The Kent State Golden Flashes have had 40 players selected during the last 60 years of the NFL Draft. More than half of those players eventually saw playing time in NFL games. Some of those in the past went on to marginal careers while more recent ones are active starters in the league. However, one man rose above all the others to distinguish himself not only as the greatest Kent State NFL player of all time but arguably one of the best defenders in NFL history.
Jack Lambert was a fierce linebacker with a reputation for devastating hits. Still, despite being named twice to All-MAC teams, he was viewed by many as too small to play linebacker on the professional level. Forty-five teams passed over him in the 1974 NFL Draft before the Pittsburgh Steelers took him in the second round. Lambert wasn't even the first Kent State player taken in that draft. Teammate Gerald Tinker, a wide receiver, was picked by the Atlanta Falcons two spots before Lambert.
He immediately became Pittsburgh's starting linebacker as a rookie and began to help the team on its quest for the first championship in franchise history. That quest did not take long. With Lambert presiding in the middle, the Steelers won the Super Bowl in each of his first two seasons.
In his third year, Pittsburgh started 1-4 among a rash of injuries. From there, Lambert led one of the most astounding stretches of team defense in NFL history. The Steelers won their final nine regular season games and allowed a total of 28 points in that span. That stretch featured five shutouts, including three in a row. They allowed more than six points only once in those nine games. Lambert simply led the NFL with eight fumble recoveries and intercepted two passes.
Two years later, the Steelers returned to the throne of the NFL and won another back-to-back set of championships. Lambert picked off 10 passes in those two seasons, including six in 1979. At the end of that season, he made a game-clinching interception of Vince Ferragamo in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl XIV. The Steeler team declined in the following seasons, but Lambert maintained his high level of play through 1983. He intercepted another six passes in 1981 and finished with a career total of 28.
Lambert retired after his 11th season in 1984. He earned nine consecutive Pro Bowl appearances from 1975 to 1983 and missed only seven games during his first 10 seasons. Lambert was the NFL Rookie of the Year in 1974, the NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 1976 and was named to the All-Decade teams of the 1970s and 1980s. He was ultimately elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1990 and was later named to the NFL's 75th Anniversary All-Time Team.
And what about Gerald Tinker? Tinker played two seasons in the NFL for the Falcons and the Green Bay Packers. He served primarily as a kick returner as a rookie for Atlanta and scored once on a 72-yard punt return. He scored twice as a receiver during his second season and finished his career with eight catches for just 133 yards.
Kent State Golden Flashes Draft History - Key Players
Cedric Brown was another defensive product of the 1970s that had a pretty good NFL career. He was selected in the 12th round of the 1976 draft by the Oakland Raiders. He did not stick with the Raiders, but the Tampa Bay Buccaneers liked him enough to make him part of their fledgling franchise. His first two seasons were the first ever for Tampa Bay, and the Bucs lost an NFL record 26 games in a row in those years. Brown was a starter for the 1977 season, including the win over New Orleans that ended the streak.
He remained a starter with the Bucs for four more seasons. He intercepted six passes in 1978 and three more in 1979 when Tampa Bay earned a trip to the NFC Championship Game. In 1981, he had a career-best nine interceptions and returned two of those for touchdowns. Injuries allowed him to play only half of the 1983 season but he still managed four interceptions. However, his playing time dwindled in 1984, and he left the league after that season.
The highest draft selection, by overall spot, was Luke Owens in 1957. The Baltimore Colts took him 32nd overall, in the third round, to play on the defensive line. He lasted just one season with the Colts but played eight more years with the Chicago/St. Louis Cardinals. In total, he played in 115 NFL games before retiring after the 1965 season.
Arguably the best offensive player in Kent State's NFL Draft history was also taken by the Baltimore Colts. Don Nottingham had to wait until the 17th round and the 441st overall selection in 1971, but he parlayed that into a seven-year career as a fullback. He was a starter in two of those seasons.
In 1972 for the Colts, Nottingham rushed for 466 yards and caught 25 passes. Then, for the Dolphins in 1975, he ran for 718 yards and 12 touchdowns. He finished his career with 2,496 yards rushing and 34 rushing touchdowns, as well as 67 receptions for 502 yards. No other player on this list has more yards from scrimmage in their career.
Several former Flashes from both the offensive and defensive lines were drafted and had multiple years of starting experience in the NFL. The New York Jets drafted Larry Faulk in the seventh round of 1976, and he started on their defensive line for six years from 1977-1982. Andy Harmon was a sixth-round pick of the Philadelphia Eagles in 1991, and he was a four-year starter on their highly-touted defensive line from 1992-1995.
On offense, Bert Weidner was picked by Miami in the 11th round in 1989 and started off-and-on during a six-year career, while Bob Hallen was a second-round choice of the Atlanta Falcons in 1998. He played on the only Falcons team to make a Super Bowl and also started in 2002 for San Diego.
Another former Kent State player, O.J. Santiago, was on that Falcons' Super Bowl team in 1998. Santiago was picked by Atlanta in the third round in 1997 and became a starter as a rookie. He started all 16 games in 1998 as a second-year player and had by far his best season. He caught 27 passes for 428 yards and five touchdowns. His three receptions helped Atlanta win the NFC title game over Minnesota, and he also had a catch in the Super Bowl against Denver. Santiago finished his career with Oakland and ended with 81 catches, 1,041 yards and nine touchdowns.
There are four Golden Flashes who were drafted and are still currently active in the NFL.
Usama Young was a New Orleans Saints' third-round pick in 2007. He was on the Saints' 2009 Super Bowl championship team and played in 52 games during four seasons with the team, but he started in only six and totaled just one sack and three interceptions. He played for two seasons in Cleveland and had three interceptions in 2012. In 2013, he began playing for Oakland and had 2.5 sacks and an interception in nine games. He will return to the Raiders in 2014.
The New England Patriots drafted former KSU quarterback Julian Edelman almost as an afterthought in the seventh round of the 2009 draft. He played sparingly during his first four seasons with the team and caught just 69 passes for 714 yards and four touchdowns. Then, Wes Welker left for Denver and Edelman's career changed. He took over as the Patriots' slot receiver and, in 2013, caught 105 passes for 1,056 yards and six touchdowns In their playoff win over Indianapolis, he had six catches for 84 yards, then had 10 for 89 plus a touchdown in the Pats' loss to Denver in the AFC Championship Game. He will return to the Patriots for the 2014 season.
Jameson Konz was also a seventh-round pick as a tight end in 2010. Seattle drafted him, but he's spent his career so far on the fringes of NFL rosters. He has signed with Denver for the 2014 season.
Finally, Brian Winters is the most recent Kent State draft pick. The New York Jets nabbed him with the 72nd overall pick in the third round of the 2013 draft. Winters played in all 16 games and started 12 as a rookie and will likely be a starting offensive lineman for the Jets in 2014.
Now, you may be wondering, "What about Antonio Gates??????"
That's an excellent question. He is certainly right there with Jack Lambert as one of the best and most impactful Kent State players to reach the NFL. However, he was never drafted. Remember, Gates only played basketball at Kent State, and San Diego only took a chance on him as an undrafted free agent in 2003. So, while he's had a fantastic career, Mr. Gates sadly does not belong on this list.
As for 2014, Kent State ought to add another name to this list. Dri Archer is a special player and could have his named called at almost any moment. Will it somehow be in the first round? If so, he'd become the highest-drafted player in KSU history. We'll just have to wait to find out.