Seven Former Spartans Prepare for NFL Playoffs
Seven former MSU players, representing four different teams (Houston, Miami, Oakland and Pittsburgh), will be in action during this upcoming Wild Card Weekend (Jan. 7-8).
EAST LANSING, Mich. -- Seven former Michigan State players -- Pittsburgh running back Le'Veon Bell, Houston linebacker Max Bullough, Oakland quarterback Connor Cook, Houston defensive tackle Joel Heath, Miami cornerback Tony Lippett, Houston wide receiver Keith Mumphery and Miami tight end Dion Sims -- are scheduled to participate in the 2017 NFL Playoffs.
The seven former MSU players, representing four different teams (Houston, Miami, Oakland and Pittsburgh), will all be in action during this upcoming Wild Card Weekend (Jan. 7-8).
Wild Card Weekend Schedule (games involving former Spartans)
Saturday, Jan. 7
Oakland at Houston, 4:35 p.m. (ABC/ESPN)
Former Spartans playing: Connor Cook (Oakland), Max Bullough (Houston), Joel Heath (Houston), Keith Mumphery (Houston). Note: Shilique Calhoun played 10 games with the Raiders during the regular season, but finished the season on injured reserve.
Here's a look at the seven former Spartans who will be playing in the NFL Playoffs.
RB Le'Veon Bell -- Pittsburgh Steelers (fourth season)
Earned his second trip to the Pro Bowl after leading the NFL in scrimmage yards per game (157.0), which ranked third in NFL single-season history . . . named the Steelers Most Valuable Player . . . became first player in NFL history to average more than 100 yards rushing (105.7) and 50 yards receiving (51.3) . . . rushed for 1,268 yards and seven TDs on 261 carries in just 12 games while helping lead the Steelers to the AFC North title . . . also recorded 75 receptions for 616 yards and two scores . . . finished the regular season ranked second in the NFL in rushing yards per game (105.7 ypg.), third in yards from scrimmage (1,884), fifth in rushing (1,268 yards) and eighth in carries (261) and rushing average (4.8) . . . also ranked second among RBs in receptions (75) and receiving yards (616) . . . eclipsed 6,000 yards from scrimmage in his NFL career vs. Baltimore in Week 16 -- his 47th career game -- tying Eric Dickerson for the second-fewest games played to reach that milestone in NFL history . . . recorded 100 scrimmage yards in seven consecutive games and 11 of his 12 games in 2016 . . . rushed for a Steelers single-game record with 236 yards in the Week 14 win over Buffalo; also tied a team record with three rushing TDs and his 298 scrimmage yards marked the second most in team history . . . had six 100-yard rushing games in 2016 (144 vs. Kansas City in Week 4; 146 vs. Cleveland in Week 11; 120 vs. Indianapolis in Week 12; 118 vs. New York Giants in Week 13; 236 vs. Buffalo in Week 14; 122 vs. Baltimore in Week 16) . . . CAREER: Has rushed for 4,045 yards and 26 touchdowns in 47 games (86.1 ypg; 4.5 avg.) . . . also has 2,005 receiving yards on 227 catches for five TDs . . . already ranks among Pittsburgh's all-time leaders in rushing yards (fifth with 4,045), rushing TDs (tied for sixth with 26) and scrimmage yards (ninth with 6,050). . . . ranks tied for second among active NFL players with 32 games of at least 100 scrimmage yards . . . . since his arrival to the NFL in 2013, ranks first in the NFL in scrimmage yards per game (128.7).
LB Max Bullough -- Houston Texans (third season)
Played in all 16 games for the Texans, including three starts . . . recorded 25 tackles . . . in a starting role, tied his season high with five tackles in the regular-season finale at Tennessee . . . also had five stops in Week 1 vs. Chicago . . . had four tackles while earning a starting assignment in a Week 2 win over Kansas City . . . started and tied a season best with five tackles at New England in Week 3 . . . CAREER: Has 56 career tackles in 30 games, including four starts, in three seasons with the Texans.
QB Connor Cook -- Oakland Raiders (rookie season)
Made his NFL debut in the regular-season finale at Denver . . . completed 14-of-21 passes for 150 yards, one touchdown and one interception against the Broncos . . . threw a 32-yard touchdown pass to Amari Cooper in the third quarter . . . is slated to start in the AFC Wild Card game at Houston and will become the first player in NFL history (since the Super Bowl era) to start a postseason game at quarterback without starting at QB in the regular season.
DT Joel Heath -- Houston Texans (rookie season)
Played in 12 games, including six starts, his rookie season . . . started six of the last eight regular-season games for the AFC South Champion Texans . . . tallied eight tackles . . . in the regular-season finale at Tennessee, recorded two sacks (11 yards) and a season-high three tackles . . . made his NFL debut in Week 3 at New England and collected one tackle.
CB Tony Lippett -- Miami Dolphins (second season)
Recorded career highs in interceptions (four), pass break-ups (10) and tackles (67) in his first full year as a starting cornerback . . . played in all 16 games and started the last 13 games in a row . . . led team and ranked tied for 11th in the NFL with four interceptions . . . recorded a career-high nine tackles in Week 5 at Tennessee . . . had two interceptions, including one in the final minute, to preserve the 31-24 win over San Diego in Week 10; also had seven tackles against the Chargers . . . had two interceptions and five tackles in Week 15 win over the Jets . . . broke up two passes and tallied six stops in Week 16 win at Buffalo . . . CAREER: Has 80 tackles, 11 pass break-ups and four interceptions in 25 career games.
WR Keith Mumphery -- Houston Texans (second season)
Played in 11 games, including three starts, for the AFC South Champion Texans . . . had 10 catches for 69 yards (6.9 avg.) . . . started three of the last four games of the regular season . . . eight of his receptions came in the final month of the regular season . . . had a season-high three catches for 23 yards in the regular-season finale at Tennessee . . . CAREER: Has 24 receptions for 198 yards in 27 career games.
TE Dion Sims -- Miami Dolphins (fourth season)
Recorded a career-high 26 receptions for 256 yards in 14 games, including 11 starts . . . also hauled in a career-high four TD catches . . . caught two touchdown passes and matched his season high with four receptions overall for 31 yards in the Week 15 victory over the Jets . . . had a 7-yard TD catch vs. Arizona in Week 14 . . . had four receptions for 53 yards, including a 16-yard touchdown, in the Week 12 win over the 49ers . . . also had four catches for 46 yards in the Week 3 win against Cleveland . . . CAREER: Has 74 catches for 699 yards and eight TDs in 56 career games.
A total of 28 former Spartans saw action in the NFL during the 2016 season. Below is an update on the other Spartans currently on active NFL rosters who played during the regular season.
C Jack Allen -- New Orleans Saints (rookie season)
Was on the active roster for the final three games of the season but did not see game action . . . was on the practice squad a majority of the season.
WR Aaron Burbridge -- San Francisco 49ers (rookie season)
Sixth-round draft pick played in all 16 games for the 49ers at wide receiver and on special teams . . . started three games . . . had seven catches for 88 yards (12.6 avg.) . . . five of his seven receptions came in the last three weeks of the season . . . had two catches for 29 yards at Atlanta in Week 15 . . . matched his season high with two receptions for 15 yards in Week 16 win at Los Angeles . . . had a season-long 24-yard reception in the season finale at Seattle.
LB Shilique Calhoun -- Oakland Raiders (rookie season)
Third-round draft pick saw action in 10 games at linebacker and special teams before being placed on injured reserve Dec. 23 . . . his first career NFL tackle was a half sack in the win at Tennessee in Week 3 . . . had a season-high three tackles in Week 6 at Kansas City . . . recorded a tackle and broke up a pass vs. Houston in Week 11.
TE Garrett Celek -- San Francisco 49ers (fifth season)
Fifth-year veteran tight end recorded career highs in receptions (29), receiving yards (350) and games played (16) . . . also tied his career best with three touchdown catches . . . started six times . . . had a career-high four receptions of 20-plus yards and 20 of his 29 receptions went for first downs . . . recorded a season-high five catches for 79 yards at Dallas in Week 5 . . . had four receptions for 76 yards at New Orleans in Week 9 . . . CAREER: In 55 career games, has 56 catches for 678 yards (12.1 avg.) and six touchdowns.
OT Jack Conklin -- Tennessee Titans (rookie season)
First-round draft pick (No. 8 overall) lived up to his billing with an impressive rookie campaign . . . named to the AP All-Pro Team . . . started all 16 games for the Titans and graded out as the highest-rated right tackle in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus . . . also ranked the No. 3 overall rookie during the 2016 regular season by PFF . . . allowed only four combined sacks and hits, the second fewest of any starting offensive tackle in the NFL . . . named a Pro Bowl alternate . . . named to the NFL All-Rookie Team by NFL.com and PFF . . . helped the Titans to a 9-7 regular-season record, a six-win improvement from 2015 . . . his steady presence on the offensive line helped Tennessee to the No. 3 rushing offense in the NFL.
QB Kirk Cousins -- Washington Redskins (fifth season)
Fifth-year quarterback once again ranked among the NFL leaders in passing yards (third with 4,917), passing yards per game (third with 307.3 ypg), pass completions (third with 406), pass attempts (sixth with 606), completion percentage (eighth at .607) and touchdown passes (13th with 25) . . . registered career highs and set franchise records in passing yards (4,917), completions (406) and attempts (606) . . . started all 16 games for the Redskins and became just the fourth QB in Redskins history to start every game in back-to-back seasons . . . tied his own team record with seven 300-yard passing games . . . had two 400-yard passing games (career-high 458 vs. Cincinnati in Week 8; 449 vs. Dallas in Week 12) . . . the 458 yards vs. Cincinnati and the 449 vs. Dallas were the second- and third-most passing yards ever in a single-game by a Washington quarterback . . . helped lead Washington to the No. 2 passing offense and No. 3 total offense in the NFL . . . CAREER: Has thrown for 12,113 yards and 72 touchdowns in 46 career games, including 41 starts (32 consecutive), all with the Redskins . . . owns the franchise record for most 300-yard passing games (18) . . . ranks among Washington's all-time leaders in completions (fifth with 1,025), passing yards (sixth with 12,113) and touchdown passes (sixth with 72) . . . since 2015, is tied with Aaron Rodgers and Matt Ryan for the most games (30) with a touchdown pass.
TE Kellen Davis -- New York Jets (ninth season)
Ninth-year veteran tight end played in eight games, including seven starting assignments . . . finished the year on injured reserve . . . CAREER: Has 53 receptions for 579 yards and 13 touchdowns in 125 career games.
CB Darqueze Dennard -- Cincinnati Bengals (third season)
Former first-round pick and third-year cornerback recorded a career-high 47 tackles and played in a career-best 15 games (three starts) . . . collected a career-high eight stops against Baltimore in Week 12 . . . CAREER: In 39 career games, including four starts, has 84 tackles, five pass break-ups and one interception.
WR Bennie Fowler -- Denver Broncos (third season)
Third-year wide receiver had 11 catches for 145 yards and two touchdowns in 13 games for the Broncos . . . also played on special teams . . . had a season-high three receptions for 22 yards, including a 5-yard TD grab, at San Diego in Week 6 . . . had a career-long 76-yard touchdown reception in Week 12 vs. Kansas City . . . CAREER: Has 27 catches for 348 yards and two TDs in 29 games with the Broncos . . . member of the Super Bowl 50 Champion Broncos and caught a 2-point conversion pass from Peyton Manning in the Super Bowl win over Carolina.
OT Dan France -- Carolina Panthers (third season)
After spending a majority of the season on the practice squad for the Browns, was signed as a free agent by the Panthers on Nov. 29 . . . dressed but did not see game action in Weeks 13-15 . . . was inactive the last two games of the season . . . CAREER: Spent the 2015 season on the practice squad for the Bengals . . . split time on the practice squad in 2016 with the Bengals and Browns.
DE William Gholston -- Tampa Bay Buccaneers (fourth season)
Fourth-year defensive end recorded 49 tackles and tied his career high with three sacks (24 yards) in 14 games, all starts, with the Buccaneers . . . had seven quarterback pressures, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery . . . collected a season-high seven tackles, including a sack, in win over 49ers in Week 7 . . . tallied six tackles in Week 3 vs. Los Angeles . . . CAREER: Has 188 tackles, 10 sacks and eight pass break-ups in 57 career games, including 36 starts.
QB Brian Hoyer -- Chicago Bears (eighth season)
Eighth-year veteran quarterback played in six games for the Bears, including five starts, before suffering a season-ending injury Week 7 at Green Bay . . . completed 67 percent of his passes (134-of-200) for 1,445 yards, six TDs and no interceptions . . . became the first Bears QB in franchise history to throw for more than 300 yards in four consecutive games (Week 3 to Week 6) . . . completed 33-of-43 throws for a career-high 397 yards and two touchdowns at Indianapolis in Week 5 . . . CAREER: Has thrown for 8,608 yards and 44 touchdowns in 49 career games.
RB Jeremy Langford -- Chicago Bears (second season)
Second-year running back ran for 200 yards and four touchdowns on 62 carries in 12 games, including three starting assignments . . . started the first three games of the season, but injured his ankle in Week 3 at Dallas and missed four games due to injury . . . rushed for a season-high 57 yards and one TD on 17 carries at Houston in Week 1 . . . CAREER: Has rushed for 737 yards and 10 touchdowns on 210 carries in 28 career games, including five starts . . . also has 41 catches for 421 yards and one TD.
DT Domata Peko -- Cincinnati Bengals (11th season)
Veteran defensive tackle recorded 37 stops and tied a career high with three pass break-ups in 16 games . . . tallied a season-high five tackles twice (Week 2 vs. Steelers and Week 3 vs. Lions) . . . CAREER: Incredibly durable 11-year veteran has started 118 consecutive games for the Bengals, the fifth-longest streak in franchise history . . . has 516 tackles, 18.5 sacks and 12 pass break-ups in 171 career games, including 156 starts . . . his 171 games played are eighth most in franchise history and fourth most by a defensive player.
LB Marcus Rush -- Jacksonville Jaguars (second season)
Was on the active roster for the final two games of the season and saw game action in Week 16 vs. Tennessee and Week 17 vs. Indianapolis . . . was on the practice squad for the 49ers a majority of the season before signing as a free agent with Jacksonville on Dec. 20 . . . CAREER: Spent the 2015 season on the 49ers practice squad.
QB Drew Stanton -- Arizona Cardinals (10th season)
Tenth-year veteran quarterback played in five games, including one start, for the Cardinals . . . completed 19-of-48 passes for two touchdowns and three interceptions . . . started in Week 5 at San Francisco and was 11-of-28 passing for two TDs in Arizona's win over the 49ers . . . CAREER: Has thrown for 3,165 yards and 14 touchdowns in 33 career games.
DL Lawrence Thomas -- New York Jets (rookie season)
Rookie was off to a fast start in his first season with the Jets but suffered a season-ending injury in Week 3 at Philadelphia . . . undrafted free agent made the initial 53-man roster after an impressive preseason camp . . . had four tackles in his first three games . . . started his first career NFL game and recorded three tackles against Cincinnati in Week 1 . . . finished the season on the injured reserve list.
CB Trae Waynes -- Minnesota Vikings (second season)
Former first-round pick and second-year player improved in 2016 after a strong rookie campaign . . . started eight times and played in 15 games overall . . . ranked second on the team with three interceptions . . . also had 11 pass break-ups . . . ranked ninth on the team with 50 tackles . . . recorded a career-high 10 stops in the season-opening win at Tennessee . . . had four tackles, a pass break-up and an interception in the victory over Green Bay in Week 2 . . . also had an interception and pass break-up in Week 3 win over Carolina . . . recorded his third interception of the season in the regular-season finale at Chicago . . . CAREER: Has 80 tackles, three interceptions and 15 pass break-ups in 30 career games for the Vikings.
DT Jerel Worthy -- Buffalo Bills (fourth season)
Played in 13 games, the second most of his career, in his second season with the Bills and fourth overall in the NFL . . . recorded 12 tackles on the season . . . CAREER: Has 27 tackles, including 2.5 sacks, in 31 career games.
Former Spartans on CFL rosters:
Johnny Adams (Hamilton)
James Bodanis (Montreal)
B.J. Cunningham (Montreal)
J'Micheal Deane (Ottawa, won Grey Cup)
Kyler Elsworth (Toronto)
Greg Jones (Saskatchewan)
Mitchell White (Ottawa, won Grey Cup)