The Michigan State Spartans had two players drafted in the 2019 NFL Draft — Justine Layne in the third round to the Pittsburgh Steelers and Khari Willis in the fourth round to the Indianapolis Colts. Admittedly, I expected Layne to go in the second round, and I expected at least one more Spartan to be drafted. The Colts traded up to pick No. 109 for Willis, which is right around where I expected him to go.
Several other Spartans signed unrestricted free agent contracts and will get a chance to earn a roster spot if they are able to make an impression in camp. Felton Davis III (if healthy) should have a great chance in Kansas City, while LJ Scott should be able to crack the running back depth chart in Baltimore. Meanwhile Matt Sokol (Los Angeles Chargers) and Andrew Dowell (Dallas Cowboys) have an opportunity as well to make a roster or earn a spot on a practice squad.
So that leaves a few other names from the 2018 Michigan State squad that are still working toward a chance as a professional football player — whether that be in the NFL or another league. Most notably, linebacker Jon Reschke, defensive tackle Gerald Owens and offensive guard David Beedle.
In Reschke’s case, a poor decision and extensive injury history may have lowered his chances of reaching the NFL. We all know the story with him — In 2017, the MSU football program and the linebacker mutually agreed to part ways after he used a racial slur. Reschke was reinstated in 2018 (after a team vote) and had to earn back his teammates’ trust and respect.
Reschke found an unlikely source of support in former Michigan State star linebacker Greg Jones, who helped guide him on his path back to becoming part of the Michigan State football program. But in addition to all of this, Reschke has dealt with foot, shoulder and knee injuries. He completely tore his ACL and LCL during a freak accident at the beach. He was able to recover from all of this and got an extra year of college eligibility in 2018.
Reschke appeared in 11 games and made 33 tackles, including 6.5 for a loss. His NFL chances seem slim to none at this point, but he has the skills if he is able to latch onto a team and make an impact on special teams. He will of course have to once again earn the trust of his teammates if he is given the opportunity.
For Beedle, he may have the best shot of the three of getting a camp invite. While his play was inconsistent at times at MSU and he dealt with injuries in 2018, he appeared in 37 games for the Spartans with several starts. He was a third-team All Big-Ten honoree in 2017, and also named second-team All-Big Ten by Pro Football Focus. NFL teams can’t have enough big bodies in the trenches, and Beedle is 6-feet-5-inches tall and weights 333 pounds. If healthy, he could sign on as a late UDFA with a team and get a chance.
Owens is likely the longest shot of the bunch to crack an NFL roster. He actually came to East Lansing as a fullback before switching to the defensive line. A rotational player along the Michigan State defensive line, Owens was never really able to break through as a starter. He’s 6-feet-2, 310 pounds, so he has decent size to plug gaps and maybe play nose tackle, but he’s not much of a threat to collapse the pocket and rush the pocket from the interior as a three-technique down lineman (only 1.5 sacks in his career). All of that said, if Owens gets signed he’s certainly going to do whatever it takes to make an impact.
While the NFL may not be realistic for these players, there are other options such as the Canadian Football League, XFL or the American Alliance of Football — though the AAF has currently suspended operations and a return doesn’t look promising, though it is possible. If football does not pan out, hopefully these players were able to earn their degrees and can find professional careers elsewhere.
Good luck to all of the Spartans pursuing their professional football dreams!
PS: I was able to travel to Nashville this past week and experience the NFL Draft live. It was an absolutely incredible event to see in person and I would highly recommend it if you’re NFL fan, or if you just want to support Spartan hopefuls! I had an amazing time in Music City (and you know, celebrating my bachelor party festivities).