Four Spartans Prepare for NFL Divisional Round
Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell, Titans right tackle Jack Conklin, Patriots quarterback Brian Hoyer and Vikings cornerback Trae Waynes are preparing to play in the divisional round of the NFL Playoffs this weekend (Jan. 13-14).
EAST LANSING, Mich. -- Four former Michigan State Spartans -- Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell, Titans right tackle Jack Conklin, Patriots quarterback Brian Hoyer and Vikings cornerback Trae Waynes -- are preparing to play in the divisional round of the NFL Playoffs this weekend (Jan. 13-14).
Divisional Round Weekend Schedule (games involving former Spartans)
Sunday, Jan. 14
Jacksonville at Pittsburgh, 1:05 p.m. (CBS)
Former Spartans playing: RB Le'Veon Bell (Steelers)
New Orleans at Minnesota, 4:40 p.m. (FOX)
Former Spartans playing: CB Trae Waynes (Vikings)
Here's a look at the four Spartans playing in the NFL Playoffs:
RB Le'Veon Bell -- Pittsburgh Steelers (fifth season)
Named first-team Associated Press All-Pro (flex position) . . . named second-team AP All-Pro as a running back . . . selected to the Pro Bowl for the third time in his career (2014, 2016, 2017) and a first-team All-Pro for the second time in his career (2014) . . . ranked third in the NFL in rushing with 1,291 yards on 321 carries and nine touchdowns while helping Pittsburgh win the AFC North title . . . added a career-high 85 receptions for 655 yards and two receiving TDs . . . led the AFC and ranked second in the NFL in yards from scrimmage (1,946; 129.7 ypg) . . . also finished first in the NFL in carries (321), tied for third in rushing TDs (9) and fourth in rushing yards per game (86.1) . . . named AFC Player of the Month in December for the second year in a row after averaging 142.3 yards from scrimmage per game . . . selected AFC Offensive Player of the Week following his 179-yard rushing performance vs. Kansas City in Week 6 . . . named FedEx Ground Player of the Week after recording 186 yards from scrimmage (144 rushing on 35 carries; 42 receiving on four catches) in Week 4 win over Baltimore . . . CAREER: Has rushed for 5,336 yards and 35 touchdowns on 1,229 carries in 62 career games . . . set an NFL record for the fewest regular season games to reach 5,000 rushing yards and 2,500 receiving yards, accomplishing the feat in 59 games (previous record: Marcus Allen, 63 games) . . . tied Hall of Famer Eric Dickerson for reaching the 7,500 yards from scrimmage mark in just 59 games . . . has rushed for more than 1,200 yards in three of his five seasons in the NFL . . . is just the third Steeler to record back-to-back 1,200-yard rushing seasons (Willie Parker, Jerome Bettis) . . . is the first Steeler in franchise history to surpass 1,800 yards from scrimmage in consecutive years . . . since entering the NFL in 2013, Bell ranks first in yards from scrimmage per game with 129.0 (7,996 in 62 games) . . . already ranks among the Steelers all-time leaders in rushing touchdowns (tied for third with 35), 100-yard scrimmage games (third with 41), rushing yards (fourth with 5,336), 100-yard rushing games (fifth with 18), and yards from scrimmage (sixth with 7,996) . . . has 357 yards rushing and two TDs on 65 carries in three previous playoff games (119.0 ypg), all during last season's run to the AFC Championship Game.
RT Jack Conklin -- Tennessee Titans (second season)
Second-year player and 2016 first-round draft pick helped the Titans to a 9-7 record and the AFC South title . . . started all 16 games at right tackle for the second consecutive season after earning first-team AP All-Pro honors his rookie year . . . started at right tackle and helped the Titans to a Wild Card victory at Kansas City last weekend as the Titans reached the divisional round for the first time since 2008 . . . CAREER: Has started all 32 regular-season games of his NFL career . . . named first-team All-Pro in 2016 and also named to the NFL All-Rookie Team . . . is the highest draft pick of the Mark Dantonio era at Michigan State (No. 8 overall in 2016).
QB Brian Hoyer -- New England Patriots (ninth season)
Serves as the back-up quarterback for the Patriots . . . signed by New England on Nov. 1 . . . started the first six games of the season for the San Francisco 49ers, completing 58 percent of his passes (119-of-205) for 1,245 yards and four touchdowns . . . CAREER: Has thrown for nearly 10,000 yards in his nine-year NFL career (9,895 yards) . . . has thrown 48 career TDs . . . has completed 59 percent of his passes (837-of-1410) in 60 career games, including 37 starts . . . spent his first three seasons (2009-11) in the NFL with the Patriots.
CB Trae Waynes -- Minnesota Vikings (third season)
Former first-round pick and third-year player started all 16 games at cornerback for the NFC North Champion Vikings . . . ranked second on the team with two interceptions and sixth with 65 tackles (57 solo, 8 assists) . . . had a season-high 11 tackles in season opener vs. New Orleans . . . had interceptions vs. Tampa Bay and Green Bay . . . CAREER: Has started 26 of 46 career games, with five interceptions, 26 passes defended and 145 tackles . . . recorded an interception in his first career playoff game as a rookie in a Wild Card game against Seattle.
A total of 22 former Spartans saw action in the NFL during the 2017 season. Below is an update on the other Spartans currently on active NFL rosters who played during the regular season.
LB Riley Bullough -- Tampa Bay Buccaneers (rookie season)
Rookie free agent spent a majority of the season on the practice squad, but was signed to the active roster for the final three games of the season . . . recorded two tackles (one solo, one assist) in three games of action.
LB Shilique Calhoun -- Oakland Raiders (second season)
Second-year linebacker recorded eight tackles in nine games of action . . . also saw action on special teams . . . CAREER: Has 17 tackles in 19 career games.
TE Garrett Celek -- San Francisco 49ers (sixth season)
Sixth-year tight end started a career-high 13 games for the 49ers in 2017 and played in all 16 games . . . hauled in 21 catches for 336 yards and a career-best four touchdowns . . . CAREER: In 71 career games, including 29 starts, has caught 77 passes for 1,014 yards and 10 touchdowns . . . was named the 49ers Salute to Service Award winner in 2016; the Salute to Service Award was created to acknowledge the exceptional efforts by members of the NFL community to honor and support U.S. service members, veterans and their familes.
QB Connor Cook -- Oakland Raiders (second season)
Second-year quarterback did not see game action in 2017 . . . was on the active roster for the Baltimore game on Oct. 7 but did not play . . . CAREER: Played in two games his rookie season . . . was 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; was 18-of-45 for 161 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions in a Wild Card loss on the road at Houston in just his second career NFL game . . . made his NFL debut in the 2016 regular-season finale at Denver . . . completed 14-of-21 passes for 150 yards, one touchdown and one interception against the Broncos.
Kirk Cousins is just one of 11 quarterbacks in NFL history to throw for 4,000 yards in three consecutive seasons. (Photo by Garrett Campbell)
QB Kirk Cousins -- Washington Redskins (sixth season)
Sixth-year quarterback once again ranked among the NFL leaders in passing yards (seventh with 4,093), touchdown passes (eighth with 27), pass completions (eighth with 347), pass attempts (eighth with 540) and passing yards per game (ninth with 255.8 ypg) . . . had five 300-yard passing games, including a season-high 365 yards vs. Oakland in Week 3 . . . CAREER: Has thrown for 16,206 yards and 99 touchdowns in 62 career games, including 57 starts (48 consecutive), all with the Redskins . . . became the first Redskins quarterback to start 16 games three straight seasons since the NFL expanded to a 16-game schedule in 1978 . . . is one of just 11 quarterbacks in NFL history to throw for at least 4,000 yards in three consecutive seasons (Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, Matt Ryan, Matthew Stafford, Tom Brady, Phillip Rivers, Dan Fouts, Trent Green, Eli Manning and Dan Marino) . . . owns the franchise record for most 300-yard passing games (23) . . . ranks among Washington's all-time leaders in passing yards (fourth with 16,206), completions (fourth with 1,372) and touchdown passes (sixth with 99) . . . owns single-season franchise records for pass completions (406 in 2016), pass attempts (606 in 2016), passing yards (4,917 in 2016) and 300-yard passing games (seven in 2015 and 2016).
CB Darqueze Dennard -- Cincinnati Bengals (fourth season)
Fourth-year cornerback had a career year for the Bengals, recording career bests in tackles (85), games played (16), starts (6), passes defended (6), sacks (2) and interceptions (two for 109 yards) . . . returned an interception 89 yards for a touchdown in the regular-season finale win at Baltimore . . . had a 20-yard interception return vs. Tennessee in Week 10 . . . posted 10 stops in a win over Indianapolis in Week 8 . . . recorded 10 tackles, including a sack, against Green Bay in Week 3 . . . CAREER: Has played in 55 career games, including 10 starts . . . has 169 career tackles, 11 passes defended, three interceptions and three sacks.
S Kurtis Drummond -- Houston Texans (third season)
Third-year safety recorded a career-high 20 tackles in 15 games of action . . . had a career-high five tackles, including a sack, in win over Cleveland in Week 6 . . . CAREER: Has tallied 34 tackles in 24 career games . . . did not play in 2016 due to an injury . . . played nine games his rookie season in 2015.
WR Bennie Fowler -- Denver Broncos (fourth season)
Fourth-year wide receiver registered career highs in receptions (29), receiving yards (350) and touchdown catches (3) in 16 games, including a career-best four starts . . . caught a 22-yard touchdown pass vs. Oakland in Week 12 . . . had a season-high five catches for 45 yards against the Chargers in Week 7 . . . had season-high two touchdown receptions in season-opening win over the Chargers . . . CAREER: Has 56 catches for 698 yards and five touchdowns in 45 career games, including five starts . . . 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.
DE William Gholston -- Tampa Bay Buccaneers (fifth season)
Fifth-year defensive end played in 14 games, including 10 starts at defensive end . . . recorded 36 tackles, including four for losses . . . CAREER: Has played in 71 career games, including 46 starts . . . has 224 career tackles, including 10 sacks.
DT Joel Heath -- Houston Texans (second season)
Second-year defensive tackle improved upon his rookie season with 24 tackles (17 solo, 7 assists) in 13 games, including nine starts . . . CAREER: Has played in 25 games the past two seasons with the Texans, including 15 starts . . . has 32 career tackles with three sacks.
S Montae Nicholson -- Washington Redskins (rookie season)
Fourth-round draft pick recorded 24 tackles and one interception in eight games, including six starts . . . finished his season on injured reserve and only played in one game the second half of the season due to injury . . . picked off his first career pass against Oakland in Week 3.
DT Domata Peko -- Denver Broncos (12th season)
Veteran defensive tackle recorded 43 stops in his first season with the Broncos . . . played in all 16 games, including one start . . . CAREER: Has recorded 554 career tackles and 19.5 sacks in his 12-year career . . . durable defensive lineman has played in 186 career games, including 169 starts.
TE Dion Sims -- Chicago Bears (fifth season)
Fifth-year tight end spent his first season with the Bears in 2017 . . . started a career-high 14 games . . . had 15 catches for 180 yards and one touchdown . . . CAREER: Has played in 70 career games, including 36 starts . . . has 89 career receptions for 879 yards and nine TDs.
QB Drew Stanton -- Arizona Cardinals (11th season)
Veteran quarterback finished his fifth year in Arizona in 2017 . . . started four games for the Cardinals this season (3-1 record) . . . was 79-of-159 passing for 894 yards and six touchdowns . . . was 15-of-34 passing for 145 yards and one TD in win over Seattle in the regular-season finale . . . completed 20-of-34 passes for 209 yards and two TDs in victory over the New York Giants in Week 16 . . . threw for a season-high 273 yards and a touchdown at Seattle in Week 10 . . . led Arizona to a road win over San Francisco in Week 9, completing 15-of-30 passes with two TDs . . . CAREER: Has thrown for 4,059 yards and 20 touchdowns in 38 career games, including 17 starts.
FB Lawrence Thomas -- New York Jets (second season)
Second-year player converted to fullback in 2017 after spending his rookie season on the defensive line . . . was named the New York Jets recipient of the Ed Block Courage Award in a vote by his teammates . . . became the first Jets fullback to win the award (given annually since 1984) . . . the Ed Block Courage Award Foundation, Inc. is dedicated to supporting the well-being of abused, neglected and at-risk children throughout the Courage House National Support Network for Kids; this year's annual awards banquet is set for March 9 in Baltimore . . . Thomas played in 14 games for the Jets, including four starts . . . caught six passes for 43 yards . . . also had two carries for 1 yards . . . recorded two tackles on special teams . . . played on all three units in Week 4 at Jacksonville, seeing time at fullback, defensive line and special teams, to become the first Jet to do so since Sheldon Richardson in 2014 . . . CAREER: Played in three games with the Jets as a rookie in 2016 on the defensive line, including one start, before spending the remainder of the season on injured reserve . . . has played in 17 career games with the Jets the past two seasons . . . was a two-year starter on the defensive line for the Spartans but also played fullback his redshirt freshman season in 2012, blocking for All-American Le'Veon Bell.
Spartans on injured reserve who played in 2017:
SN Taybor Pepper -- Green Bay Packers (rookie season)
Long snapper spent the offseason with the Packers and preseason camp with the Ravens before signing with Green Bay on Sept. 25 . . . made his NFL debut against Chicago in Week 4 . . . played in four games before suffering a foot injury in practice on Nov. 2 and was placed on injured reserve on Nov. 3.
S Demetrious Cox -- Carolina Panthers (rookie season)
Was claimed off waivers by Carolina on Sept. 3 after spending preseason camp with the Bengals . . . played in four games and collected four tackles before getting placed on injured reserve Oct. 24 (ankle).
Spartans on current reserve/future rosters who did not see game action in 2017:
RB Jeremy Langford -- New York Jets
Signed by the Jets to their practice squad on Dec. 8 . . . also saw time on the practice squad for the Ravens in 2017 . . . spent two seasons (2015-16) with the Bears, rushing for 737 yards and 10 touchdowns on 210 carries in 28 career games with Chicago, including five starts . . . also had 41 catches for 421 yards and one TD.
LB Marcus Rush -- Denver Broncos
Signed by the Broncos to their practice squad on Dec. 19 . . . also saw time on the practice squad for the Kansas City Chiefs in 2017 . . . played two games with Jacksonville during the 2016 season . . . has also spent time on the practice squad for the 49ers (2015-16).
Spartans on non-football injury list who did not see game action in 2017:
Malik McDowell (Seahawks)
Spartans who played in NFL in 2017 but are not currently on an NFL roster:
DT Jerel Worthy
Played five games with the Bills before getting released in November . . . had five tackles . . . has played in 42 career games (Green Bay, 2012-13; Buffalo, 2015-17), collecting 32 tackles and 2.5 sacks.
Former Spartans on CFL rosters:
CB Johnny Adams -- Edmonton (third season)
In his third season in the CFL, recorded 55 tackles and two interceptions in 15 games for the Eskimos in 2017.
DB Arjen Colquhoun -- Edmonton (rookie season)
In his rookie season in the CFL, tallied 26 tackles and one interception in nine games.
WR B.J. Cunningham -- Montreal (third season)
Recorded career highs in receptions (69) and receiving yards (1,128) while tying his career high with four touchdowns in 2017 . . . led the Alouettes in receiving yards and ranked second in catches . . . has 157 receptions for 2,291 yards in three seasons with Montreal.
OL J'Micheal Deane -- Toronto (seventh season)
Played 13 games on the offensive line and helped the Argonauts win the Grey Cup . . . was a Grey Cup Champion for the second year in a row, as he played for Ottawa in 2016 . . . just completed his seventh season in the CFL.
LB Darien Harris -- Ottawa (rookie season)
Spent time on the Ottawa practice squad in 2017.
LB Greg Jones -- Ottawa (fourth season)
Signed with Ottawa in September and played in one game for the Redblacks in October . . . has collected 246 total tackles (204 defense, 42 special teams) and five sacks in 47 career CFL games . . . was named an East Division All-Star in 2015 after recording a career-high 93 defensive tackles with Toronto (110 overall) . . . played two seasons in the NFL and won a Super Bowl ring with the Giants during the 2011 season.
DB Mitchell White -- Toronto (fourth season)
Played six games on the Grey Cup Champion Argonauts . . . tied his career high with three interceptions and had 12 tackles . . . has seven interceptions and 110 tackles in 48 career games in four seasons in the CFL . . . played on the 2016 Grey Cup Champion Ottawa Redblacks.