It’s Getting More Difficult to Find CU Buffs on NFL Rosters

As the National Football League regular season came to a close, there were ten Colorado Buffaloes on NFL rosters. That number represents a decades-low head count for the program, with the decline in Buffs advancing to the professional ranks the natural consequence for a program which has posted ten straight losing seasons.

Before we get to some good – or at least better – news, let’s do the numbers.

The decline of the number of former Buffs playing in the NFL in recent years is a straight line:

2009 … 22 Buffs in the NFL

2010 … 18

2011 … 15

2012 … 14

2013 … 12

2014 … 10

Once upon a time, Colorado was a fixture amongst the top 20 schools in producing NFL talent. As late as 2002, the Buffs were in the top ten nationally, with 29 former players on NFL rosters at the end of that season. Between 1996 and 1999, Colorado was in the top four in the nation in former players on NFL rosters.

Another cold splash of perspective … As we know, Colorado finished the 2015 season with ten players in the NFL. Twenty springs ago, in the 1995 NFL draft, the Buffs had ten players taken in that draft alone, including five in the first two rounds (for history Buffs: Michael Westbrook, WR, No. 4 overall, Washington; Rashaan Salaam, RB, No. 21, Chicago; Christian Fauria, TE, No. 38, Seattle; Ted Johnson, LB, No. 57, New England; Kordell Stewart, QB, No. 60, Pittsburgh).

Overall, Colorado remains highly ranked nationally in all-time NFL draft picks. Colorado is fourth in the Pac-12, and 22nd in the nation, with 266 players selected. USC in No. 1 in the Pac-12 – and the nation – with 493. Other Pac-12 teams in the top 30: No. 15. UCLA (303); No. 17 Washington (285); No. 27 Stanford (249); No. 30 Arizona State (239).

On the upside, six of the ten former Buffs who played in the NFL this past season did make the playoffs … offensive tackle David Bakhtiari and kicker Mason Crosby for the Green Bay Packers; defensive end Will Pericak and wide receiver Paul Richardson for the Seattle Seahawks; offensive tackle Tyler Polumbus for the Denver Broncos; and offensive tackle Nate Solder for the New England Patriots (center Daniel Munyer has been an on-again/off-again member of the Kansas City Chiefs).

The problem for Colorado fans is that, other than kicker Mason Crosby, it’s hard to pick out any of the former Buffs during the game (Paul Richardson has been hurt for most of his two year career, with only one catch – a 40-yarder – the entire 2015 campaign).

In fact, other than a handful of wide receivers (Richardson, Scotty McKnight, Tony Clemons) and tight ends (Nick Kasa, Joe Klopfenstein, Quinn Sypniewski), the Colorado football program has had difficulty producing “skill position” players. The last running back taken in the draft from Colorado was Lawrence Vickers (6th round, Cleveland, 2006). The last quarterback? Koy Detmer (7th round, Philadelphia, 1997).

Still, the diversified list of former Buffs still putting on their uniforms gives Colorado a decent chance at collecting a Super Bowl ring in February. In the first 49 Super Bowls, former Buffs have collected … 49 Super Bowl rings, with Nate Solder the most recent last season with the New England Patriots.

Meanwhile, in the coaching ranks …

Even as the number of former Buffs playing in the NFL continues to dwindle, former Buffs are continuing to make strides in the coaching fraternity.

Four NFL coaches with Colorado ties made the playoffs this year:

– Eric Bieniemy – Running backs coach, Kansas City … former player, 1987-90; assistant coach 2000-02; 2010-11

– Tom Cable – Offensive line coach/assistant head coach, Seattle … assistant coach, 1998-99

– Moses Cabrera – Strength and conditioning coach, New England … assistant coach, 2010

– Vance Joseph – Defensive backs coach, Cincinnati … former player, 1990-94

With the coaching carousel of the NFL in full swing, several former Buffs have been receiving positive press …

– Kansas City offensive coordinator Doug Pederson has been considered for open head coaching positions, bringing about speculation that Eric Bieniemy might be promoted to the offensive coordinator position for the Chiefs:

“It’d be silly to look over the coaches and not mention the incredible job the Chiefs coaches have done at running back. John Dorsey took a flier on some guys he believed could make a difference, and Eric Bieniemy and company did an incredible job getting Spencer Ware and Charcandrick West ready for legitimate playing time. Next man up is only possible if a talented player is made ready, and the Chiefs’ offense didn’t miss a beat sans Charles.

Bieniemy served as offensive coordinator for two years at the University of Colorado before joining Reid’s staff as running backs coach. Is he ready for a much bigger role? Given his work with the Chiefs running backs this season, someone is likely going to give him a chance soon. The Chiefs might want to do so before losing him to another team”.

– Cincinnati assistant coach Vance Joseph has already received his promotion.

“The Miami Dolphins have hired Bengals defensive backs coach Vance Joseph as their new defensive coordinator under head coach Adam Gase.

“Joseph might have taken the same job in Denver a year ago, but the Bengals did not allow him to interview for the position that eventually went to Wade Phillips. Cincinnati didn’t have that option this year, as Joseph’s contract had expired after the season.

“A cornerback with the Jets and Colts for two seasons in the mid-1990s, Joseph has spent 11 years running the secondaries of the 49ers, Texans and Bengals.

“He has done an excellent job in Cincinnati, coaxing strong performances out of veterans such as Adam Jones and Reggie Nelson while also developing younger players such as Dre Kirkpatrick and Darqueze Dennard”.

– Another former Buff – whose season has already ended – received some very positive press this past week as well. Jon Embree (former player, 1983-86, assistant head coach, 1991-2002, head coach 2011-12) was being considered for Chip Kelly’s staff with the San Francisco 49ers, but decided to stay on as the tight ends coach with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. While Embree was having his named bandied about, Rand Getlin of the NFL Network asked one of Embree’s former players, 14-time Pro Bowler Tony Gonzalez, about Embree.

“The best thing with Jon (Embree) is just look at his body of work. He coached me and helped me to have some of the most productive years of my career.

“For me, personally, I got him during my 8th or 9th year in the league, and from the beginning, he was really innovative. He had so many creative ways he’d come up with to get me open. I’d never had a coach like that. He was basically like an offensive coordinator coaching the tight end position.

“Everyone in the locker room liked him, and that’s hard to accomplish in the league. He’s (eventually going to be) and NFL head coach, no questions asked. I’ve been around a lot of coaches in my 17 years in the league, and without question, he’s the real deal”.

In all, there were 11 coaches in the NFL this past season with Colorado ties … more former Buffs on NFL sidelines with headsets than helmets.  That might change this April, with Nelson Spruce, Kenneth Crawley and Stephane Nembot amongst the Buff seniors who are hopeful of having their name being called at the NFL draft.

With any luck, at the end of the 2016 NFL season, there will be a slight uptick in the number of former Buffs in the NFL. Perhaps, in just a few more seasons, we will be able to look back at the 2014-15 seasons as the nadir for Colorado players on NFL rosters.

We can but hope …



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