Grinz on Green: Next Group of Spartans Ready to Prove They Belong in the NFL
Drafted or undrafted, Spartans under head coach Mark Dantonio have a long track record of success at the next level.
By Steve Grinczel, MSUSpartans.com Online Columnist
EAST LANSING, Mich. -- Michigan State's track record of preparing players for the NFL speaks for itself, and R.J. Shelton, Josiah Price, Riley Bullough and the 16 other draft-eligible Spartans from the 2016 team hope it screamed volumes about them on Wednesday.
Pro scouts from 30 NFL teams put Coach Mark Dantonio's former charges through the paces during MSU's annual Pro Day at the Duffy Daugherty indoor practice facility.
The poking, prodding, testing, interviewing and observing will continue right up to the April 27-29 draft in Philadelphia, but Shelton and his former teammates tried to leave team representatives with lasting images of what they can do.
"I feel I did a really good job just impressing the coaches and scouts by showing that I'm a top player in this draft among wide receivers," said Shelton, who made his first start as a true freshman in 2013 and ended his MSU career with 23 in 52 games.
Shelton was scheduled to fly to Indianapolis later in the day to meet with the Colts and has already had conversations with the Detroit Lions, Minnesota Vikings, Kansas City Chiefs, Miami Dolphins and Baltimore Ravens.
"There are teams that have me on their (draft) boards and what not, but at the end of the day you have to show that you can be a player and hope just for the best," Shelton said. "Everything's on you when this day comes and I feel like I maximized it."
Developing versatile players is a trademark of Dantonio's program and Shelton probably exemplifies that trait better than any Spartan over the past 10 seasons.
Shelton amassed 3,900 all-purpose yards -- 1,471 receiving; 549 rushing (mostly on jet sweeps), 1,855 on kickoff returns; 25 on punt returns -- and last season completed all three of the option passes he attempted for 59 yards.
"Doing the things I did here at Michigan State, I'm like a utility guy," said Shelton, a standout running back in high school. "Whatever the team needs me to do for us to be successful, I'm willing to do that."
Shelton, who said he did "tremendous" in the 40-yard dash and bench-pressed 225 pounds 17 times, feels he is prepared to follow the footsteps of former MSU players, such as wideouts Aaron Burbridge and Tony Lippett (who plays cornerback for the Dolphins) and defensive backs Trae Waynes and Darqueze Dennard, into the NFL.
"In my time here, we've won two Big Ten championships, won a Rose Bowl and a Cotton Bowl and had a playoff appearance at the Cotton Bowl, as well," Shelton said. "I've played against guys who are now in the league from here and from our opponents who had elite players, too. I feel I'm ready take on that challenge.
"Whatever team picks me, they're going to get a guy that's going to do the right things, puts the team first and when his name's called upon to make plays, he'll make plays."
Bullough's NFL bloodline begins with his grandfather, Henry, who was drafted out of MSU by the Green Bay Packers and coached in the league for 12 years (including 22 games as a head coach), and has been carried on the past three seasons with the Houston Texans by older brother Max, a former Spartan middle linebacker.
Riley had been working out with Max, who entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent, along with other draft prospects from around the country in Southern California during the run-up to Pro Day.
"(Max's) biggest thing is you've got to stay patient," Bullough said. "It's a long process and sometimes it's frustrating and sometimes it's great. There's a lot of ups and downs but whatever happens, happens and you've got to roll with it and make the best out of it.
"I'm not too worried about it. I feel that once I get on a team, drafted or undrafted, I'm going to work my tail off and try to make the squad."
Bullough feels ready to face the next challenge because "I've learned a ton since being (at MSU), with so many things instilled in me -- the hard work, dedication to the game, the commitment that it takes -- that will follow you the rest of your life," he said. "I like to tell teams what I think I am.
"I'm a high-energy guy, I've got a high motor and I love game of football. Most of the coaches see that through the film and through talking to people, so that's what I've been going with. There are a lot of guys in (Max's) class that year that had a lot of unknowns and didn't get drafted, but you see those guys are still in the league."
Price could be billed as a scoring machine on his calling card, but MSU's all-time leader among tight ends for touchdown catches, with 21, is confident NFL teams consider him as "a complete player" at his position.
"I put a lot of work in over these past two months for today, and it's a great relief and I'm very happy for it to be over with, and I'm excited and thankful for how I did," Price said. "I've heard a lot of good things about how I can catch the ball really well and get open and also I'm a very good blocker, and that I can be a three-down tight end.
"I guess one of the biggest knocks is on my athleticism and speed, but I think today I was able to prove my numbers are right there with everyone else's. I feel very good about it."
Price has spent the past four seasons honing his own unique style, but he has studied Dallas Cowboys tight end Jason Whitten and Rob Gronkowski, of the New England Patriots, extensively.
"I try to take pointers from guys, but my game is my game," Price said. "Michigan State really prepared me for all the possible movements. I can move to the backfield, I can move in the slot, I can be in-line, I can be in a wing and I can pretty much do any blocking scheme -- zone, power, pass-protection.
"We ran a pretty similar NFL offense here so it's just going to be getting the terminology. What I'm very proud of my career here at Michigan State is I did everything. I caught a lot of balls (104) and I caught a lot of touchdowns -- that's one thing for me I can really sell. You don't have to envision me doing it because I did it in college for four straight years."
Safety Montae Nicholson's resume lists only three seasons of work with MSU because he is passing up his final year of eligibility in the hopes of joining Waynes, Dennard and former Spartan safety Kurtis Drummond, who also played last season with the Texans, in the NFL.
Nicholson didn't go through Pro Day workouts because he is recovering from March 8 surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder. He believes the injury lingered from the season, but feels his performance at the NFL Scouting Combine earlier this month in Indianapolis was good enough to get him noticed.
"I feel I have a lot to offer, even with this shoulder," said Nicholson, who had 200 tackles, four interceptions, three fumble recoveries and one forced fumble in 38 games, including 23 starts. "I talked to Kurtis the most. He was telling me that I was ready, in so many words, and that it's basically up to me.
"Just like my coaches, he was 100 percent with whatever decision I made, because that's how we do things here. We support each other."
One of the most eye-catching performances of Pro Day was delivered by one of the lesser-known Spartans, fullback Prescott Line, who joined MSU for just one season as a graduate transfer from SMU. Line bench-pressed 225 pounds an astounding 39 times, which is better than many lineman across the nation can do. In fact, it's four more than the highest total (35) posted this year at the NFL Combine.
With only five carries for 12 yards in 11 games last season, Line is hoping he's has shown enough as an explosive lead blocker to earn a spot in training camp, just as his older brother Zach has the past four seasons with the Vikings.
"It's kind of a guessing game where you don't know, so you've just got to keep training hard," the 6-foot, 253-pound Line said. "I kind of compare what I have to (Zach) and what he says is the NFL is definitely faster and you've got to learn to play special teams as well. Then, once you learn special teams and fullback and gain the coaches' trust, you're in pretty good shape.
"I definitely someday want to be just like my brother, somebody they can rely on back there to be selfless and willing to throw their body at someone. I definitely want to be that guy."
Quarterback Tyler O'Connor was happy with the way he threw the ball for the scouts, knowing all the while he has a bachelor's degree in supply chain management in one hip pocket and a master's in marketing research in the other.
"I'm very comfortable and very excited about how I've been throwing the last couple months and with my training, so I've been very anxious to get to (Pro Day)," O'Connor said. "I wouldn't be here today if I didn't think I could do this.
"But I do know with my degrees and everything, if football does fall through I've got my backup plans set in stone."
Josiah Price performs the broad jump at MSU's Pro Day on Wednesday.