free agent.

Sacramento State (5)

Todd Davis, inside linebacker, Denver Broncos — Davis was a tackling machine during his time at Sacramento State, leading the league in stops two years in a row. He signed with the New Orleans Saints in 2014 as an undrafted free agent and appeared in three games. Mid-season, he signed with the Broncos and ended up making two starts. He totaled 19 tackles and earned a two-year, $930,000 contract, none of it guaranteed. Last season, he played in all 16 games, starting twice and totaling 21 tackles. He is currently listed as Brandon Marshall’s backup as one of Denver’s inside linebacker spots.

RELEASED ON FINAL DAY

DeAndre Carter, wide receiver, New England Patriots — The speedy, explosive 5-foot-8, 190-pounder put together the two best receiving seasons of the decade by anyone not named Cooper Kupp in 2013 and 2014. During his two first-team All-Big Sky campaigns, Carter piled up 163 catches for 2,255 yards and an eye-popping 27 touchdowns. As a senior, he caught 99 passes for 1,321 yards and 17 TDs, earning a free agent contract with the Ravens. He made it to the final cuts before being released. He signed with the Raiders and spent the season on the practice squad before getting traded to the Cowboys in December. In the off-season, he signed with the Patriots and was of 12 receivers vying for a spot to catch passes from Tom Brady. Reports indicated he was offered a spot on the Patriots’ practice squad but declined, making him an unrestricted free agent.

Lars Hanson, offensive tackle, Denver Broncos — Hanson was an honorable mention All-Big Sky selection as a senior but his formidable size (6-8, 310) earned him a free agent contract. He battled for a roster spot with the Broncos before being released. He signed a three-year, $1,620,000 contract in the off-season, none of it guaranteed. He is a free agent and reports indicate he will fly to meet with the Falcons later this week.

Sac State linebackers in 2015 featuring Darnell Sankey (44)/ By Brooks Nuanez

Sac State linebackers in 2015 featuring Darnell Sankey (44)/ By Brooks Nuanez

Darnell Sankey, middle linebacker, Denver Broncos — Sankey took over for Davis in the middle of Sac State’s defense and equaled if not surpassed his production. Sankey piled up more than 150 tackles two straight seasons for an otherwise lackluster defense. An ankle injury cost him invites to all-star games and he did not receive a free agent contract until June for the league minimum of $450,000, none of it guaranteed. Now the 6-foot-2, 250-pounder is fighting for a roster spot. He had a tackle against the Bears last week but is not listed on the depth chart.

McLeod Bethel-Thompson, quarterback, Philadelphia Eagles — The 6-foot-4, 230-pounder has perhaps the most peculiar journey of any former BSC player in the NFL. The San Francisco prep Player of the Year started as a redshirt freshman in the Las Vegas Bowl at UCLA in 2007. The following season, he transferred to Sacramento State and played sparingly. He threw for 415 yards and two touchdowns in 2008 and 746 yards and four touchdowns in 2009 as he backed up Jason Smith. In 2010, he played in just five games and threw just one touchdown as he backed up Jeff Fleming. That was only the beginning of his odyssey.

After going undrafted and unsigned in 2011, Bethel-Thompson signed with the San Jose Sabercats of the Arena Football League. Two months into the season, he signed with the 49ers only to be cut. He returned to the AFL to play for the Sacramento Mountain Lions. Before 2011 was over, he was on the Miami Dolphins practice squad. In 2012, he signed with the Vikings and beat out Sage Rosenfels for the third-string position. In 2013, he was cut when Minnesota signed Josh Freeman. He landed with the 49ers again. In 2014, he signed with the Patriots to serve on the practice squad but only made it two months. He landed in Minnesota again, but only lasted three weeks. During his second stint with the Dolphins, he made it 11 months on the active roster before being dropped to the practice squad for a grand total of three days. Two months later, he signed with the 49ers for a third time and lasted the rest of the 2015 season on the practice squad. He signed a two-year, $1,290,000 contract with the Eagles and was the fourth-string quarterback behind Sam Bradford, Chase Daniel and No. 2 overall draft pick Carson Wentz, formerly of North Dakota State. He was cut, marking the 29th NFL transaction of his career.

Eastern Washington (4)

Taiwan Jones, running back, Oakland Raiders — The 2010 Big Sky Offensive Player of the Year has had the most successful professional career of any former Eagle. After rushing for 1,742 yards and 14 touchdowns while leading EWU to its first and only national championship in 2010, Jones went to the NFL Combine and wowed the league. He ran 4.33 seconds in the 40, notched a 40-inch vertical and broad jumped 11 feet. He was the 125th overall selection in the fourth round of the 2011 NFL Draft by the Oakland Raiders. Jones played sparingly his first three seasons, notching 22 carries for 94 yards. In 2013, Jack Del Rio switched Jones to cornerback and he appeared in 16 games, notching 14 tackles while also gaining 78 yards on 12 offensive touches. Last season, he played all over the field for Oakland, notching seven special teams tackles, averaging 26.7 yards on 31 kick returns catching seven passes for 106 yards and scoring his first career touchdown and carrying the ball 15 times for 74 yards. In the off-season, he signed a 3-year, $4,355,000 contract with the Raiders that includes a $101,250 signing bonus, a $855,000 roster bonus, a base salary of $645,000 this season and a base salary of $1.1 million the next two.

PRACTICE SQUAD SIGNEES

Former Eastern Washington offensive linemen Aaron Neary, No. 72 on left, and Clay DeBord/ contributed

Former Eastern Washington offensive linemen Aaron Neary, No. 72 on left, and Clay DeBord/ contributed

Clay DeBord, offensive tackle, New England Patriots — DeBord had his streak of consecutive starts snapped midway through his senior season but still managed to start 51 games in his decorated career. The 6-foot-6, 305-pounder earned All-America honors as a senior before signing with the Cardinals as an undrafted free agent. He was cut on Friday and worked out for the New England Patriots on Saturday before signing with the Pats’ practice squad.

 Aaron Neary, offensive guard, Philadelphia Eagles — Neary earned first-team All-Big Sky honors as a junior and a senior, earning second-team All-America honors from the AP in his final season. The 6-foot-4, 301-pounder earned a free agent contract with the Denver Broncos worth the league minimum in the off-season. After being one of the final players cut by the Broncos, Neary signed to the Philadelphia Eagles practice squad.

Jake Rodgers, offensive tackle, New York Giants — The 2014 FCS All-America earned an invite to the NFL Combine, where he posted a standout performance. The 6-foot-6, 320-pounder ran a 4.81-second 40, broad jumped 8-foot-10 and pumped out 24 repetitions at 225 pounds on the bench press. The Falcons selected him with the 225th pick in the seventh round of the NFL Draft. He was cut before the season began and signed with the Giants’ practice squad in December of 2015. He will again be on the Giants’ practice squad this fall.

 

Montana State (4)

Former Montana State offensive tackle Mike Person/ contributed

Former Montana State offensive tackle Mike Person/ contributed

Mike Person, offensive line, Atlanta Falcons — Person twice earned first-team All-Big Sky honors at MSU, including All-America honors in 2010 after leading the Bobcats to the league title. He was a seventh-round selection by the 49ers in the 2011 NFL Draft but was cut following his rookie season. He spent time on practice squads with the Colts and Seahawks in 2012. In 2013, he climed his way onto Seattle’s active roster for one game but was cut, eventually signing with the Rams’ practice squad. In 2014, the Glendive native finally broke through, earning a backup spot with St. Louis and playing in 16 games. Last season, he signed a 3 year, $3,650,000 contract with the Atlanta Falcons, including a $500,000 signing bonus, $500,000 guaranteed, and an average annual salary of $1,216,667. He started 14 games at center last season. In 2016, Person will earn a base salary of $1,000,000. The 6-foot-4, 300-pounder is currently listed as Chris Chester’s backup at right guard.

PRACTICE SQUAD SIGNEES

 Bryson Keeton, cornerback, New York Jets — The former Nevada transfer started for two seasons at Montana State but never earned All-Big Sky honors of any sort. The 6-foot-2, 190-pounder is a fluid athlete who looks the part of NFL cornerback. After a standout Pro Day that saw him run under 4.45 seconds twice in the 40 and broad jump more than 10 feet, Keeton earned a free agent deal with the Jets. He was among the final cuts but signed with New York’s practice squad.

Beau Sandland, tight end, Carolina Panthers — The 6-foot-5, 255-pound former Miami transfer was the final selection of the NFL Draft las spring after earning All-America honors in his only season at Montana State. Last fall, Sandland caught 37 passes for 692 yards and nine touchdowns to help himself get selected. He battled during the preseason and looked primed to make the Panthers’ active roster only to be cut at the last minute and signed to the practice squad hours later. The Panthers kept All-Pro Greg Olsen, veteran Ed Dickson and third-year player Scott Simonson as its tight ends on its active roster.

RELEASED ON FINAL DAY

MSU left tackle John Weidenaar/ By Brooks Nuanez

MSU left tackle John Weidenaar/ By Brooks Nuanez

John Weidenaar, left tackle, Cincinnati Bengals — The 2015 All-America started 49 consecutive games at Montana State after breaking into the lineup as a redshirt freshman out of Manhattan, Montana. Weidenaar earned a free agent contract with Cincy after a standout Pro Day and earned plenty of reps at both tackle spots during the preseason. He made it to the final cut before being released and remains a free agent.

Southern Utah (3)

Miles Killebrew, safety, Detroit Lions — The four-time All-Big Sky selection earned first-team honors last season by leading Southern Utah to its first-ever league championship. The 6-foot-3, 229-pound thumper led the team with 133 tackles and added 3.5 tackles for loss and seven pass breakups. He was selected in the fourth round of the NFL Draft. He signed a 4 year, $2,918,564 contract, including a $578,564 signing bonus, $578,564 guaranteed, and an average annual salary of $729,641. In 2016, Killebrew will earn a base salary of $450,000 and a signing bonus of $578,564. He is listed behind Rafael Bush and Don Carey at strong safety on the Lions’ depth chart.

LeShaun Sims, cornerback, Tennessee Titans — Sims earned All-Big Sky honors each of his last two seasons at SUU, including first-team accolades as a senior for Southern Utah’s league title team. The 6-foot, 201-pounder notched 54 tackles, grabbed two interceptions and broke up 10 passes last fall. He was a fifth-round selection by the Titans and signed a 4-year, $2,578,186 contract with the Tennessee Titans, including a $238,186 signing bonus, $238,186 guaranteed, and an average annual salary of $644,547. In 2016, Sims will earn a base salary of $450,000 and a signing bonus of $238,186. He is listed as the third cornerback behind Jason McCourty and Antwon Blake at the spot opposite of DaQuan Jones and Angelo Blackson.

PRACTICE SQUAD SIGNEES

SUU defensive end James Cowser battles Montana State offensive tackle John Weidenaar/by Brooks Nuanez

SUU defensive end James Cowser battles Montana State offensive tackle John Weidenaar/by Brooks Nuanez

James Cowser, defensive end, Oakland Raiders — Cowser shattered records during his four years as a starter for the Thunderbirds. As a senior, he earned Big Sky Defensive MVP honors by notching 68 tackles, 19 tackles for loss and 13 sacks. His 83 tackles for loss and 43 sacks in his career are both FCS records and his 28.5 tackles for loss notched in 2014 is a single-season record for the league. Cowser earned plenty of pre-draft hype but still went unselected. He signed with the Raiders within the hour of the draft ending for three years, $1,620,000 contract, including an average annual salary of $540,000. In 2016, Cowser would’ve earn a base salary of $333,000 but he was put placed on waivers. He cleared waivers and was placed on injured reserve.

North Dakota

Will Ratelle, fullback, Atlanta Falcons — Ratelle was one of the meanest linebackers in the league and the face of UND as the team’s middle linebacker. As a junior in 2014, he piled up 106 tackles but was snubbed, earning just honorable mention All-Big Sky honors despite North Dakota playing standout defense. His senior season, Ratelle piled up 110 tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss, four sacks, one forced fumble and one interception. Ratelle signed with the Falcons as a fullback and special teams player for a 3 year, $1,620,000 contract, including an average annual salary of $540,000. In 2016, Ratelle will earn a base salary of $450,000. He was cut after the second week of the preseason only to be resigned days later. In Atlanta’s final preseason game, Ratelle suffered an ankle injury. On Sunday, he negotiated an injury settlement with the Falcons and was released. He remains a free agent.

UC Davis

Colton Schmidt, punter, Buffalo Bills — The 2012 first-team All-Big Sky honoree also earned two All-Great West honors before the Aggies joined the Big Sky before his senior season. He signed with the 49ers out of college but was cut after the third preseason game. He was claimed off waivers by the Browns but did not make the active roster. The 49ers signed him in January of 2014 and released him in August of the same year. The Bills clamed him off waivers and he won the starting punter job right out of the gate. In 2014, the 6-foot, 225-pounder averaged 42.9 yards on 86 punts, including 31 inside the 20 and 20 more that were fair caught. Last season, he averaged 46.3 yards per punt on 82 tries, including 22 inside the 20 and 20 more that were fair caught. In the off-season, he signed a one-year, $600,000 contract.

Cal Poly

Nick Dzubnar, linebacker, San Diego Chargers — The three-time All-Big Sky selection was one of the most prolific tackles the league has ever seen during his senior season in 2014. He rolled up 167 tackles, leading the country with 14 tackles per game. He added three sacks, 9.5 tackles for loss and two interceptions in earning a free agent contract with the Chargers. He made the 53-man roster and carved out a niche on special teams where he made most of his 15 tackles. During the recently completed preseason, he led the NFL with 32 tackles to earn a spot on the 53-man roster once again. Before the 2015 season, the 6-foot-1, 241-pounde signed a 3 year, $1,580,000 contract, including a $5,000 signing bonus, $5,000 guaranteed, and an average annual salary of $526,667. In 2016, Dzubnar will earn a base salary of $525,000. He is listed as Denzel Perryman’s backup at one of San Diego’s two inside linebacker positions.

Weber State

Devonte Johnson, cornerback, Atlanta Falcons — The enigmatic but ultra-talented cornerback started for half his freshman season but did not appear in any games in 2013 or 2014 because of academic ineligibility. In 2015, He notched 40 tackles, two tackles for loss, a sack and broke up 11 passes to earn second-team All-Big Sky honors. The 5-foot-11, 180-pounder blew the doors off his Pro Day, running a 4.48 in the 40, notching a 41-inch vertical, broad jumping 11 feet, two inches and hammering out 15 reps on the bench press. He signed with the Falcons and made it to the final cut before being released. He signed with Atlanta’s practice squad on Sunday.

Idaho State senior defensive tackle Tyler Kuder/by Brooks Nuanez

Idaho State senior defensive tackle Tyler Kuder/by Brooks Nuanez

Idaho State

Tyler Kuder, defensive tackle, Green Bay Packers — Kuder earned first-team All-Big Sky honors as a senior after standout out on ISU’s otherwise dismal defense. He notched 92 tackles and 11 tackles for loss despite playing on the inside and constantly facing double teams. He signed with the Packers three hours after the draft and shined during the preseason. The 6-foot-3, 311-pounder suffered an injury in Green Bay’s final preseason game and was placed on injured reserve. Kuder remains on the Packers’ depth chart as Mike Pennel and Dean Lowry’s backup at the lone defensive end spot. He signed a 3 year, $1,623,000 contract, including a $3,000 signing bonus, $3,000 guaranteed, and an average annual salary of $541,000. In 2016, Kuder will earn a base salary of $333,000 and a signing bonus of $3,000.

Josh Hill, tight end, New Orleans Saints — During his 42 games with the Bengals, the 6-foot-5, 229-pounder caught 143 passes for 1,270 yards and nine touchdowns. He signed with the Saints as an undrafted free agent in 2013 and has developed into one of the team’s top special teams players. In his rookie season, he notched 15 tackles on special teams coverage units. In 2014, he appeared in all 16 games, starting three and recording 14 receptions for 176 and five touchdowns. Last season, he caught 16 passes for 120 yards and two scores. Before the 2016 season, Hill signed a 3-year, $7,100,000 contract with the Saints, including a $2,500,000 signing bonus, $3,250,000 guaranteed, and an average annual salary of $2,366,667. In 2016, Hill will earn a base salary of $750,000 and a signing bonus of $2,500,000.

Evan Smith, center, Tampa Bay Buccaneers — Smith, formerly known as Evan Dietrich-Smith, started 44 games at Idaho State, including 36 straight culminating with his senior season in 2008. Smith earned honorable mention All-Big Sky honors four times but played for dismal teams and did not receive any next level attention from the NFL. Smith essentially marketed himself to NFL teams and found a spot on the roster with the Green Bay Packers in 2009. By 2011, he started three games, by 2012 six games and in 2013, he started all 16 games for the Super Bowl champion Packers. Before the 2014 season, Smith signed a 4-year, $14,250,000 contract with the  Buccaneers, including $7,250,000 guaranteed, and an average annual salary of $3,562,500. In 2016, Smith will earn a base salary of $2,500,000.

Photo attribution noted. All Rights Reserved.

About Colter Nuanez

Colter Nuanez is the co-founder and senior writer for Skyline Sports. After spending six years in the newspaper industry with stops at the Missoulian, the Ellensburg Daily Record and the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, the former Washington Newspaper Association Sportswriter of the Year and University of Montana Journalism School graduate ('09) has cultivated a deep passion for sports journalism during his 13-year career covering the Big Sky Conference. In August of 2014, Colter and brother Brooks merged their passions of writing and art to found Skyline Sports.

Recommended for you