Jimmie Ward has the chance to make some Northern Illinois football history this weekend.
Ward is widely considered a second- or third-round pick by most experts heading into the 2014 NFL Draft, which begins at 7 p.m. tonight in New York City.
Three of the four draft experts on NFL.com – Gil Brandt, Mike Mayock and Daniel Jeremiah, all have Ward among the top 55 prospects in the draft. Jeremiah has the Mobile, Ala., native at No. 43. Alabama’s Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Louisville’s Calvin Pryor are considered the top two safeties in the draft, but Ward is right in the mix to be the third safety selected.
Should Ward get taken among the top 63 selections, he would become the second-highest drafted Huskie ever. Defensive end Larry English was taken 16th overall by the San Diego Chargers in 2009. NIU’s next-highest draftee was wide receiver John Spilis, who went in the third round, 64th overall, to the Green Bay Packers back in 1969.
The Huskie with the next-best chance of being selected in one of the draft’s seven rounds is quarterback Jordan Lynch, who will most likely will be an undrafted free agent. Only two Huskie quarterbacks have ever been picked – Jerry Golsteyn in 1976 (12th round, 333rd overall) and Chandler Harnish in 2012 (seventh round, 253rd overall, the final selection of the draft).
Here are NIU’s top five draftees of all-time, with Ward likely to be on the list by Friday.
1. Larry English, DE (San Diego Chargers, first round, 16th overall in 2009)
English earned the Vern Smith Award as the Mid-American Conference MVP as both a junior and senior. Coming off a senior season in 2008 when he finished with 14.5 sacks and eight tackles for loss, English shot up draft boards and became the first Huskie to be taken in the first round.
Unfortunately, English has had trouble with injuries his entire career as a Charger. He’s started only nine games in his five-year career and five in the past three seasons. This upcoming year will be the final season of English’s current contract.
2. John Spilis, WR (Green Bay Packers, third round, 64th overall in 1969)
Spilis played just three seasons in the NFL, starting 14 games for Green Bay. His best season was his final campaign in 1971, when he caught 14 passes for 281 yards and a touchdown.
3. LeShon Johnson, RB (Green Bay Packers, third round, 84th overall in 1994)
Johnson led the nation with 1,976 rushing yards as a senior in 1993, and despite NIU being an independent and not having any games on national TV, he still finished sixth in the Heisman Trophy voting, which was a Huskies record until Lynch finished third this past season.
Johnson played five seasons in the NFL with the Packers, Cardinals and Giants. His best season came with Arizona in 1996, when he ran for 634 yards and six touchdowns.
4. Garrett Wolfe, RB (Bears, third round, 93rd overall in 2007)
When the Bears selected the 5-foot-77 running back in the third round in 2007, a lot of fans raised an eyebrow. Despite dominating the college ranks as an NIU senior in 2006, Wolfe didn’t have the build of an NFL running back.
Wolfe never had consistent carries with the Bears, although he was a solid special teams player, and spent just four seasons in the NFL.
5. Doug Bartlett, DT (Los Angeles Rams, fourth round, 91st overall in 1987)
Bartlett, a member of NIU’s 1983 Mid-American Conference championship team as a freshman, didn’t play a game for the Rams but played in 10 contests for the 1988 Eagles, the team which lost to the Bears in the 1988 NFC Divisional Playoff game known as the “Fog Bowl.”
NIU’s all-time NFL draftees
Year Name (position) Team Round/overall 1948 Larry Brink (DE) Los Angeles Rams 17/750 1952 Fran Cahill (DE) New York Giants 19/227 1968 Tom Rosenow (DT) San Francisco 49ers 16/423 1969 John Spilis (WR) Green Bay Packers 3/64 1972 Tom Wittum (P/K) San Francisco 49ers 8/200 1973 Larry Clark (LB) Pittsburgh Steelers 5/128 Willie Hatter (WR) Miami Dolphins 7/178 John Nokes (LB) Philadelphia Eagles 9/211 1974 Mark Kellar (FB) Minnesota Vikings 6/155 1975 Jerry Latin (RB) St. Louis Cardinals 11/280 1976 Bob Gregolunas (LB) Kansas City Chiefs 6/167 Jerry Golsteyn (QB) New York Giants 12/333 Jerry Meyers (DT) Chicago Bears 15/411 1977 Ken Moore (TE) Minnesota Vikings 5/138 1980 Randy Clark (OT) Bears 8/215 1981 Jim Hannula (OT) Cincinnati Bengals 9/229 1984 Scott Bolzan (OT) New England Patriots 9/238 1986 Scott Kellar (DT) Indianapolis Colts 5/117 Curt Partridge (WR) an Diego Chargers 6/155 Steve O’Malley (DT) Indianapolis Colts 7/171 1987 Doug Bartlett (DT) Los Angeles Rams 4/91 Clarence Vaughn (LB) Washington Redskins 8/219 Todd Peat (G) St. Louis Cardinals 11/285 1990 Brett Tucker (CB) Houston Oilers 8/211 1994 LeShon Johnson (RB) Green Bay Packers 3/84 2001 Ryan Diem (G) Indianapolis Colts 4/118 Justin McCareins (WR) Tennessee Titans 4/124 2002 Darrell Hill (WR) Tennessee Titans 7/225 2004 Michael Turner (RB) San Diego Chargers 5/154 2007 Garrett Wolfe (RB) Bears 3/93 Doug Free (OT) Dallas Cowboys 4/122 2009 Larry English (DE) San Diego Chargers 1/16 2012 Chandler Harnish (QB) Indianapolis Colts 7/253