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Spartans in the NFL: Where former Michigan State players stand after roster cut downs

Arizona State v Michigan State Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Over the weekend, NFL franchises had the tough task of cutting rosters down to the 53-man limit for the regular season. There were several former Michigan State Spartans on roster bubbles.

To be frank, roster cut down day did not treat most of these Spartans kindly, but with new practice squad rules in place —due to COVID-19 — allowing for up to 16 players, and another new rule that now allows for veterans with more than two years accrued in the NFL to be practice squad eligible, many former Michigan State players have found an NFL home for now.

  • Josiah Scott, cornerback: Scott made the 53-man roster for the Jacksonville Jaguars. He is the only rookie in MSU’s 2020 class to have made an active roster for an NFL team. He was also the earliest Spartan selected in April’s Draft, hearing his name called in the fourth round (No. 137 overall). The Jaguars have gone with a youth movement, trading away or releasing several veterans, and the cornerback position is particularly young in Duval, which could give Scott his chance to shine there. For now, he’ll play special teams and back up D.J. Hayden as the nickel cornerback, but will fill in on the outside if needed, too. Go Jags (but it’s going to be another tough year for my squad).
  • Joe Bachie, linebacker: After signing as an undrafted free agent with the New Orleans Saints in late April, Bachie did not do enough in training camp to convince the coaching staff to keep him on the team’s 53-man roster. He did, however, land a spot on New Orleans’ practice squad.
  • Andrew Dowell, linebacker: Similar to Bachie, Dowell was also waived by the Saints, and also similar to Bachie, is being brought back on New Orleans’ practice squad. Dowell originally signed with the Dallas Cowboys as an undrafted free agent in 2019, but later was signed to the Saints’ practice squad last November.
  • Bennie Fowler, wide receiver: Apparently Drew Brees vouching for Fowler was not enough to land him on the active roster, as Fowler was initially released by the Saints and skipped waivers (waivers is specifically for players with less than four years of NFL experience — Fowler first entered the league in 2014). However, the New Orleans Saints seem to love having Spartans on the team’s practice squad, and as you may have seen above, re-signed Fowler there.
  • Raequan Williams, defensive tackle: After signing as a UDFA with the Philadelphia Eagles, Williams had an uphill climb on a crowded depth chart. He was waived by the the Eagles during roster cut downs, but went unclaimed, and was widely expected to rejoin Philly’s practice squad. He has, in fact, been signed to the team’s practice squad.
  • Mike Panasiuk, defensive tackle: Williams’ running mate at Michigan State, Mike Panasiuk, was cut. He signed with the Las Vegas Raiders as a UDFA following the NFL Draft, and made an impression in camp. Surprisingly, the Raiders are reportedly unlikely to bring him back on the practice squad at this time, but he should get looks from other teams.
  • Brian Lewerke, quarterback: Lewerke was cut by the New England Patriots for the second time this summer. He cleared waivers, but surprisingly, is not currently part of New England’s 16-member practice squad (which at the moment includes two kickers). Lewerke originally signed as an undrafted free agent with the Patriots in April. The writing was on the wall for him after New England signed Cam Newton, though. Fellow Spartan Brian Hoyer made the 53-man roster, as the team will enter the season with Newton, Hoyer and Jarrett Stidham as its active quarterbacks.
  • Darrell Stewart Jr, wide receiver: After going undrafted, Stewart initially signed with the Green Bay Packers. Green Bay let Stewart go on Aug. 15. Stewart later signed with the Carolina Panthers. The Panthers have now opted to waive the wide receiver, and he is not part of the Carolina’s initial practice squad at this time. Stewart looks to catch on to a practice squad elsewhere.
  • Cody White: White was waived by the Denver Broncos. After somewhat surprisingly declaring for the NFL Draft after his junior season, White has bounced around on various offseason/training camp rosters. He was initially signed as a UDFA with the Kansas City Chiefs, but was waived in late July. He then had a short stint with the New York Giants that only lasted about a week, and then was signed by Denver on Aug. 23. The Broncos passed on adding White to the team’s practice squad. Hopefully he can catch on with a different practice squad.
  • Kenny Willekes, defensive end: Unfortunately for Willekes, his rookie season is over before it began. The Minnesota Vikings placed Willekes on the season-ending injury reserve list with a leg injury — possibly a torn ACL — prior to roster cut down day. Willekes was drafted by the Vikings in the seventh round (No. 225 overall) of the 2020 NFL Draft.
  • Matt Sokol, tight end: Sokol spent this training camp with his hometown Detroit Lions, but the Lions opted to only keep three tight ends on the initial 53-man roster — T.J. Hockenson, Jesse James and rookie Hunter Bryant. Sokol did not make Detroit’s practice squad, either. He will hope to land a spot on the practice squad with another team. Since entering the league as a UDFA in 2019, Sokol has also spent time with the Los Angeles Chargers and Jacksonville Jaguars.

Notable Spartans on active rosters:

  • Kirk Cousins, quarterback, Minnesota Vikings
  • Brian Hoyer, quarterback, New England Patriots
  • Le’Veon Bell, running back, New York Jets
  • Jack Conklin, offensive tackle, Cleveland Browns
  • Brian Allen, center, Los Angeles Rams
  • Darqueze Dennard, cornerback, Atlanta Falcons
  • Trae Waynes, cornerback, Cincinnati Bengals (likely to go to IR-Designated to Return list with pectoral injury)
  • Justin Layne, cornerback, Pittsburgh Steelers
  • Khari Willis, safety, Indianapolis Colts
  • Shilique Calhoun, outside linebacker/defensive end, New England Patriots
  • William Gholston, defensive end, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Other notes:

  • Joel Heath, nose tackle, Denver Broncos: Heath decided to opt-out of 2020 seasons due to COVID-19 concerns.
  • Tyler Higby, offensive lineman: Higby was released by the Minnesota Vikings on Aug. 9. No team has signed him since. Prior to his release, Higby was also placed on Minnesota’s Reserve/COVID-19 list in late July.