With the 2022 NFL draft around the corner, we look at a program basking in the glow of a golden age of professional success based in Kalamazoo.
Western Michigan has been sending players to the NFL via the draft since 1943, when the then-combined Philadelphia Eagles and Pittsburgh Steelers, known as the Phil-Pitt Steagles, drafted offensive center Bill Yambrick in the 26th round and fullback Art Macioszczyk in the 27h round.
Fast forward to 2022, and while the number of draft rounds has grown much smaller, the number of former players hearing their names called on draft day recently has grown a lot larger, with eight Broncos drafted during that time.
In fact, WMU is in on a historic run recently in terms of players drafted, with only one five-year period producing more drafted players; from 1970-74, when nine Broncos heard their names called.
Almost certainly, 2017-2021 is still the best run in program history, as there were 17 rounds in the 1970 draft as compared with 7 today and only one player from the Broncos 1970-74 run was drafted in the first seven rounds.
Regardless of which Broncos draft run has been the best, the period since 2017 is clearly in the conversation of all-time program best. And with the sizable stable of draftable WMU players available in 2022, led by WR Skyy Moore and 2021 MAC Defensive Player of the Year DE/LB Ali Fayad, the Broncos will undoubtedly continue to build on recent success.
So, who were WMU’s players drafted for the last five years, when were they drafted, had how have they fared?
WR Corey Davis
Drafted: 2017, first round, fifth overall, Tennessee Titans
The highest selection in WMU draft history, Davis’ NFL career numbers include 241 receptions for 3,343 yards, and 15 touchdowns.
After drawing Top 5 interest in the chaotic 2017 Draft, Davis was a receiver who had a hard time living up to expectations due to injury, eventually getting overtaken for snaps by AJ Brown.
The former Bronco signed with the New York Jets in 2021 on a three-year deal, and had a resurgent season in his debut in the Meadowlands, showing the promise which made him a first-round selection five years ago. Davis will look to further establish his establish his status as one of the Broncos’ all-time great NFL players in 2022.
RT Taylor Moton
Drafted: 2017, second Round, 64th overall, Carolina Panthers
The oft-unheraled Moton’s pro career is on track to be one of the most notable in WMU history.
According to the Panthers’ website, Moton is one of just five NFL players to have played 100% of the offensive snaps for four straight seasons since 2018. For his efforts on his first contract, the former Bronco was initially franchise tagged in 2021, but has since signed a four-year, $72-million deal, cementing his status as a staple of Panthers football for years to come.
DE/OLB Keion Adams
Drafted: 2017, seventh round, 248th overall, Pittsburgh Steelers
WMU continued to crush the 2017 draft when Adams was taken in the final round, sending the third Bronco to the NFL. Adams was with the Steelers in 2017-18, suffering a shoulder injury and then spending some time with on the New York Giants roster in 2019.
Adams was eventually signed by the CFL’s Saskatchewan Roughriders in 2020 in the league’s gap year, recording 9 tackles and 2 sacks in 2021 when the league resumed play.
SAF Sam Beal
Drafted: 2018 supplemental draft, third round, NY Giants
Beal played for the Giants for three seasons, with three starts and 27 tackles after getting picked in the Supplemental Draft. Beal saw mostly special teams work in his time in New York, and is currently listed as a free agent heading into 2022.
OT Chukwuma “Chuks” Okorafor
Drafted: 2018, third round, 92nd overall, Pittsburgh Steelers
Okorafor blazed a trail through the college ball, earning first-team All-MAC honors in 2016 and 2017, and first-team All-American honors in 2017. In the NFL, Okorafor has established himself as a staple on the Steelers offensive line, with over 30 starts.
In March 2022, the right tackle solidified his status as an important cog in Steel City football, signing a reported three-year, $29.25 million extension with the storied franchise.
CB/KR/PR Darius Phillips
Drafted: 2018, fifth round, 170th overall, Cincinnati Bengals
Phillips redefined the word “playmaker” during his time at WMU, scoring on five of his 12 interceptions while returning six kickoffs and punts for TDs.
In his four years as a Bengal, Phillips recorded 73 stops, 23 passes defense, and 5 INTS, while recording over 750 punt and kickoff return yards, showing his collegiate performances weren’t just a fluke.
His performance as a pro, especially as a special teams contributor, earned him a free agent contract with the Las Vegas Raiders for 2022 after contributing to Cincinnati’s Super Bowl run in 2021.
WR D’Wayne “Dee” Eskridge
Drafted: 2021, second round, 56th overall, Seattle Seahawks
A complete two-way player and special teams ace with game-breaking speed at WMU, Eskridge’s arrow is pointing up in the NFL.
The 2020 second-team All-American was injured early in the 2021 NFL campaign, but returned sooner than expected to record his first pro score near the end of the season, and is poised to make a bigger impact in 2022 for a Seahwaks team looking to shift into a young rebuild mode.
OL Jaylon Moore
Drafted: 2021, fifth round, 155th overall, San Francisco
Moore is heading into second season on the West Coast after making a solid contribution in his rookie season, appearing in seven games with three starts. He’s currently a spot starter on a 49ers line which is seen as one of the deeper and best-disciplined in the league, and it says a lot he stuck on the roster as a rookie Day 3 selection.