There have been a number of former Colorado State players that have gone on to succeed in the NFL, but historically, Fort Collins has not been a hotbed for next level talent. Players like Erik Pears, Clark Haggans and Joel Dreesen went on to have notable NFL careers, but in general, Joey Porter is the only name that rings a bell to the average football fan.
Over the past few years however, the number of Rams making it to the next level has gone up drastically. There are currently eight former CSU players on NFL rosters and one player on an NFL practice squad (Garrett Grayson, New Orleans Saints).
Most recently, Cory James (Oakland Raiders) and Rashard Higgins (Cleveland Browns) were selected in last year’s NFL Draft, and Deandre Elliott signed as an undrafted free agent with the Seattle Seahawks. These three all made their respective team’s 53-man rosters.
Of the three rookies, James has made the biggest impact one month into the season. The rookie linebacker has worked his way into the Raiders starting lineup and has exceeded expectations, performing at an elite level in his rookie campaign. James has led the team in snaps played in consecutive weeks, and in the Raiders’ win over the Baltimore Ravens last Sunday, James led the team in tackles (15) and forced a fumble.
Higgins has yet to make an impact in Cleveland, but after losing Corey Coleman to injury, Hollywood may have an opportunity to earn some playing time in the near future. Higgins looked good in preseason and Cleveland writers praised the former Ram throughout training camp for his soft hands and versatility.
Along with the three rookies, there are a few former Rams that are particularly performing at a high level. Shaquil Barrett has quickly become one of the most disruptive pass-rushers in the league and a staple of the defense for the Denver Broncos after originally going undrafted in 2014.
Barrett worked his way onto the roster in 2015 and in limited action, recorded 50 tackles, 5.5 sacks and four forced fumbles. With DeMarcus Ware currently out of the picture, Barrett is receiving an increased role in the defense in 2016 and the young linebacker is not disappointing. Barrett recorded his best statistical performance of the season against Tampa Bay last Sunday, recording six tackles, one sack and one pass-deflection.
Barrett is accompanied in Denver by former collegiate teammates Ty Sambrailo and Kapri Bibbs.
Sambrailo was selected in the second round of the 2015 NFL Draft, but missed pretty much the entire season to injury. In his sophomore season, Sambrailo has displayed versatility, playing guard throughout training camp/preseason, and switching back to tackle when Donald Stephenson went down with a leg injury.
After spending the last two seasons on the practice squad, Bibbs earned a spot on the Broncos 53-man roster this fall, beating out a pair of veteran running backs, including the team’s leading rusher from last year (Ronnie Hillman). Bibbs has yet to make much of an impact in the ground game, but the former Ram has excelled on special teams and has been receiving increased snaps on a weekly basis.
Richburg has developed into one of the league’s elite centers, grading out as the league’s 89th best player according to Pro Football Focus. Richburg has been a constant for a New York Giants offensive line that has struggled to stay healthy over the past few seasons. His toughness and tenacity makes him a defensive nightmare. Although his aggression cost him when he became the first player to be ejected for two personal fouls in week-three.
Along with Richburg, Gillmore has made a name for himself by being scrappy and relentless as a tight end for the Baltimore Ravens. Gillmore missed six games to injury last season, but still managed to record 33 receptions and four touchdowns in ten starts in 2015.
With so many Rams competing at the next level, the growth of CSU football over the past five years is evident. Sending players to the NFL is huge for recruiting and the general image of a division-one program. Moving forward, CSU will look to continue to send talent to the NFL and further expand the Ram brand.
Collegian sports reporter Justin Michael can be reached by email at email@example.com or Twitter @JustinTMichael.