Football. Is. Finally. Back.
The kickoff of Sunday's Hall of Fame game signaled that football season is finally upon us. Don't get me started on the actual concept of that game, though. The last thing NFL teams want is another preseason game, and NBC apparently would rather interview the inductees than show live clips of the game. Don't get me wrong, I love guys like Tim Brown and the Bus, but I'd much rather watch 3rd string quarterbacks throw ducks to 7th round picks against practice squad defenses.
All jokes aside, the preseason is actually a critical time of year for players across the NFL. Late-round draft picks and undrafted free agents get a chance to show they belong on an NFL roster, and practice squad/third stringers have an opportunity to move up the depth chart. The NFL is often given the moniker "Not For Long", and this is especially applicable to the aforementioned players.
How does this have anything to do with the Cyclones, you may be wondering? Well, for the past five or so years, many former Iowa State players have found themselves among this group of players fighting to keep their football dreams alive. The Rhoads era, while it has not produced many draft picks, has still managed to send quite a few players on to the next level. In my opinion, part of this is due to the way the NFL Draft is conducted. Players often fall entire rounds because of a bad pro day, because Jon Gruden doesn't think a guy is smart enough to learn the playbook ("Spider 2Y Banana, I love that play man!"), or even because of answers given to teams during the interview process. If you don't believe me on the last one, run an interweb search for Eli Herring. Seriously, do it.
Personally, my favorite parts of the draft are: The fans booing Roger Goodell, watching the Raiders make yet another bizarre draft pick, and the NFL Draft drinking games that pop up every year.every year.
But I digress. Regardless of the reasons, the preseason ends up being in important time for many former Cyclone players, as it gives them an opportunity to prove they belong on an NFL roster. Let's take a look at the Cyclones currently in the NFL, how they got there, and what the 2015-16 season (and preseason) means for them.
Ahtyba Rubin: Though Rubin didn't play for Paul Rhoads, he has put together a pretty remarkable career as a defensive linemen. Drafted in the 6th round in 2008, Ahtyba started 75 games for the Cleveland Browns (Wait, they still have a team? News to me), and has become a productive defensive linemen. After joining the Seahawks during the offseason, this season could be an important one, as he is battling for a starting spot on a team coming off of a gut-wrenching Super Bowl loss.
Kelechi Osemele: Osemele was an absolute beast in college, and has carried his abilities over to the NFL. Drafted in the second round (60th overall), KO has started almost every game at guard for Baltimore, won a Super Bowl, and has frequently been named as one of the best guards in football. Injuries plagued him at Iowa State, and this issue has also carried over to the pros. Regardless, KO is a monster of a dude, and many feel he has yet to reach his full potential with the Ravens.
Leonard Johnson: Johnson, who had a terrific college career, went undrafted after his senior season in 2012. This came as a surprise to most, as he made some key plays in big moments for the Cyclones that year (Remember his defense on Justin Blackmon on that fateful November evening in 2011?). Johnson signed with his hometown Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and has since gone on to amass 148 tackles, force five fumbles, and record five interceptions in his three seasons in the NFL. He continues to be a key figure in the Tampa secondary, and is battling for more playing time, as he served as a rotational corner this past season.
Carter Bykowski: No offense to Carter, but I was never entirely sure how he got drafted. After being a decent offensive lineman for the Cyclones, he was drafted in the 7th round (246th overall), which is in Mr. Irrelevant territory. I actually can't believe Iowa State's never had the last pick in the NFL draft, as that seems like a very ISU thing to do. His time in the NFL has consisted of being on the practice squads for both the 49ers and the Vikings. According to ESPN 1500, he is actually predicted to make the Vikings roster for the upcoming season. A solid preseason could make that prediction come true.
A.J. Klein: One of ISU's bash brothers at linebacker, Klein had an outstanding career at Iowa State. Though he wasn't highly touted out of high school, the Wisconsin product ended up drafted in the 5th round by the Carolina Panthers in 2013. He has played in nearly every game since being drafted, and has made a few starts as well. This season finds Klein battling for a starting spot at OLB, and his performance last season should earn him more playing time. (He also looks like Tyler Hubbard from Florida Georgia Line, whom I absolutely despise).
Jeremiah George: George, who earned a First-Team All-Big-12 selection in 2013, was drafted in the 5th round of the 2014 draft by the New York Jets. Though he is undersized for the linebacker, his style of play mimics a bowling ball of muscle and grit. He played in six games for the
Los Angeles Jacksonville Jaguars, and is looking to earn more playing time in 2015.
Jake Knott: It's impossible to not love Jake Knott. The guy played his heart out for the Cyclones, including playing the last game of his collegiate career with a severely injured shoulder. The dude literally played with one arm. And won Big 12 Defensive Player of the Week honors. Legen.... Wait for it.... Dary. Though Jake wasn't drafted, he has spent time with both the Philadelphia Eagles and the Miami Dolphins. Though a four game suspension for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy (seriously, who hasn't violated that thing) has hindered his career, Jake is looking at signing with a team for the upcoming season.
Josh Lenz: Lenz, who also went undrafted, has spent time on the practice squads of four different NFL teams. Primarily used as a punt returner, Lenz has seen plenty of preseason action at wide receiver as well. He currently resides on the roster of the Cleveland Browns, and has reportedly had a great offseason. A solid preseason could lead to big things for the native Iowan (Dubuque).
E.J. Bibbs: How this guy did not get drafted is a mystery to me. Bibbs was known as one of the best tight-ends in football throughout his collegiate career, and he racked up some impressive highlights along the way (seriously, check them out: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eya-AoUGv5Y). Despite not being drafted, he was signed by the Cleveland Browns, and has been turning heads all summer. He is projected to not only make the roster, but to earn some serious playing time this fall.
David Irving: Where does one begin the discussion on David Irving? Brought in to be a stalwart on the defensive line, Irving spent most of his time in high school playing basketball. His size (6-foot-7, 272 pounds) and incredible athletic ability (4.84-second 40-yard dash and 38-inch vertical), made him an instant contributor for the Cyclones. That is, until VEISHEA (Rest In Peace), happened. Irving was suspended for his involvement in the riots in the spring of 2014, and his career seemed to be derailed. Despite all that, he earned workouts with several teams, and was eventually signed by the Kansas City Chiefs as a priority free agent. What will David Irving's legacy be? Will he be remembered for that fateful April night in 2014, or for his tremendous ability and potential?
Tom Farniok: Quiz time: What two positions are the most important on offense? If you know anything about football, you should have answered "quarterback and center". Tom Farniok was a warrior and leader throughout his ISU career, and when he was off the field, his absence was felt immediately. He signed with the Minnesota Vikings, and should earn plenty of preseason playing time, though he is a bit undersized at the center position. Can he stick on an NFL roster? Stay tuned...
Deon Broomfield: Broomfield, who had a very solid career as a Cyclone, was signed by the Buffalo Bills as a undrafted free-agent in 2014. Though he has yet to play in an NFL game, Deon has good size and speed for the safety position. The preseason could prove vital to his chances to stick on the Bill's roster.
As you can see, it's not difficult to find meaning in otherwise boring and often ignored preseason football. The starters don't stay on the field for long, and most of the league's best players watch from the sidelines. These games, however, are often how teams make important, impactful decisions that determine the fate of many young players. Some of these players just happen to be Cyclones.
The beauty of professional sports is that while most people cheer for a specific team, or hop on the bandwagon of the latest Super Bowl winner (I'm looking at you, Patriots fans), it's easy to follow individual players as well. The NBA is practically based on this concept. So as you're cheering for your favorite team, whether it be the Vikings (It's not easy being a fan, trust me), the Cowboys (Nobody likes you. Literally no one.), or the Bills (Hang in there, I hear the winters in Toronto are lovely) feel free to cheer for the players who once donned the Cardinal and Gold.
Editor's Note: CYHusker is one of our newest writing recruits. His username may be alarming, but you'll understand why he picked it when we run our introduction piece for the newbies. We hope you enjoyed his first article as a member of the staff!