Five Former University of Akron Football Players Sign NFL Contracts.
Though no Akron Zips were taken with the 224 selections in last week’s NFL draft, five players from the 2016 Akron football team signed professional contracts with NFL squads.
Wide receivers Jerome Lane Jr and JoJo Natson will remain teammates, as both signed with the Indianapolis Colts, defensive end Jamal Marcus signed on with the Cleveland Browns, defensive end Se’von Pittman signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and cornerback Larry Hope signed with the Miami Dolphins.
An Akron native, Jerome Lane declared for the draft following his junior season where he led the team in receiving with 1018 yards and also caught six touchdowns. In the 2015 season, one year removed from playing linebacker, Lane snagged 38 catches for 782 yards for an impressive 20.1 yards per catch average. Lane is the son of former Pitt and NBA basketball player Jerome Lane Sr., who gained national recognition when he shattered a backboard while at Pitt, spurring Bill Raftery’s famous “Send it in Jerome!” call. Jerome Lane will be joined in Indianapolis by Trey Griffey, who has a famous father of his own in Ken Griffey Jr..
JoJo Natson will join Lane in Indianapolis after the wide receiver spent one year with the Zips. Natson made an immediate impact on the team in 2016 following his transfer from Utah State, gaining 837 yards and catching 10 touchdowns while adding on two return touchdowns, including Akron’s only score at Wisconsin, the team’s first punt return for a touchdown in more than a decade. Before coming to Akron, Natson was a First Team All-Mountain West selection at Utah State, receiving for 504 yards for two touchdowns and ran back a pair of punt returns as well, good for third in the country. Natson remains tied for the all-time Utah State record for punts returned for touchdowns in 4.
Defensive end Jamal Marcus signed with the Cleveland Browns after battling injuries for much of the 2016 season, but when healthy, Marcus was a dominant defensive prowess for the Zips. In just seven games played in 2016, Marcus recorded 2.5 sacks and forced a fumble on 16 tackles, with 12 of those tackles and two sacks coming in the first three weeks of the season, before he missed 5 of the last 8 matchups of the year. Despite all the missed time, Marcus led the team with 6.5 tackles for a loss. In his junior season with Akron in 2015, Marcus was named Third Team All-MAC, recording 30 tackles, 12.5 TFL and 5.5 sacks. Marcus transferred to Akron from Ohio State, where he made a name for himself in the 2014 Orange Bowl game, where he had 6 tackles and a pass break up in Noah Spence’s absence.
Defensive end Se’von Pittman was also an Ohio State transfer, and signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as an undrafted free agent. In his Akron career, Pittman recorded 97 total tackles, four sacks and 14.5 tackles for a loss, though his production dropped a little during his senior year as he fought through minor injuries throughout, failing to record a sack and only recording one tackle for a loss as a senior.
Cornerback Larry Hope signed with the Miami Dolphins after a monster senior season where he had 48 tackles, eight pass break ups and an interception. The monster season showed when Hope was named the most improved defensive player following 2016 spring drills, and Hope showed up big for Akron in their surprising win over Marshall, where the senior recorded ten tackles, seven of them being solo tackles.
Though none were selected in the draft, look for each player to at least compete for a roster spot in the fall, and they are also in good company, as current NFL player and spot starter for Kansas City Justin March-Lillard went undrafted in the 2015 draft and remains an integral part of the Chiefs’ defense. Super Bowl Champion Chase Blackburn also went undrafted out of Akron and spent a decade in the NFL for the Giants and Panthers.