Saturday, June 6, 2020

Michigan State football's Josiah Scott and Kenny Willekes selected in NFL draft

A 2020 Spartan NFL Draft guide

April 26, 2020
<p>Junior cornerback Josiah Scott (22) tackles a Tulsa wide receiver at Spartan Stadium Aug. 30, 2019. The Spartans defeated the Golden Hurricane, 28-7.</p>

Junior cornerback Josiah Scott (22) tackles a Tulsa wide receiver at Spartan Stadium Aug. 30, 2019. The Spartans defeated the Golden Hurricane, 28-7.

Photo by Matt Schmucker | The State News

Michigan State entered this weekend's NFL draft with the third-longest active streak of having at least one player selected, with a Spartan being drafted in each of the last 79 years.

Former Spartan defensive back Josiah Scott extended that streak to 80 in the 2020 draft after being selected No. 137 overall in the fourth round by the Jacksonville Jaguars.

It took until the seventh round, but defensive end Kenny Willekes was also picked up the draft as the No. 225th pick, sending him to the Minnesota Vikings.

While two Spartans saw their dreams fulfilled in the draft, several were left as undrafted free agents after seven rounds. These prospects were on many team's radars, and a number of them were signed just hours after the draft.

Here are the newest Spartans in the NFL and their new homes:

Josiah Scott

Scott was a three-year letter-winner for the Spartans, and left a season early to pursue his dream of playing in the NFL. The former Spartan cornerback told the media he's not worried about what round he was selected in, just that he was drafted at all.

"At the end of the day, my goal was to get in the league, and now it's time to stay in the league, that's kind of been my mindset the entire time,” Scott said, according to a transcript from the MSU Athletics Department.

“When you leave college early, you never know what to expect, I never filed for a grade or anything like that, I was kind of just betting on myself. Going in the fourth round is good with me, now, it's just time to work. There really isn't too much to it with me, it's just that I'm ready to work and I'm excited."

In Scott's final season at Michigan State, he started all 13 games, logging 55 tackles (second best in the Big Ten at his position) and a team-high three interceptions. The second-team All-Big Ten media selection is ready to contribute to the Jaguars any way he can.

“They said am I ready to go in the slot, (and) I definitely am,” Scott said in the transcript. “Definitely can contribute to special teams, and that's what they asked about also. I think that's what they're expecting of me, to go in and play nickel and special teams, and contribute."

Prior to the draft Scott didn’t have much contact with Jacksonville, but his toughness stood out for the Jaguars and he said he is happy with where he is heading.

“(Jacksonville) likes Michigan State guys and what they bring to the table with toughness, being able to tackle, cover, and just being an aggressive person, that's what they kind of liked from me," Scott said in the transcript.

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Kenny Willekes

Misplaced criticism on Willekes' athletic ability was put to bed on March 26, when he posted a video to Twitter promoting his athleticism. Willekes has been finding alternative ways to display his talent after all Pro Day activities were canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Willekes, a former walk-on for the Spartans, is familiar with being overlooked. It took until the seventh round for the Spartan to be picked up, but he told the media he's ready to go.

"Went through the same thing walking on at Michigan State University, you know, I'm no stranger to adversity, I'm no stranger to hard work," Willekes said in a video on the Vikings' website. "It doesn't matter to me where I get picked, whatever team picks me, whatever team takes a chance on me, I'm gonna be all in. I'm gonna be ready to work."

The 2019 Burlsworth Trophy winner, awarded for the nation's top former walk-on, and team captain had a prolific college career after starting as a walk-on. He was a two-time first team All-Big Ten selection and recorded 229 career tackles, ranking fourth-most for defensive linemen in Spartan history. In his final year he eclipsed the school record with 51 career tackles for loss, and set himself third in history for sacks with 26. He now turns his attention to the Vikings' edge.

"The Vikings have had a great (defensive) line over the past few years," Willekes said. "They're always one of the better defensive lines in the NFL and I'm excited to play for them."

The Undrafted

While Scott and Willekes were picked up in the seven rounds, several Spartan prospects never heard their name from NFL commissioner Roger Goodell's mouth.

Some of these Spartan undrafted free agents were signed just hours after the draft ended.

All-Big Ten Linebacker Joe Bachie, a two-year captain, was signed by the New Orleans Saints after the draft concluded. Bachie's stock fell after he failed a drug test halfway into his senior season.

Interior defensive linemen Raequan Williams and Mike Panasiuk both signed after the draft.

Williams, a two-time AP All-Big Ten selection is heading to the Philadelphia Eagles.

Panasiuk, a four year letter-winner with over 100 tackles in his four-year college career, is playing in the NFL's newest city: Las Vegas, home of the former Oakland Raiders.

After an injury put him out for four games during his senior year, senior receiver Darrell Stewart Jr. set career highs in receiving yards and touchdowns. Stewart Jr. was added to quarterback Aaron Rodgers' arsenal as a Green Bay Packer after the draft.

Receiver Cody White left the Spartans early, coming off a junior season where he logged 66 receptions, 922 receiving yards and a career-high seven touchdown grabs. White decided to test the waters in the draft and did not get selected, but joined the Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs, where he will join a wide receiver room featuring former Spartan Felton Davis III.

Captain and quarterback Brian Lewerke went undrafted through the seven rounds, but may have found himself in the most desirable position out of any of the Spartans headed to the NFL. Lewerke signed a deal with the New England Patriots, a Tom Brady-less New England Patriots, who have no clear starter.

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