Ten D-III players make active NFL rosters

Andrew Franks had three field goals of 50-plus yards for RPI last season and five for his career.
Photo by Jeremy Brevard, USA TODAY Sports Images

By Pat Coleman

Ali Marpet’s spot in the league was basically guaranteed when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers drafted the Hobart offensive lineman in the second round. But the big surprise, or perhaps the big star of the D-III NFL rookie class is Andrew Franks, the All-American at placekicker for Hobart’s conference rival RPI. He had a great preseason for the Miami Dolphins and made their 53-man roster.

Franks was a perfect 3-for-3 on field goals, the longest at 51 yards, and 4-for-4 on extra points. He put eight of his 10 kickoffs in the end zone for touchbacks. Franks was a two-time first-team D3football.com All-America selection. (More about Franks' collegiate accomplishments.)

The Buffalo Bills weren’t very popular with Division III fans this preseason after they let go of longtime running back Fred Jackson, but there are still two D-III players on the Buffalo roster. Jordan Gay is back for another year as a kicker for the Bills. He primarily handled kickoffs last year and was 1-for-2 on field goals in the preseason with a 52-yarder. Alex Tanney was signed to the Bills’ practice squad after he spent the preseason with the Tennessee Titans, throwing for 221 yards and two touchdowns.

Jackson ended up with the Seattle Seahawks, where he is expected to be used primarily as a third-down back. He had a career-high 66 receptions last season for the Bills but got just 10 carries per game. The Bills were concerned with Jackson’s age – he is 34 and for perspective, he was a D3football.com All-American in 2002! He hasn’t taken as much wear and tear as the typical NFL running back because it took him four years to even get to the league, but 34 is old for a running back. Jackson joins Steven Hauschka, the successful Seahawks kicker who played for Middlebury in college (and did his grad work at North Carolina State). Hauschka was 31-for-37 on field goals in the regular season, with a long of 58 yards.

Jake Kumerow turned some heads in the Cincinnati Bengals camp this season. It wasn’t enough to make the active roster but the Bengals thought enough of him to keep him on their practice squad.

You may have missed it in the offseason, but former Mount Union receiver Cecil Shorts is now a member of the Houston Texans. His predecessor in purple, Pierre Garcon, remains a key part of the Washington offense, while Kyle Miller, who was a tight end contemporary of Shorts in Alliance, is a tight end for Chargers. Garcon has 413 career receptions and is entering his eighth year in the league. Shorts caught 53 passes in 13 games in Jacksonville last season. Miller hasn’t caught an NFL pass as of yet (he’s also seen time as long snapper) but opens the season as the backup tight end because of Antonio Gates’ suspension.

Jake Kumerow wasn't able to make the Bengals' 53-man roster but he still has a job and a chance to catch on.
Photo by Aaron Doster, USA TODAY Sports Images

Garcon isn’t the only D-III alumnus with Washington. Derek Carrier was traded to Washington in August and is on the Redskins roster. The Beloit alum had nine receptions last year as a tight end for the San Francisco 49ers, where he played in 12 games and started one.

Jerrell Freeman remains in Indianapolis, where he has found a home at inside linebacker with the Colts. He racked up 145 total tackles, 90 solo, for Indianapolis last season and had an interception and a forced fumble.

Marpet isn’t the only Division III rookie with the Buccaneers. Former Heidelberg receiver Donteea Dye is there as well. The second-team D3football.com All-American caught seven passes in the preseason.

C.J. Conway, a D3football.com All-America selection last season at cornerback for Montclair State, had a couple of notable performances in the preseason for the New York Giants and was signed to their practice squad.

You would have to be a true D-III football junkie, and perhaps an NFL junkie, to know about Jeremy Vujnovich. He’s a former offensive lineman for Louisiana College who is beginning his second year as a member of the Green Bay Packers practice squad. He was a senior and a second-team D3football.com All-Region selection for the Wildcats in 2013.

And then there are a few candidates not on rosters at the moment but worth keeping an eye on.

  • Former Delaware Valley wide receiver Rasheed Bailey was seemingly the toast of the town in the Philadelphia Eagles training camp and led the team’s receivers with 10 catches for 100 yards. But he was cut and then not signed to the practice squad. He is still working out and could catch on elsewhere.
  • Former UW-Whitewater quarterback Matt Blanchard was in the Green Bay Packers camp this summer and got a decent amount of time in the preseason, but was squeezed out because the Packers are pretty set at the position. He was 11-for-16 passing for 107 yards and has since worked out for the Jets.
  • Albion cornerback Chris Greenwood tore his hamstring in a preseason game with the Baltimore Ravens and took an injury settlement for the season.

With 10 D-III players on active rosters, and five on practice squads at the moment, Division III football has a decent place in the NFL

Dec. 14: All times Eastern
at Mary Hardin-Baylor 24, Mount Union 16
@ Woodforest Bank Stadium; Shenandoah, Texas
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Dec. 8: All times Eastern
at Mary Hardin-Baylor 31, UW-Whitewater 14
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at Mount Union 28, Johns Hopkins 20
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