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Most Crucial Jayhawks 2016: No. 21 - DE Anthony Olobia

The end of the first week of our summer series brings us to our first defensive veteran, Anthony Olobia.

Although Olobia has played just one season in a KU uniform, he has been in Lawrence for two seasons and is heading into his third after two standout seasons at junior college.

He might not carry with him the same type of familiarity as a four- or even five-year program guy, but he is older and more experienced than many of his peers and is physically mature and in better shape than ever.

His name figures to be called a lot this season and, after a strong spring, he looks to be running with KU's first string defense heading into the summer.

Reminder: This is not a list of the 25 best players on this year's team. That would be much easier to pinpoint and, while still key, would not exactly demonstrate the full value that each player has in regard to the 2016 season.

This is a list of the 25 players who need to have strong seasons in order for the Jayhawks to have a chance to compete.

Tom Keegan and I came up with the list by each making our own list of 25 and then combining the results. We did the same thing for the last two years, but the amount of fresh faces made this list much tougher to put together.

Track the list every weekday at KUsports.com, where we'll unveil the list one-by-one in reverse order. And, in case you miss some, be sure to check the links at the bottom of each entry for an up-to-date look at the list of 25.

Kansas defensive end Anthony Olobia (56) delivers a hit to Oklahoma State running back Raymond Taylor (30) during the fourth quarter on Saturday, Oct. 24, 2015 at T. Boone Pickens Stadium in Stillwater, Okla.

Kansas defensive end Anthony Olobia (56) delivers a hit to Oklahoma State running back Raymond Taylor (30) during the fourth quarter on Saturday, Oct. 24, 2015 at T. Boone Pickens Stadium in Stillwater, Okla. by Nick Krug

21. Anthony Olobia., Sr. Defensive End

It’s been long enough that some may have forgotten, but Olobia actually was one of those hyped-up Charlie Weis transfer recruits way back in 2014.

Ranked the second best juco defensive end in the country that year, and the 55th best juco prospect overall, Olobia came to KU with a fair amount of hype but saw that die down quickly after an immediate injury cost him the 2014 season.

Looking back, that may have been the best thing that could have happened to him because (a) it allowed him to better acclimate to college and Division I football, and (b) it gave him another year to develop his body in the weight room and learn in the meeting and film rooms.

Although he has yet to become the force that some hoped and expected he might, Olobia is trending toward being a solid rotation-type guy at D-End.

Battling with Damani Mosby — a player with a similar past and path to KU — at KU’s defensive end spots opposite promising sophomore Dorance Armstrong, the opportunity is there for Olobia to become a big part of the KU defense in 2016.

At 6-5, 239, Olobia is long and lean and has some noticeable strength to his style. He’s less of a speed rusher than Mosby and typically uses a variety of moves along with his strength to get to the quarterback.

In 12 games last season, including 4 starts, Olobia finished with 23 tackles, 4 for loss, 1.5 sacks and 2 quarterback hurries. Given his continual growth and development, along with what figures to be even great opportunity, doubling those backfield tackle numbers should not be considered out of reach for Olobia.

With Ben Goodman gone and Armstrong still learning and coming into his own, KU will be counting on the veteran status of Olobia both in terms of leadership at the position and performance on the field.

Top 25 Most Crucial Jayhawks of 2016:

No. 25 - OL Jayson Rhodes

No. 24 - CB Kyle Mayberry

No. 23 - OL Joe Gibson

No. 22 - WR Steven Sims, Jr.

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Most Crucial Jayhawks 2016: No. 22 - WR Steven Sims Jr.

It took a few days, but we've reached our first play maker on offense in this year's summer series that lists the 25 most crucial Jayhawks for 2016.

It's no secret that scoring points, snagging first downs and producing on offense has been a challenge for the Jayhawks during recent years, but it's athletes like sophomore wide receiver Steven Sims Jr., who have the Jayhawks hoping those days soon will be gone.

Reminder: This is not a list of the 25 best players on this year's team. That would be much easier to pinpoint and, while still key, would not exactly demonstrate the full value that each player has in regard to the 2016 season.

This is a list of the 25 players who need to have strong seasons in order for the Jayhawks to have a chance to compete.

Tom Keegan and I came up with the list by each making our own list of 25 and then combining the results. We did the same thing for the last two years, but the amount of fresh faces made this list much tougher to put together.

Track the list every weekday at KUsports.com, where we'll unveil the list one-by-one in reverse order. And, in case you miss some, be sure to check the links at the bottom of each entry for an up-to-date look at the list of 25.

Kansas wide receiver Steven Sims Jr. (16) throws up his arms after falling into the end zone for a touchdown during the Spring Game on Saturday, April 9, 2016 at Memorial Stadium.

Kansas wide receiver Steven Sims Jr. (16) throws up his arms after falling into the end zone for a touchdown during the Spring Game on Saturday, April 9, 2016 at Memorial Stadium. by Nick Krug

22. Steven Sims Jr., Soph. Wide Receiver

One of the few offensive bright spots from last season, Sims enters his sophomore year with even more confidence than he arrived with and experience to go with it.

At 5-foot-10, 176 pounds, Sims can give the impression that he’s one of those slot receiver types. But this is an athlete who can make plays all over the field, run all kinds of routes and go up and get the ball in traffic if needed.

Sims finished the 2015 season with 349 yards and 2 touchdowns on 30 receptions, all of which ranked second on the team. He played in 11 of 12 games, starting six, and really seemed to find his stride when fellow freshman Ryan Willis and his big arm and ability and willingness to take shots down the field took over under center for the Jayhawks.

Two of his biggest games of the season, in terms of receptions, came in two of Willis’ first four starts, when he caught nine balls over two games, and he capped the season with a career-high 58 yards in KU’s loss to K-State.

While none of those numbers will blow you away, the fact that Sims stood out as a player with longterm potential, especially against bigger, faster Big 12 defenses, paints those numbers in a different light.

Heading into 2016, with the freshman tag no longer buying him time, Sims will be counted on to increase those numbers and make even more of an impact. A big factor in whether that will be possible will be the performance of KU’s offensive line and quarterback(s?). But if those two units hold up, there’s no reason to think that Sims can’t take a significant step in his development.

Add to that the fact that the Jayhawks are expected to run more of a true Air Raid offense with David Beaty calling the plays — think more opportunities to make plays in space — and that Sims should benefit from the presence of former Texas A&M receiver LaQuvionte Gonzalez drawing attention from opposing defenses, and it’s easy to see Sims improving upon all three of those major statistical numbers and becoming a bona fide weapon for the Kansas offense.

In order to do it, though, he’ll have to remain consistent. With so many receivers on the roster and Beaty proving that he’s willing to play whichever player “earns it” week in and week out, Sims’ numbers will only rise if he puts in the work during the week to get those opportunities on Saturdays.

Top 25 Most Crucial Jayhawks of 2016:

No. 25 - OL Jayson Rhodes

No. 24 - CB Kyle Mayberry

No. 23 - OL Joe Gibson

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Most Crucial Jayhawks 2016: No. 25 - OL Jayson Rhodes

Each summer, across the country, football fans spend time watching, waiting and anticipating the arrival of another college football season. And while that might not always be a favorite pastime of KU fans, many still get sucked in to the journey.

Will this be a better season? Is this the year that things finally get going in the right direction? Will Kansas at least be competitive therein making Memorial Stadium on Saturdays in the fall the place to be instead of a place to avoid? All are common questions KU fans wrestle with every year.

So in order to help you predict the answers to those questions and more, we set out to pinpoint the 25 players that could make the biggest impact for the Jayhawks this fall.

Big seasons from these guys — be them in the form of yards and touchdowns or just consistency and perhaps overachieving — could go a long way toward increasing KU's chances at success during the upcoming season.

This is not a list of the 25 best players on this year's team. That would be much easier to pinpoint and, while still key, would not exactly demonstrate the full value that each player has in regard to the 2016 season.

This is a list of the 25 players who need to have strong seasons in order for the Jayhawks to have a chance to compete.

Tom Keegan and I came up with the list by each making our own list of 25 and then combining the results. We did the same thing for the last two years, but the amount of fresh faces made this list much tougher to put together.

Remember, this is not an exercise designed to identify KU's best players but an attempt to pinpoint which players, with strong seasons, could have the biggest impact for Kansas this fall.

Track the list every weekday at KUsports.com, where we'll unveil the list one-by-one in reverse order.

Kansas offensive lineman Jayson Rhodes (65) picks himself off the ground after falling down laughing while fellow lineman field kickoffs during the Spring Game on Saturday, April 9, 2016 at Memorial Stadium.

Kansas offensive lineman Jayson Rhodes (65) picks himself off the ground after falling down laughing while fellow lineman field kickoffs during the Spring Game on Saturday, April 9, 2016 at Memorial Stadium. by Nick Krug

25. Jayson Rhodes, Jr. Offensive Lineman

Rhodes is a good one to kick off this summer’s series with because he represents a couple of key aspects of the KU football program at this point in time. One, through hard work in the weight room and with the strength coaches, Rhodes has reworked his body and is in the best shape of his career, a move that allowed him to slide into the starting left guard spot throughout the spring.

Two, Rhodes plays offensive line and there’s no question that the most important position for the Jayhawks this fall will be the big bodies up front. Not only will they need to keep carving out holes for the Kansas running backs, but they also, and more desperately, have to keep opposing defenders off of KU’s quarterback if the Jayhawks hope to be competitive in 2016.

The 6-foot-4, 311-pound Rhodes is well equipped to do just that. Even with his former physique, which featured more fat, less muscle mass and more bad weight, he showed good feet and solid athleticism, especially for a man his size. Now, with a more efficient frame and a new home at guard instead of on the outside against speed rushers, Rhodes can use those feet and his newfound strength to move bodies and get up the field.

The communications major who is minoring in sociology played in just three games a season ago but, all of a sudden, has the look of a guy who believes he will be a 12-game starter.

That kind of swagger can become contagious and, on an offensive line that is starting to develop some depth and could benefit from positional competition as much as any spot on the roster, that attitude carried by Rhodes and others can only mean good things for the Jayhawks in 2016 and beyond.

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If you could change the outcome of one KU game in history, which would you pick?

Kansas head coach Bill Self walks the sideline during the second half of KU's loss to Virginia Commonwealth Sunday, March 27, 2011 at the Alamodome in San Antonio.

Kansas head coach Bill Self walks the sideline during the second half of KU's loss to Virginia Commonwealth Sunday, March 27, 2011 at the Alamodome in San Antonio. by Mike Yoder

I recently saw something on Deadspin that seemed like it might be a good idea to bring to Jayhawk Nation.

The article, which ran last Thursday and was inspired by a Tweet from Grantland writer @SheaSerrano, was short and sweet and asked one simple question: If You Could Change Any Championship Outcome, Which Would It Be?

For KU fans, this might be easy, but there are more than a few options:

• The 1940 or 1953 title-game losses to Indiana

• Wilt's triple-OT loss to Carolina in 1957

• The 1991 loss to Duke in Roy Williams’ third season at KU

• The 2003 loss to Syracuse in Roy’s final game

• The 2012 loss to a stacked Kentucky squad in New Orleans

And that’s just basketball.

You might even throw a football game or two in there, most notably the 2007 loss to Missouri at Arrowhead that cost the Jayhawks the Big 12 North title and a spot in the Big 12 title game but wound up working out just fine.

And, if you want to take this a step farther and include games outside of just championship-type contests, the list expands big time.

What about Mark Mangino’s final game as KU’s coach at Arrowhead against the Tigers? Could Lew Perkins really have forced him out if Mangino had just knocked off Mizzou to secure a third straight bowl berth for the Jayhawks?

How about the loss to VCU in the 2011 Elite Eight? The road to Bill Self’s second title had opened up that year and the Jayhawks were loaded.

Heck, even last year’s loss to Villanova might be the choice of some of you.

Either way, I thought it was an interesting exercise and figured it would be fun to narrow it to just Kansas athletics and bring it to KUsports.com.

So what say you? Which KU game — in any sport — would you reverse the outcome of if you had a magic wand for one day?

Reply 77 comments from Harlan Hobbs David Kemp Garry Wright Lance Hobson Robert Brown Michael Brady Steve Jacob Brad Sherp Jayhawkmarshall Titus Canby and 38 others

Five Jayhawks who helped themselves the most during spring football

Team wide receiver Keegan Brewer (17) puts a move on cornerback Colin Spencer (26) and cornerback Nathan Miller (47) after a catch during the Spring Game on Saturday, April 9, 2016 at Memorial Stadium.

Team wide receiver Keegan Brewer (17) puts a move on cornerback Colin Spencer (26) and cornerback Nathan Miller (47) after a catch during the Spring Game on Saturday, April 9, 2016 at Memorial Stadium. by Nick Krug

It’s been a few weeks since the end of Kansas football coach David Beaty’s second round of spring football, but there’s still plenty to sort through in terms of what we heard and learned from the players and coaches this spring.

As the years have gone on, I’ve grasped a better understanding of the fact that we really don’t learn that much about a program during spring ball. Yeah, you might get to see a new addition to the program or check out the infant stages of a new offense or defense, but, for the most part, the hard work and the serious movement comes over the summer and during preseason camp.

Spring ball is just a time to jump back in, work on some fundamentals and see how much players retained from what you wanted to do last season.

That does not, however, mean that players don’t make themselves noticed and, from time to time, enjoy some serious strides in the spring.

Here’s a short list — in alphabetical order — of a few Jayhawks who did just that, at least the way it looked through my eyes.

• Jacob Bragg, sophomore Offensive Lineman

The third-year sophomore may very well have found a home on the offensive line and he spent most of the spring running with the first unit at that position. That’s good news both for the player and the program, because after his first couple of years in Lawrence, the once-highly-touted center was in danger of being passed over at his position of choice and falling into the category of another promising player who never panned out. With three years of eligibility still remaining and a home at his new spot (right guard), Bragg has a chance to more than pan out. Bragg played in 10 games a year ago and spent some of that time at both right and left guard, but he was not on the two-deep depth chart heading into the final game of 2015 and, with 10 extra pounds and much better mobility now appears ready to compete up front.

• Keegan Brewer, freshman Wide Receiver

I know I wrote about him a little this spring, but I don’t think you can say enough about the impact this Texan made. He’s lightning quick and also fast and appears to have great command of his routes and good hands. Beyond that, he also is extremely elusive. He plays at a deep position, but, with all of that talk last year about the Air Raid Offense using 8 or 9 receivers each game, you can’t convince me for a second that this newcomer is not one of KU’s Top 8 or 9 receivers. He’s going to play and I think he’ll be one of the more pleasant surprises in 2016.

• Tyrone Miller, sophomore Free Safety

For the most part, Miller is the same player he was a year ago. Like many Jayhawks, he added some muscle and improved in several areas in the weight room, but it’s not as if he suddenly grew four inches or switched sides of the ball. What he did do, however, is return to his natural position of safety, a move that should help both Miller and the KU secondary. Whether it’s Miller or senior Bazie Bates IV who starts alongside Fish Smithson at safety, the Jayhawks have upgraded the position — either through depth or a first-string stud — with a quality athlete who can compete with the athletes many other Big 12 programs send streaking down the field 60-70 times a game.

• Mesa Ribordy, red-shirt freshman Center

I remember Beaty first talking to me about Ribordy as an under-the-radar guy to watch this offseason. Evidently the offensive lineman who came to KU as a walk-on is very much on the radar these days. Everything I heard from a handful of people I talked to said that the 6-foot-4, 300-pound athlete was one of the better offensive linemen in the program this spring. He’s pushing for reps at center and also is versatile enough to play guard. His development is just one piece of good news at a position of major need with this team. And whether he winds up starting or provides quality depth at three different positions, Ribordy figures to be an important part of KU’s future and may be a factor as soon as 2016.

• Jace Sternberger, red-shirt freshman Tight End

Like a bunch of players in the program, Sternberger added some serious weight/muscle this offseason and now, at 6-foot-4, 236 pounds (up 11 from last year’s roster) looks like an absolute beast. The best part about the Oklahoma native’s new look is that it did not appear to do anything to his mobility, quickness and speed. Remember, this was a guy who also played D-End in high school and he is very strong and has some very good feet. We did not get to see much in terms of the way he was used in scrimmages this spring, but what little we did see showed a guy who I believe will be very active in this offense. He also looks like a dream to coach. During every drill I saw, when he was not the one running the drill, he was right there by the coach, waiting and taking instruction. What’s more, when they did show some live offense, he never strayed too far from Beaty’s side and Beaty always seemed to be looking for him. He’s not a true tight end in the way that Ben Johnson is so there’s room for both of them on the field and I think they’ll use Sternberger more like a hybrid H-Back/Tight End, which could be quite a weapon if the O-Line can protect the QB and those fast receivers can clear some room.

Reply 7 comments from Michael Maris Tim Orel Dirk Medema Jack Joiner Matt Tait Kent Gaylor

Denver Broncos add another former Jayhawk

Kansas defensive end Toben Opurum reaches up to touch the recently installed bronze Jayhawk outside the Anderson Family Football Complex before kickoff against McNeese State on Saturday, Sept. 3, 2011 at Kivisto Field.

Kansas defensive end Toben Opurum reaches up to touch the recently installed bronze Jayhawk outside the Anderson Family Football Complex before kickoff against McNeese State on Saturday, Sept. 3, 2011 at Kivisto Field. by Nick Krug

Denver Broncos’ GM John Elway’s love of former Kansas football players has been well documented throughout the past several years.

Dating back to the addition of former Kansas cornerback Chris Harris as an undrafted free agent in 2011 to the addition of linebacker Steven Johnson a year later and the signing of Harris’ KU running mate, Aqib Talib, via free agency, it’s clear that Elway appreciates what former Jayhawks can bring to the roster.

Tuesday, that list grew by one when the Broncos claimed fullback Toben Opurum off of waivers from the New Orleans Saints.

Opurum, a former KU running back under Mark Mangino who was switched over to defense by Turner Gill and his staff, spent the past couple of seasons of his college career playing the Von Miller role for the Jayhawks. Opurum improved each year but never fully got his footing on defense and switched back to fullback prior to the 2013 NFL Draft in an attempt to make a roster on offense.

It worked. After signing with the Kansas City Chiefs as an undrafted free agent in 2013, Opurum was picked up by the Houston Texans later that year and then spent 2014 and 2015 with the Saints. He cracked the active roster with both the Texans and the Saints and spent the rest of the time on the practice squad.

Opurum’s road to making the Broncos’ 53-man roster this summer figures to be a long one, but there’s no question that this opportunity represents his best shot to make and stick with an NFL franchise full-time.

Recent events indicate that Denver head coach Gary Kubiak is very interested in operating with a fullback full-time in the Broncos’ post-Peyton Manning offense. Expect the Broncos to carry one fullback on their final 53-man roster, and Opurum was brought in to compete with 2016 sixth-round draft pick Andy Janovich, of Nebraska.

Janovich may have the advantage in that Denver invested a draft pick in him, but Opurum brings to the table the advantages of NFL experience and the ability to lean on Harris, Johnson and Talib for a better understanding of what it takes to play for the Broncos.

What’s more, all of that adversity that Opurum battled through at Kansas could wind up serving him well now, just as it did Harris during his quest to make the Broncos’ 53-man roster. That time spent on defense should have him prepared to shine on special teams and everybody knows that the fastest way to make an NFL roster is to excel at your position and stand out on special teams.

It should be fun to see how Opurum fares, but there’s no doubt that this is his best shot at truly sticking with an NFL franchise. The fact that it’s with the KU-football-loving Broncos should come as no surprise.

Reply 6 comments from Michael Lorraine Lcjayhawk Pius Waldman Michael Maris

2017 Texas offensive lineman prospect Grant Polley de-commits from Kansas

Kansas University football recruiting

Kansas University football recruiting

While the Kansas University football coaching staff continues to mine the country for talent and send out offers to athletes in the Class of 2017 and beyond, one previously committed KU target has decided to go a different direction.

Class of 2017 offensive lineman Grant Polley, of Denton, Texas, this morning announced on Twitter that he was de-committing from Kansas.

"After further careful consideration, and many weeks of prayer I have decided to de-commit from the University of Kansas and open up my recruitment," Polley wrote. "I will not be entertaining any interviews concerning this as I just want to finish this school year strong, enjoy the recruiting process and focus on the upcoming season."

Polley, a 6-foot-5, 275-pound lineman who initially committed to Kansas last January following the commitment of fellow-Class-of-2017 lineman Jared Hocker, has started to receive more and more interest from several big-name programs, including Baylor, Oklahoma, Texas Tech and others.

Because his commitment to Kansas was merely an oral pledge, Polley is free to re-open his recruitment and, though it probably is not likely, could choose to re-commit to Kansas down the road.

Polley ranks as the 65th best prospect in Texas by Rivals.com and is ranked as the 39th best offensive tackle in the nation.

His change of heart leaves KU with three oral commitments in the upcoming recruiting class — Hocker, Dallas running back Dom Williams and Louisiana athlete Travis Jordan.

Reply 8 comments from Jim Stauffer Steve Macy Keithii Bville Hawk Dirk Medema Jmfitz85 Dale Rogers Matt Tait Stupidmichael

Former KU QB Jake Heaps getting another shot at the NFL

Do your best to hide your shock after reading this, but former Kansas University quarterback Jake Heaps is getting another shot at the NFL.

Earlier this week, Heaps revealed that he had signed a free agent contract with the Seattle Seahawks — his hometown team — and will attend minicamps and attempt to make the Seahawks’ roster or practice squad this offseason and preseason.

It’s a long shot, sure, but it is a shot and I’m well aware that many people — mostly likely many of you reading this — never believed that Heaps would do much after leaving Kansas following his junior season.

In reality, he didn’t, but you have to give the guy credit for continuing to chase his dream and play the game he loves.

After leaving KU, following one season as the Jayhawks' starter — as it goes around here lately, he was benched for the final three games of 2013 in favor of Montell Cozart — Heaps played his senior season at Miami, Florida, where he appeared in four games and completed just 6 of 12 passes for 51 yards while serving as the back-up to freshman Brad Kaaya.

That reality continued a trend for Heaps, who saw his production dip every season after his freshman year at BYU, where the former five-star QB began his promising career by setting several BYU freshman passing records.

That 2010 season, in which Heaps threw for 2,300+ yards and 15 touchdowns went down as easily the best of his college career. During his lone season at KU, Heaps threw for 1,410 yards with 8 touchdowns and 10 interceptions while completing just 49 percent of his passes.

Sure, Heaps’ ability was some of the problem, but the bigger issue, at least the way I always saw it, was KU’s inability to protect him and surround him with quality playmakers who could catch the football.

That’s not to put all of the blame for that poor offensive season on Heaps’ supporting cast. It definitely was a shared effort and both parties played a big role in the Jayhawks watching their struggles continue.

But I always thought both Heaps and Dayne Crist got a little too much blame for the KU offense's inability to produce. So it goes with the quarterback position.

Despite not playing much at Miami, Heaps received his first crack at pro football with the New York Jets. He made a couple of cuts, appeared in a preseason game or two and almost made the team. The reason? The guy can throw the football when the offensive line gives him time to do just that. He’s got a live arm and understands offenses very well. He’s just not that great at improvising on the fly and getting out of trouble, which makes Seattle’s decision to add him a head scratcher at the very least. Heaps’ skills in no way remind me of Seattle starter Russell Wilson, unless you’re talking about how both are quality young men with a serious competitive drive and passion for the game of football.

Regardless, it’s cool to see Heaps get another shot just the same as it was to see Crist get his crack at the NFL with the Baltimore Ravens after his rough one-year run at Kansas.

Both are great dudes who did all they could to help Kansas and truly committed to the cause while they were Jayhawks. Both also made some lifelong friends at KU and have nothing but good things to say about their experience here, even with the record and the stats not being what either of them hoped.

That’s the sign of quality individuals and that, along with his rocket right arm, probably has as much to do as anything with Heaps getting this second chance.

Best of luck to him and what a cool opportunity to try out for the team you grew up rooting for.

Reply 7 comments from Lucas Town Dirk Medema Matt Tait Steve Jacob Dale Rogers Texashawk10_2 Catsandwich

How this year’s draft impacts the Jayhawks in the NFL

Another NFL Draft has come and gone and, not so surprisingly, no Jayhawks were selected in this year’s seven-round draft.

That’s a far cry from a year ago, when three former Jayhawks — Ben Heeney, JaCorey Shepherd and Dexter McDonald — were drafted in the seven rounds.

As is the case just about every year, a handful of former Jayhawks who finished their college careers in 2015 were signed as undrafted free agents following the draft, so there is the possibility that the number of Jayhawks in the NFL could go up by the time August rolls around.

But going the free-agent route makes all of those guys longshots to stick so the better way to examine this year’s draft is through the lens of what the teams with Jayhawks did that might impact the former KU players already in the NFL.

The good news on that front is the answer, in just about every case, is not much.

Here’s a quick look.

Denver Broncos — The Broncos did pick up a pair of defensive backs in this year’s draft, but both were safeties and neither will threaten the status of starting cornerbacks Chris Harris and Aqib Talib. Let’s face it; even if the Broncos had drafted a corner, even that would not have threatened Harris and Talib, the former KU teammates who have become two of the top corners in the league and, in many eyes, the top cornerback duo in the NFL.

Denver's 2016 NFL Draft class.

Denver's 2016 NFL Draft class. by Matt Tait

New Orleans Saints — Former KU running back Toben Opurum has spent the past couple of seasons with the Saints, primarily on their practice squad and he appears to be doing enough in that role to keep his bosses happy. The Saints did add a running back in the draft but not until the final round.

New Orleans' 2016 NFL Draft class.

New Orleans' 2016 NFL Draft class. by Matt Tait

Oakland Raiders — The Raiders added two defensive ends and an outside linebacker, but none of those players should impact Heeney, who had a stellar rookie season playing inside and in the heart of the Oakland defense. The talk out of Oakland both immediately after the 2015 season and in the offseason sure made it sound a lot like the Raiders were thrilled with what they had in Heeney and that his role would only increase from here on out. This draft definitely indicates that. The Raiders also stayed away from the cornerback position, good news for Dexter McDonald.

Oakland's 2016 NFL Draft class.

Oakland's 2016 NFL Draft class. by Matt Tait

Philadelphia Eagles — I’ve heard nothing but good things about JaCorey Shepherd’s recovery from a torn ACL last preseason as well as the Eagles’ feelings on him as a big part of their future. The Eagles’ draft certainly would lend support to that claim. Phily did add a pair of DBs in the 6th and 7th rounds and one of them, Blake Countess of Auburn, seems to have some steal-type potential. But even at that, Countess seems more like a true cover corner and the Eagles were looking at Shepherd as more of a nickel back. All in all, in could have been worse for Shepherd and he has to be feeling good that the franchise did not feel as if it needed to use a high pick on a player in the secondary.

Philadelphia's 2016 NFL Draft class.

Philadelphia's 2016 NFL Draft class. by Matt Tait

Pittsburgh Steelers — Steven Johnson signed with the Steelers this offseason mostly because of the opportunity to not only make the roster but also impact the team. The Steelers added two linebackers in the draft — a sixth-round pick from Washington and a seventh-rounder from Temple — and it’s entirely likely that Johnson, who has spent time with the Broncos and Tennessee Titans after landing in the league as an undrafted free agent, will have to compete with those two players for a possible spot on the 53-man roster. Competing and being in that underdog role is nothing new for Johnson, so don’t expect him to shy away from the challenge. When I caught up with him at this year’s spring game, he seemed ecstatic about the opportunity in Pittsburgh and no doubt will be ready for the battle.

Pittsburgh's 2016 NFL Draft class.

Pittsburgh's 2016 NFL Draft class. by Matt Tait

San Diego Chargers — No safeties in the draft for the Chargers is excellent news for former KU standout Darrell Stuckey, who not only has entrenched himself as a key part of the Chargers’ special teams — he earned a Pro Bowl nod for that role two years ago — but also may be in line for more time in the secondary now that stud Eric Weddle, who mentored Stuckey, is no longer with the team.

San Diego's 2016 NFL Draft class.

San Diego's 2016 NFL Draft class. by Matt Tait

Tampa Bay Buccaneers — The Bucs added two cornerbacks but no safeties, which should inspire former Jayhawk Bradley McDougald to release a sigh of relief. McDougald has been rock solid for Tampa during his years with the franchise and continues to improve each season. He’s still young but now trending toward veteran status and seems to be a big part of their defense.

Tampa Bay's 2016 NFL Draft class.

Tampa Bay's 2016 NFL Draft class. by Matt Tait

There are, of course, a handful of other former Jayhawks still trying to hang around with this team or that team, but as for the players who have carved out key roles in pro football, this draft did not seem to hurt any of them.

One quick note about Tanner Hawkinson, who was drafted by Cincinnati and then spent time in Phily before getting picked up by Jacksonville... I saw Hawkinson before this year’s spring game, as well, and he said he was not completely sure what his future held. There’s no doubt that he could still make a roster, but his time in the NFL might have come to an end and he might have been a victim of not catching on in quite the right situation. We’ll keep an eye on it and see what he ends up doing.

Reply 2 comments from Brad Sherp Brett McCabe

Does the extra year of eligibility make it easier to move Montell Cozart?

For the past couple of years a lot of the talk surrounding Kansas quarterback Montell Cozart focused on what other position Cozart could play as much as it did on his qualities as a quarterback.

And given the Bishop Miege graduate’s elite-level athleticism, that type of chatter made perfect sense.

However, as things stood entering the 2016 season — spring football wrapped up last week — I was one of the rare people who still believed that Cozart, incredible athlete or not, actually served this team best as a quarterback.

After all, even though freshman quarterback Ryan Willis showed a ton of potential last season and appears to be poised for big things in the future, he missed most of the spring with an injured wrist and the rest of the position behind him is wildly inexperienced. Therefore, Cozart, even in a back-up type role, can still bring something of value to the roster as a passer. Besides, if he were to move to wide receiver, he’d be plugging himself into a deep and talented position and competing for playing time with teammates who have been running routes and catching passes their entire lives.

Those were my thoughts before Wednesday.

Kansas backup quarterback Montell Cozart watches the scoreboard against Baylor during the second quarter on Saturday, Oct. 26, 2013.

Kansas backup quarterback Montell Cozart watches the scoreboard against Baylor during the second quarter on Saturday, Oct. 26, 2013. by Nick Krug

But now, in the wake of the news that Cozart, along with fellow KU quarterback Deondre Ford, had been granted a hardship waiver that came with an extra year of eligibility, my mind is starting to go to that place that so many other minds already have been.

Should Montell Cozart switch positions?

Cozart himself was asked this question earlier this spring and, as much as the young man fancies himself a quarterback, he proved that he truly is a team player by saying he inquired about switching positions if that was what the coaches thought was best for the team. It wasn’t then. But it might be now. And that extra year of eligibility has a lot to do with it.

See, with just one year left, it would be tough for Cozart to fully make the jump from QB to wide receiver or DB or wherever else they thought he might be able to help. After all, even former Jayhawk JaCorey Shepherd, who went on to become a sixth-round draft pick of the Philadelphia Eagles, needed a full year and then some to make the transition from wide receiver to cornerback. And that switch is a much easier transition than going from quarterback to anywhere.

So that’s what is so intriguing about that extra year that Cozart now has at his disposal. If they make the move now, he could spend the summer, preseason camp and all of the 2016 season easing into the transition and then be ready to truly make some noise at his new position heading into next spring.

With young QBs Carter Stanley (red-shirt freshman) and Tyriek Starks (incoming freshman) in place and ready for action — along with Ford and Keaton Perry on the roster for QB insurance — the Jayhawks have the bodies behind Willis to give Cozart a shot somewhere else. Besides, it's not like he couldn't move back if something happened to Willis or the need popped up.

That’s not to say Cozart could not move at a faster pace and contribute in a different role as soon as the 2016 season, but the extra year takes some of the pressure off and gives him time.

The only thing left to do now is to figure out the best spot to move him and then pull the trigger.

Having said all of that, don’t count Cozart out of the QB race just yet. Willis did next to no throwing this spring because of that wrist injury and Cozart has never been anything but supremely confident in his skills.

Like it or not, there exists the real possibility that Cozart could be lined up under center for the first offensive snap of the season just as he was in each of the past two seasons.

The good news, though, is this: If he’s not, it now looks as if there’s time to find him somewhere else to contribute.

Kansas quarterback Montell Cozart.

Kansas quarterback Montell Cozart. by Nick Krug

Reply 7 comments from Doug Wallace Dirk Medema Michael Lorraine Humpy Helsel RXDOC Plasticjhawk Brett McCabe

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