Losing Touch

Nick Kasa is having a tough week.

This past week, the former Buff star was let go by the Oakland Raiders. It was not ESPN SportsCenter-worthy news, meriting only brief comment on the wires:

The Raiders have let go of a recent draft pick, waiving tight end Nick Kasa with a failed physical designation on Tuesday, per the NFL’s personnel notice.

A sixth-round pick in 2013, Kasa played all 16 games as a rookie, catching a nine-yard TD pass in the season finale. However, he missed the 2014 season with an ACL tear suffered in August.

Nick Kasa was the jewel of the CU Recruiting Class of 2009. A four-star defensive end from Broomfield, Kasa initially committed to the Florida Gators, but changed his mind and decided to stay in Colorado with his hometown Buffs, a move which was heralded at the time by a watershed moment for the Hawkins coaching staff.

Things didn’t work out for Hawkins, and Kasa’s career at CU was up-and-down as well. Kasa came to Boulder as a defensive end, but left as a tight end, showing enough potential to have his name called as an NFL draft pick.

Kasa may still catch on with another NFL team, which would be a good thing for the Buff Nation, as the number of players who play for the NFL with CU ties is dwindling.

At the end of last season, there were only nine former Buffs on NFL rosters. The number is so small that it won’t take long for a role call. In addition to Kasa, Buffs in the NFL included: offensive tackle David Bakhtiari (Green Bay); kicker Mason Crosby (Green Bay); long-snapper Justin Drescher (New Orleans); linebacker Brad Jones (Green Bay); offensive tackle Tyler Polumbus (Washington); wide receiver Paul Richardson (Seattle); cornerback Jimmy Smith (Baltimore); and offensive tackle Nate Solder (New England).

That’s it.

It hasn’t always been this bleak, of course.

There was a time (in the late 1970’s, surprisingly enough), that the University of Colorado had more active players (47) on NFL rosters than any other collegiate program in the nation. CU was in the top four in the country producing NFL-caliber talent from 1996-99, and remained in the top ten nationally in alumni in the NFL until 2002, when there were still 29 Buffs on NFL payrolls.

In fact, despite the recent dearth of NFL-caliber talent in Boulder, the University of Colorado remains 21st all-time (out of 125 Division 1 teams) in NFL draft picks, with 266, and 22nd in first-round draft picks, with 24 (if you are getting grief from your CSU friends over the Rams’ two draft picks this April, remind them that CSU is 77th on the all-time draft pick list, with 98, and 67th on the first-round draft pick list, with five).

The decline of Buffs in the NFL has been slow and steady as CU has endured losing season after losing season. There were still 22 Buffs on NFL rosters in 2009, with the number falling to 18 in 2010. By the end of the 2011 season, the number was down to 15, then down to 14 after the 2012 season. The decline continued in 2013, with the Buff alumni total slipping to 12, with CU falling into single digits at the end of the 2014 season.

The total of nine Buffs on NFL rosters is the lowest since there were only 11 Buffs active at the end of the 1986 season, and, with the success of the program in the 1970’s, likely represents the first single digit total for the CU football team since the 1960’s … a fifty year low.


What makes this decline all the more frustrating, of course, is the likelihood that a reversal is not coming any time soon. True enough, there were five Buffs from this past year’s senior class who are being given the opportunity to make NFL rosters this spring, albeit not as draft picks.

Greg Henderson has been given the best opportunity, signing on as a free agent with the New York Jets. Four other players – kicker Will Oliver, punter Darragh O’Neill, center Daniel Munyer, and wide receiver Tyler McCulloch – were all signed to participate in rookie mini-camps. While one or more of these former Buffs might make an NFL roster, the odds against them are long.

There are, of course, other former Buffs still trying to make the NFL as well. Five Buffs were waived last fall, and may be trying to make rosters again this spring: cornerback Jalil Brown, wide receiver Toney Clemons, guard Ryan Miller, defensive tackle Will Pericak, and defensive lineman Chidera Uzo-Diribe.

Then there is former defensive back Parker Orms. The former Wheat Ridge prep star has taken his talents to Italy, where he is playing football in Milan, still hoping to play in the NFL. “I want to play this game as long as I can because it has made me the person I am today,” Orms told the Daily Camera. “I’ve gone through adversity, pain, embarrassment but also I have experienced triumph, glory, and happiness.”

And what of CU’s current roster?

The CU pipeline to the NFL hasn’t completely dried up. Although this year’s senior class is small, there are some potential draft picks amongst them. Wide receiver Nelson Spruce will likely get a look in the NFL, and offensive tackle Stephane Nembot continues to have great potential. Other Buffs seniors who are a good senior campaign away from hearing their names called on Draft Day, 2016, include nose tackle Josh Tupou, running back Christian Powell, and defensive back Kenneth Crawley. Other seniors who may try and continue their careers in football include defensive tackle Justin Solis and defensive backs Jered Bell and Marques Mosley.

Not really a “sure thing” in the bunch, so it’s difficult to predict that the number of CU players in the NFL will be on the upswing in the near future.

As to the long term, Buff fans have pushed in all their chips on Mike MacIntyre and his staff. Upgraded facilities will certainly help in the recruiting process, but nothing will help recruiting as much as winning. Winning breeds better recruits, which produces more wins, which produces better recruits, which results in more wins.

Those better recruits then turn into better NFL prospects, and the number of Buffs in the NFL will again begin to rise.

It’s not a surprise that the number of Buffs in the NFL continues to dwindle. Nor is it a surprise that there is some lag time between the losing seasons and the bottoming out of the number of Buffs in NFL uniforms, with Buffs from successful years past finally retiring or injured or beat out by younger players.

Last year, for the first time in memory, CU had more former coaches (ten) than former players (nine) in the NFL.

That trend is likely to continue.

Just ask Nick Kasa …



One Reply to “Losing Touch”

  1. Yo Stuart,
    The average NFL career is somewhere between 3.3 (NFLPA) and 6 years (NFL), depending on the source. Since CU has not been a top team for much longer than that, it is not surprising that there are not many Buffs currently on NFL rosters.

    The Buffs have average less than four wins per season for a decade now and 2001 was the last time the Buffs won 10 games. It is cyclical. Back in the 90’s, lots of Buffs went on to play on Sunday. The Buffs have turned the corner on talent and will be improving on the field during the those Fall afternoon. In the years that follow, more Buffs will once again be making the jump to the big leagues.


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