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Baltimore-Area Talent Well Represented In 2015 NFL Draft

May 15, 2015

With the NFL Draft having concluded May 2, the doldrums of the NFL offseason have officially commenced. The only things separating fans from seeing the newest versions of their favorite teams in training camp are dull rookie practices and a handful of low-impact roster decisions for about the next three months.  

No matter, while fans get set to endure the dog days of summer, let's take a look at some of the local players who will challenge for playing time or roster spots come August. Here are the guys with Baltimore ties who were drafted or have since landed on rosters as undrafted rookie free-agent signees.

NFL Draft 2015: Kevin Johnson (Wake Forest)
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Brian Westerholt/Wake Forest Athletics

Kevin Johnson, CB, Wake Forest

The River Hill product was taken 16th overall by the Houston Texans after starting for three years in Wake Forest's secondary. A 6-foot cornerback, Johnson experienced a steady rise up draft boards that inevitably led him to being selected during the first round. He'll be tasked with adding some bulk to his 188-pound frame, but he should have time to do it behind current Texans starters Kareem Jackson and Johnathan Joseph.

"We are very happy for Kevin and his family," Wake Forest head coach Dave Clawson said. "Kevin has put in a great deal of hard work while at Wake Forest, and he and the coaching staff, and our strength and conditioning staff, have worked together to help Kevin achieve all his goals. He earned his degree in December, and now he will have achieved another goal of playing in the NFL." 

Johnson joins fellow River Hill and Wake Forest alumnus Michael Campanaro (Ravens) in the NFL. The duo powered the Hawks to consecutive Class 2A state titles in 2007 and 2008 before reuniting in Winston-Salem, N.C. Johnson earned second-team All-ACC honors in 2014. He finished his career with 190 tackles, seven interceptions and 35 pass breakups. Johnson is the fifth player of out Wake Forest to be selected during the first round.

Donovan Smith, OT, Penn State

After taking quarterback Jameis Winston with the top selection in the draft, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers selected Smith with the second pick in the second round (34th overall) to protect Winston. The Baltimore native earned all-state honors as a senior at Owings Mills in 2010 and went on to excel as a three-year starter in State College, Pa. According to reports, the Buccaneers have already notified Demar Dotson that he'll be moving back to right tackle to accommodate Smith. The 338-pound Smith projects to start at left tackle from day one in Tampa Bay.

"We are thrilled for Donovan to make this next step in his football career after graduating from Penn State in just three-and-a-half years," Penn State head coach James Franklin said. "He is very athletic and has great footwork for a guy his size. There are only so many guys out there that can be a true left tackle and protect the quarterback's blindside, and he is one of them."

Heading into the draft process, there were some questions about whether he should return to Penn State for another year, but Smith put those concerns to rest with a dominant performance at the Senior Bowl. There is little doubt he made the right call after being selected so high. He graduated from Penn State in December with a degree in criminology.

Adrian Amos, S, Penn State

While Calvert Hall's Amos was probably disappointed not to hear his name called until the third day of the draft, he landed on a team that desperately needs him. The Chicago Bears nabbed the Penn State safety with the sixth pick of the fifth round (142nd overall) after draft experts, like fellow Calvert Hall alumnus Mel Kiper Jr., tabbed him with a third- or fourth-round grade. Amos has already inked a four-year, $2.512 million deal with Chicago.

"Adrian has great size for a corner," Penn state defensive coordinator Bob Shoop said. "He's got versatility. During his college career, he has started as a safety, a corner, in the nickel and the dime. He has a great football IQ, and the fact that he has played for four defensive coordinators in college means he has seen different looks to the game. Chicago is getting someone who is going to work hard and be a special player for years to come."

Amos is probably best suited to line up at free safety in the NFL, which should see him in a competition with 2014 fourth-rounder Brock Vereen for the starting gig in Chicago. Amos could line up in the secondary with former Mount Saint Joseph standout Kyle Fuller. The Bears ranked 30th in the NFL against the pass last season, giving up 264.4 yards per game. Amos was the 2010 Baltimore City Defensive Player of the Year. His father, Adrian Sr., is a Baltimore police officer.

Issue 209: Maryland Terps Football 2014: Stefon Diggs
Photo Credit: Mitch Stringer/PressBox

Stefon Diggs, WR, Maryland

The Minnesota Vikings tabbed wideout Diggs (Good Counsel) with the 10th selection in the fifth round (146th overall) May 2. Diggs endured a volatile career at Maryland. He showed flashes of superstardom, earning all-conference honors in both the Big Ten and ACC. He ranks fourth in program history in receptions (150), second in receiving yards (2,227) and third in all-purpose yards (4,106). But he struggled with injuries and was suspended last season after making contact with an official in a pre-game scuffle against Penn State Nov. 1.

Diggs, who was a five-star recruit coming out of high school, might have a shot to contribute early for the Vikings. Minnesota already has fellow receivers Charles Johnson and Mike Wallace installed outside, but Diggs figures to work best as a "Swiss army knife" at the NFL level. At the very least, the explosive playmaker should be in the mix in the return game for Minnesota.

"He's a very gifted athlete with the ball in his hands," Vikings general manager Rick Spielman said. "He was a guy, that when we got there at that point, he can do so many things. He's played outside. He's played in the slot. He's done some return stuff, probably had a little bit of a year that was down for him and his standards. The multiple things that he can do, and again, any time we see an athlete and ability to develop these guys, and we felt that he'd fit right in that mold."

Issue 206: Navy Football 2014: Joe Cardona
Photo Credit: Mitch Stringer/PressBox

Joe Cardona, LS, Navy

It is not every year that a long snapper is taken in the NFL Draft. In fact, before Navy's Joe Cardona heard his name called by the New England Patriots May 2, it had only happened three times. Cardona, selected with the 30th pick of the fifth round (166th overall), became the highest drafted Navy player since 1993 and only the sixth Midshipmen ever drafted. The Patriots typically place a premium on character in their player evaluations, and teams are unlikely to find a better program at cultivating that than Navy.

"This is the most surreal thing, and something I wasn't expecting to happen," Cardona said. "I am blessed to have this opportunity to live out a dream for the best football organization in the world. It's a tremendous honor to represent Navy football, and it goes to show that we have a great program. And we have great players at this school, and I'm just excited to represent the brotherhood." 

Cardona is bound by his commitment to Navy, so it is unclear whether he will be able to immediately join the Patriots with the rest of their rookie class. He will require special dispensation. On the field, Cardona is an accurate and consistent long snapper, after being taught the unique skill by his father at a young age. Patriots head coach Bill Belichick already called his selection a "need pick," implying Cardona will get on the field right away if he earns it.

Towson Football 2014: Tye Smith
Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox

Tye Smith, CB, Towson

Taken with the 34th pick of the fifth round (170th overall), Smith became the sixth player selected out of Towson. Development-wise, he couldn't have landed in a better spot. Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll knows a little something about grooming defensive backs, landing superstar Richard Sherman in the fifth round of the 2011 draft. Smith doesn't have Sherman's length, but he's big and fast enough to develop into an NFL player under Carroll's tutelage.

"Our team's success over the last few years have opened the eyes of NFL teams to our players," Towson head coach Rob Ambrose said. "Both Tye and Ryan [Delaire, signed with the Bucs] are tremendously talented individuals who have worked tirelessly on and off the field to become the best versions of themselves they can be. Humble and hungry, always coachable and thirsty for knowledge on how to get better, they embody the best the game of football has to offer as examples of true student-athletes."

Smith was a first-team All-CAA selection in 2014, leading the Tigers with eight breakups and ranking second with 85 tackles. Bringing down ball carriers is seen as the biggest opportunity area at the next level for Smith, who finished fifth with 312 tackles in Towson program history.  

Notes: Maryland defensive tackle Darius Kilgo and Oklahoma State safety Josh Furman (Old Mill) were also drafted. Kilgo went to the Broncos in the sixth round (203rd overall) and will compete at nose tackle after Denver lost Terrance Knighton to the Redskins in free agency. Furman is also Denver bound, going to the Broncos with the 252nd overall pick, the fifth-to-last player selected. He played a linebacker-safety hybrid role at the University of Michigan and Oklahoma State and figures to compete for a roster spot at safety in the Broncos' camp.

Below is a list of local players who went undrafted, but have since latched on with NFL teams:

Ryan Delaire, LB, Towson -- signed with Buccaneers

Adrian Coxson, WR, Stony Brook (City College) -- signed with Packers

Yannik Cudjoe-Virgil, LB, Maryland -- signed with Titans

Khari Lee, TE, Bowie State -- signed with Texans

Deon Long, WR, Maryland -- signed with Titans

Matt Robinson, LB, Maryland -- signed with Jaguars

Cole Farrand, LB, Maryland -- signed with Giants

R.J. Harris, WR, New Hampshire (Arundel) -- signed with Saints

Issue 209: May 2015