Big Rapids, Mich. - The 84th annual National Football League (NFL) Draft takes place this weekend in Nashville and a group of former Ferris State University football standouts are hoping to hear their names called or be contacted by NFL or professional football franchises as potential free agent pickups following the annual event.
The Bulldogs have several individuals who concluded their eligibility last fall hoping to make the jump to professional football. The most notable of the group is consensus All-America offensive tackle Devon Johnson (Aurora, Ill./Waubonsie Valley), who earned an invitation to the NFL Combine back in February and has been pegged on various draft boards as one of the nation's top offensive line prospects.
The group of hopefuls also includes Bulldog receiver Malik Taylor (Flint/Montrose), long snapper Jacob Allan (Portage/Central) and wideout Keyondre Craig (Muskegon), among others who have spent the past several months training for pro day events and workouts.
The Ferris State products have been active in off-season training for a potential opportunity and have had strong pro day events to showcase their talents with hopes of being late round or preferred free agent acquisitions. The trio of Johnson, Taylor and Craig all showcased their skills at Central Michigan's Pro Day workout in March.
"We're excited for these guys and are looking forward to having multiple guys in NFL camps again this summer with a chance to compete for a spot," said FSU head coach Tony Annese. "The list of Bulldogs in the National Football League continues to grow and we're looking forward to following their progress and wish them all the best in the process."
Overall, numerous lists have both Johnson and Taylor found among the top players at their position leading into the draft with both tabbed as potential late round or preferred free agent pickups by various sources. They each have had strong pro days and workouts in front of scouts. Presently, Johnson is listed by scouting expert Josh Buchanan as one of the top small college draft prospects in the country and he has also had workouts as of late with NFL franchises.
The NFL Draft begins with round one on Thursday (April 25) night at 8 p.m. (ET). Rounds two and three will take place on Friday night with the final rounds four thru seven set for Saturday starting at noon. Both ESPN and the NFL Network will have endless coverage of the draft with Fox and ABC also simulcasting coverage at various points in the draft.
Last April, former defensive tackle Zach Sieler (Pickney) became Ferris State's first-ever NFL Draft choice when he was picked in the seventh round as the 238th overall selection by the Baltimore Ravens.
Last summer, Sieler was one of seven Bulldog alums to receive official NFL preseason training camp invites, which represented the most in school history and the most among any NCAA Division II school. Four Bulldog alums made appearances on active NFL rosters this past fall, including Sieler, former two-time Harlon Hill Trophy winner Jason Vander Laan (Carolina), defensive back Tavierre Thomas (Cleveland) and defensive tackle Justin Zimmer (Atlanta). In addition, linebacker Brady Sheldon (Novi) was part of the Green Bay Packers' practice squad. Former defensive tackle Chris Okoye (Novi/Detroit Catholic Central) and receiver Jake Lampman (East Lansing/Haslett) also competed in training camps in 2018.
Over the past three seasons, Sieler, Vander Laan, Sheldon, Zimmer, Thomas and Lampman have all seen NFL regular-season action.
While Sieler is the only Ferris State football player to ever be drafted by an NFL team, several former Bulldogs have inked NFL contracts as free agents and played in the league. Including last year, the Bulldogs have had at least one NFL free agent pickup following the draft each of the past five years.
Unofficially, at least 19 former Ferris State players have previously inked NFL free agent deals. Former defensive back Marvin Robinson inked with the Dallas Cowboys in 2014 with defensive tackle Marcus Cribbs signing with the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2015. Those two represented the first since free agent cornerback Angelo Williams with the Minnesota Vikings in 2010. Previously, in 2013, former defensive end Jordan Morgan received a rookie tryout with the New York Giants, but did not sign. In 2016, Vander Laan, Lampman and Zimmer all signed and reached NFL camps while Sheldon did likewise in 2017 before Sieler, Thomas and Okoye joined NFL organizations last year.
The select group also consists of running back Dave Gagnon (1974-Chicago Bears), outside linebacker Monty Brown (1997-New York Jets), defensive tackle Ed Philion (1994-Buffalo Bills), defensive end Dave Zuiderveen (2001-Atlanta Falcons), flanker Clarence Coleman (2002-Buffalo Bills), tackle Matt McCoy (2004-Detroit Lions), wide receiver Carlton Brewster (2006-Cleveland Browns) and defensive tackle Jake Visser (2009-Houston Texans).
Two other former Ferris State players, offensive guard Bill Bourdlais and safety Patrick Wells, received tryout invitations from the Cleveland Browns in 2008 and participated in the team's rookie minicamp, but did not ink a deal. Several others have also had NFL tryouts including wide receiver Andre Johnson (1989), quarterback Dave DenBraber (1987) and receiver/returner Fred Kirkland (1981). Defensive back James Skodak (2006) also had tryouts with several NFL organizations among other past Bulldog standouts.
The Bulldog standouts awaiting the draft all played key roles this past fall in leading Ferris State to the NCAA Division II National Championship game for the first time in school history. Along with reaching the national title game, the Bulldogs captured the GLIAC Championship in 2018 and won the Super Region Three title by winning their first four NCAA Playoff games en route to a historic run. The four playoff wins included FSU's first-ever National Semifinal victory at Minnesota State. Recently, SB Nation labeled FSU as Michigan's best football team of 2018 regardless of division.
Over the last five seasons at Ferris State, the Bulldogs have compiled a 60-8 overall record and claimed three conference championships, posted three unbeaten regular-seasons, captured two regional titles and reached the national quarterfinals three times. Ferris State has also accumulated three Harlon Hill National Player of the Year trophies, twice had a student-athlete tabbed as the nation's National Scholar-Athlete of the Year and won 10 postseason games.
The Bulldogs hold the nation's best record over the past five seasons and are one of only four teams in all of college football at any NCAA level to win 11 games each of the last five years along with Alabama, Ohio State and North Dakota State. FSU is also the only D2 team in the country to reach the national quarterfinals for three consecutive years and the Bulldogs' five-straight playoff appearances is the second-longest longest streak in the nation.
FSU's 15 wins this past year were the most in school history and the Bulldogs' 15-straight wins overall also set a new school record. Ferris State's 60 wins in the last five years (2014-18) marks the Bulldogs' best five-year stretch in school history.
In the seven seasons under Annese, the Bulldogs have become a national power on the Division II level. FSU has posted a 75-15 overall mark in the last seven years and the Bulldogs have also posted the best winning percentage of all 21 collegiate programs in the state of Michigan along with the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (GLIAC) since his arrival. Twice he's been tabbed as the Super Region Coach of the Year at Ferris State and this past season was named both the GLIAC Coach of the Year and the Hero Sports National Coach of the Year.
Overall, Annese has won 85% of his games as a head coach on the collegiate and prep levels and owns 300 wins to date, which is the most of any current GLIAC member head coach at all levels.