EAST LANSING — The NFL season kicks off tonight and 11 former Michigan State Spartans have made the opening week rosters.
There are also a few players on practice squads in Andrew Dowell (New Orleans Saints), Joe Bachie (Saints), Bennie Fowler (Saints), and Raequan Williams (Philadelphia Eagles).
Here are the 11 Spartans that will be on active rosters entering the 2020 season.
Brian Allen, Los Angeles Rams – Backup Center
Allen enters his third season with the Rams after starting all nine games in 2019 before suffering a knee injury that cut his season short. After a strong rehab and a battle with COVID-19 in the offseason, Allen looks to help the Rams bounce back after a disappointing 2019 campaign.
Le’Veon Bell, New York Jets – Starting Running Back
For the first time since Bell’s rookie season in 2013, he failed to reach the 1,000 yard mark in a season where he played more than 10 games in 2019. After signing a 4-year, $52.5 million deal during the 2019 offseason, Bell struggled on a Jets team that never really had a direction in their first season under MSU alum, Adam Gase.
Shilique Calhoun, New England Patriots – Starting Outside Linebacker
Calhoun was an elite rusher at Michigan State, but has struggled to break through at the professional level. After playing in 15 games for the Patriots in 2019, he moves into the starting role on a defense that was extremely good in 2019, but is going to be heavily relied on as the Patriots move into the post-Tom Brady era.
Jack Conklin, Cleveland Browns – Starting Right Tackle
The Tennessee Titans drafted Conklin in the first round back in 2016 and he stepped in and was phenomenal right away, earning First Team All-Pro honors as a rookie. He signed a three-year deal with the Browns in the offseason and will immediately step in to help bolster an offensive line that needs to improve in protecting quarterback Baker Mayfield.
Kirk Cousins, Minnesota Vikings – Starting Quarterback
Cousins may have finally gotten his first playoff win with the victory over the New Orleans Saints in the Wild Card round of the 2019 playoffs, but he still has his fair share of doubters. The Vikings are projected to compete for the NFC North title and a lot of that pressure falls on the shoulders of Cousins.
Darqueze Dennard, Atlanta Falcons – Backup Cornerback
Dennard joins the Falcons for the 2020 season after his first six years with the Cincinnati Bengals. He slots in as the backup corner, but should have the ability to contribute in his first season with the squad.
William Gholston, Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Starting Defensive End
Gholston continues to carve out a spot for himself on the Bucs’ defense, slotting in as the starting defensive end in his eighth season with the team. He played all 16 games in both 2018 and 2019, and all of the sudden has a chance to contribute on a team that has Super Bowl aspirations with quarterback Tom Brady at the helm.
Brian Hoyer, New England Patriots – Third-string Quarterback
Hoyer is the epitome of a journeyman quarterback. He has changed teams 10 times, and heads back for his fourth stint with the team that signed him as an undrafted free agent back in 2009. He will be the third-string signal caller behind Cam Newton and Jarrett Stidham.
Justin Layne, Pittsburgh Steelers – Backup Cornerback
Layne is one of two second-year players out of Michigan State that are on NFL rosters along with Khari Willis, and he hopes to make a strong leap in year two. He played in 10 games for the Steelers’ defense in 2019, and enters the year as the backup corner.
Josiah Scott, Jacksonville Jaguars – Third-string Cornerback
Scott is the only rookie on an opening roster with Kenny Willekes starting the season on the injured reserve for the Vikings. He is the third-string cornerback, but is ready to contribute and make an impact in his first year in the league.
Khari Willis, Indianapolis Colts – Starting Strong Safety
Willis had a very strong rookie season with Indianapolis and heads into the 2020 season as the starting strong safety. He appeared in 14 games in 2019, starting nine games and making 73 tackles at the back end of the Colts’ defense.
Zach Surdenik is a general assignment reporter for WDBM Sports. Follow him on Twitter at @ZachSurdenik.