SCOOBA – As the National Football League prepares to kick off the 2020 season this week, a total of 11 former East Mississippi Community College players will be listed among the NFL's 32 team rosters.
Veteran defensive standouts Za'Darius Smith (Green Bay Packers), Denico Autry (Indianapolis Colts), Jarran Reed (Seattle Seahawks), D.J. Jones (San Francisco 49ers) and Dakota Allen (Jacksonville Jaguars) will be joined by rookie offensive lineman Tyre Phillips (Baltimore Ravens) to give the EMCC Lions six former players included among the initial 53-man, season-opening NFL rosters.
Former EMCC players also occupy four practice squad spots and another will begin the 2020 season on the injured reserve list. Brian Cole II, a defensive back who was selected in the seventh round of April's NFL Draft by the Minnesota Vikings, and fellow rookie Kirk Merritt, an undrafted wide receiver out of Arkansas State, are teammates on the Miami Dolphins' practice squad. Veteran quarterback Chad Kelly is with Autry on the Colts, while defensive lineman Chauncey Rivers, another undrafted free agent, has joined Phillips on the Ravens. In addition, converted wide receiver John Franklin III will start the season on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' IR list.
When training camps opened this summer, East Mississippi had a total of 14 former players competing in preseason practices. However, wide receiver Damion Willis (Cincinnati Bengals & Cleveland Browns), defensive back C.J. Reavis (Atlanta Falcons) and offensive lineman Avery Gennesy (Tennessee Titans) were waived prior to this past weekend's final cuts.
Additionally for EMCC, former NFL free agents Ronald Ollie, a defensive lineman, and Raphael Leonard, a wide receiver, are presently listed on Canadian Football League rosters with the Toronto Argonauts and BC Lions, respectively. The 2020 CFL season has been cancelled due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
EMCC is currently represented by seven defensive players and four offensive performers in the NFL. Entering the 2020 season, current pro starters and former SEC defensive standouts Smith, Autry, Reed and Jones have combined for 18 years of NFL service while having appeared in 242 total games (138 pro starts) between them with 72.5 quarterback sacks collectively.
Smith was named to last year's NFL Pro Bowl after posting a career-high 55 tackles and ranking sixth in the NFL with 13.5 sacks during his first season with the Green Bay Packers. The former University of Kentucky standout, who played his first four pro seasons with the Baltimore Ravens, has compiled 173 career tackles (32 sacks) in 74 games played (32 starts).
Autry owns the most NFL seniority among EMCC's current pro veterans and has registered 153 total tackles (23 sacks) in 82 career games played (43 starts). The Mississippi State product is beginning his third season with the Indianapolis Colts after spending four years with the Oakland Raiders.
Reed is set to begin his fifth season with the Seattle Seahawks since being selected in the second round of the 2016 NFL Draft out of the University of Alabama. He has started 47 of his 56 career NFL games played with 148 total tackles, including 15.5 quarterback sacks.
In his fourth year with the reigning NFC Champion San Francisco 49ers, Jones, out of Ole Miss, started all 11 games in which he appeared last season before injuring an ankle and missing Super Bowl LIV.
With former Mississippi State and EMCC teammates Phillips and Cole being respectively selected in the third and seventh rounds of the 2020 NFL Draft, the EMCC Lions have now had two players chosen in the same draft twice during the past four years. In 2017, Jones went in the sixth round to the 49ers while Kelly, also out of Ole Miss, was the NFL's "Mr. Irrelevant" pick as the league's final draft selection by the Denver Broncos. East Mississippi has now had a total of eight players selected in the annual NFL Draft during the past eight years under Coach Buddy Stephens' guidance.
BY: David Rosinski | Sports Information Director
East Mississippi Community College