Looking back at an era of KU football draftees

photo by: AP Photo/Phelan Ebenhack

Denver Broncos cornerback Aqib Talib (21) is tripped up by Tampa Bay Buccaneers center Joe Hawley (68) after intercepting a pass by Jameis Winston during the first quarter of an NFL football game Sunday, Oct. 2, 2016, in Tampa, Fla.

By the end of Friday, Kansas will almost certainly have a new highest-drafted football player since 2008.

Offensive lineman Dominick Puni is expected to go by the end of the third round Friday night, and defensive end Austin Booker could follow soon after or even jump his teammate.

KU has not produced an athlete selected in the top three rounds of the NFL Draft since Aqib Talib went 20th overall to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as part of that 2008 class. Since then, 13 Jayhawks have been picked: four in the fourth round, three in the fifth, five in the sixth and one in the seventh.

Here’s a look at that baker’s dozen and how each player ended up faring in the pros. Of note: KU’s most successful NFL player in this time period, Chris Harris Jr., went undrafted.

photo by: AP Photo/Paul Sancya

Cincinnati Bengals offensive tackle Anthony Collins (73) blocks against Detroit Lions defensive end Narada Williams (69) in the second half of an NFL preseason football game in Detroit, Friday, Aug. 12, 2011.

Anthony Collins (2008, fourth round, 112th overall, Cincinnati Bengals)

At KU: Collins was a first-team All-American who started at offensive tackle for the best team in recent KU football history. He is a member of the Jayhawks’ Ring of Honor.

In the pros: The first KU player selected after Talib, Collins saw action beginning in the early days of his NFL career. He left Cincinnati following the 2013 season having played in 59 games and started 25, and signed a five-year, $30 million contract with the Buccaneers, but struggled and was cut after one season.

photo by: AP Photo/Dave Martin

The Houston Texans’ Derek Fine (82) catches a pass prior to their preseason NFL football game against the New Orleans Saints at the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans, La., Saturday, Aug. 21, 2010.

Derek Fine (2008, fourth round, 132nd overall, Buffalo Bills)

At KU: Fine tallied 1,009 yards and 10 touchdowns over four seasons with the Jayhawks. The tight end was a team captain on the 2007 Orange Bowl squad.

In the pros: Fine’s rookie season was slowed down by a thumb injury that required surgery. He caught his lone NFL touchdown from Trent Edwards on his first-ever catch, but made just 18 more catches in his career; in 2009 he got knocked out for the season due to a knee injury and did not play in brief stints with two other teams.

photo by: AP Photo/Bill Kostroun

New York Jets wide receiver Marcus Henry reaches for a pass at the football minicamp Monday, June 14, 2010 in Florham Park, N.J.

Marcus Henry (2008, sixth round, 171st overall, New York Jets)

At KU: After infrequent involvement his first three seasons, Henry broke out for a 1,000-yard receiving season as a senior with 10 touchdowns.

In the pros: Henry didn’t make his mark with the Jets or with the Carolina Panthers but carved out a career north of the border, playing for Edmonton, Ottawa and Montreal in the Canadian Football League for six seasons.

photo by: AP Photo/Gregory Bull

San Diego Chargers defensive back Darrell Stuckey recovers a fumble during the second half of an NFL football game against the Miami Dolphins in San Diego, Sunday, Nov. 13, 2016.

Darrell Stuckey (2010, fourth round, 110th overall, San Diego Chargers)

At KU: Another Ring of Honor inductee, Stuckey tallied 295 career tackles and eight interceptions while starting 42 games for the Jayhawks.

In the pros: Stuckey spent his entire seven-year career with the team that drafted him, playing in 89 NFL games and proving his merit primarily on special teams, where he even made the Pro Bowl after the 2014 season. The Chargers released him with a failed-physical designation in August 2017 as he dealt with a meniscus injury.

photo by: AP Photo/John Raoux

Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Kerry Meier (80) runs with the ball as Jacksonville Jaguars defensive end Larry Hart (59) gives chase during the second half of an NFL preseason football game Friday, Aug. 19, 2011, in Jacksonville, Fla. Jacksonville won 15-13.

Kerry Meier (2010, fifth round, 165th overall, Atlanta Falcons)

At KU: A converted quarterback who became one of Todd Reesing’s favorite targets at wide receiver, Meier ended up catching 199 passes for 2,030 yards between his junior and senior seasons.

In the pros: Meier missed his rookie season due to a knee injury suffered in preseason action. He played in 12 games and got targeted once in 2011, dealt with injury again in 2012 and was released in the spring of 2013.

photo by: AP Photo/Stephen Morton

Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Dezmon Briscoe (89) catches a pass in front of Jacksonville Jaguars cornerback Ashton Youboty (31)during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. 11, 2011, in Jacksonville, Fla. Jacksonville beat Tampa Bay 41-14.

Dezmon Briscoe (2010, sixth round, 191st overall, Tampa Bay Buccaneers)

At KU: Briscoe declared for the draft after his junior season. The 6-foot-3, 200-pound wideout racked up eye-popping numbers with the Jayhawks, recording 219 catches for 3,240 yards and 31 touchdowns through the air in just three years. Both his yardage and scoring marks still stand as school records, and his sophomore and junior years as the top two receiving seasons in KU history.

In the pros: Briscoe had a strong second season in the pros when he caught 35 passes for 387 yards and six touchdowns, but Tampa Bay released him the following July. Washington claimed him off waivers and he looked good in the preseason, but had just two catches that year. He suffered a shoulder injury at the end of the following preseason and then couldn’t stick with the Dallas Cowboys.

photo by: AP Photo/David Kohl

Cincinnati Bengals guard Tanner Hawkinson watches from the sidelines in the first half of an NFL football game against the Indianapolis Colts, Sunday, Dec. 8, 2013, in Cincinnati.

Tanner Hawkinson (2013, fifth round, 156th overall, Cincinnati Bengals)

At KU: After sliding from tight end to defensive end and then to offensive tackle, Hawkinson excelled as a redshirt freshman starting at left tackle. He ended up starting 48 consecutive games while playing for three different head coaches.

In the pros: As the first draft pick of the post-Mangino era, and united with another former Jayhawk tackle in Collins, Hawkinson played in just four games his first two years before the Bengals released him in 2015. He spent time with two other teams that year and signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars the following offseason but retired less than two weeks later.

photo by: AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez

Oakland Raiders middle linebacker Ben Heeney (50) against the Atlanta Falcons during an NFL football game in Oakland, Calif., Sunday, Sept. 18, 2016.

Ben Heeney (2015, fifth round, 140th overall, Oakland Raiders)

At KU: Heeney made 127 tackles with two forced fumbles, a fumble recovery and an interception as a senior and was an all-conference first-team selection.

In the pros: Heeney’s rookie year was his most active in the NFL as he played in 15 games and even started three for Oakland, recording 38 tackles, 2.5 sacks and a forced fumble. He later spent time in New Orleans and Houston but had to undergo season-ending ankle surgery in the 2018 preseason with the Texans. Heeney played for the New York Guardians in the XFL in 2020.

photo by: AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez

San Francisco 49ers’ JaCorey Shepherd (38) runs against the Seattle Seahawks during an NFL football game in Santa Clara, Calif., Sunday, Jan. 1, 2017.

JaCorey Shepherd (2015, sixth round, 191st overall, Philadelphia Eagles)

At KU: After starting his career as a wide receiver, Shepherd came into his own on the defensive side of the ball. In his final two years with the Jayhawks, he intercepted five passes, recovered two fumbles and forced one more; he was also a standout kick returner.

In the pros: Shepherd tore his ACL in training camp his first season in Philadelphia and got released midway through his second. Shepherd’s former coach Chip Kelly brought him to the San Francisco 49ers, where he returned 21 kicks for an average of 21.7 yards. He spent brief stints with the Pittsburgh Steelers and then the Birmingham Iron of the Alliance of American Football.

photo by: AP Photo/Adrian Kraus

Buffalo Bills wide receiver Zay Jones (11) makes a catch in front of Oakland Raiders cornerback Dexter McDonald (23) during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Oct. 29, 2017, in Orchard Park, N.Y. Buffalo beat Oakland 34-14.

Dexter McDonald (2015, seventh round, 242nd overall, Oakland Raiders)

At KU: McDonald left KU to attend Butler Community College, then returned to Lawrence under a different coaching staff (Charlie Weis’). He knocked down 13 passes and snagged two picks his senior year.

In the pros: McDonald was the latest-drafted Jayhawk since 1991. He stuck with the Raiders for two seasons and then started six games his third, making 43 tackles. The next season he went on injured reserve with an ankle injury. He worked out with the Miami Dolphins the summer of 2019 but did not return to NFL action.

photo by: AP Photo/Peter Joneleit

Dallas Cowboys defensive end Dorance Armstrong (92) rushes the passer during an NFL football game against the Seattle Seahawks, Thursday, Nov. 30, 2023, in Dallas.

Dorance Armstrong (2018, fourth round, 116th overall, Dallas Cowboys)

At KU: As a junior, Armstrong became the first Jayhawk to receive preseason conference defensive player of the year honors and ended the year as a second-team all-conference selection with 63 tackles, though his two sacks were several steps down from 10 the previous year.

In the pros: Armstrong is the longest-tenured Jayhawk currently in the NFL and received a contract from the Washington Commanders in March. In six years with the Cowboys, he made 169 tackles with 23.5 sacks while starting 14 of the 93 games he played.

photo by: AP Photo/Emilee Chinn

Cincinnati Bengals offensive tackle Hakeem Adeniji (77) lines up for the play during a preseason NFL football game against the Green Bay Packers on Friday, Aug. 11, 2023, in Cincinnati.

Hakeem Adeniji (2020, sixth round, 180th overall, Cincinnati Bengals)

At KU: Adeniji started every game from as soon as he arrived in Lawrence in 2016, 48 games overall, a steady presence at offensive tackle for some rather unsteady KU squads under David Beaty and Les Miles.

In the pros: Despite getting drafted fairly low, Adeniji saw frequent action during his three years in Cincinnati, beginning with 15 games and five starts his rookie year. He tore his pectoral muscle during the 2021 offseason but started all nine games and then four more in the playoffs as the Bengals reached the Super Bowl. Adeniji played one more year in Cincinnati before he was released during final roster cuts in 2023. He didn’t receive much playing time for the Minnesota Vikings last season before signing with the Cleveland Browns in March.

photo by: AP Photo/Terrance Williams

Philadelphia Eagles linebacker Kyron Johnson (58) gets in position during the first half of an NFL preseason football game against the Baltimore Ravens, Saturday, Aug. 12, 2022, in Baltimore.

Kyron Johnson (2022, sixth round, 181st overall, Philadelphia Eagles)

At KU: Johnson played four years for Les Miles, then returned for a super-senior season in 2021 under Lance Leipold to serve as an undersized defensive end (listed as 6-foot, 231 pounds). He accomplished career highs in tackles (61), tackles for loss (7.5) and sacks (5.5).

In the pros: Converted back to linebacker, Johnson showed some value on special teams for the Eagles as a rookie. However, during his second season he was released and joined the Steelers. He is currently on Pittsburgh’s roster.

This story has been updated to reflect that Aqib Talib was drafted by Tampa Bay, not Denver.


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