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NFL Draft History Lesson: Northern Illinois Huskies (2017-2021)

NIU’s Mid-American Conference success is translating to the NFL, with three selections over the last five drafts.

Detroit Lions v Arizona Cardinals Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Over the last decade or so, the Huskies have done two things on a regular basis: win MAC championships (five since 2011) and launch successful NFL careers with eight players on 2021 and/or 2022 NFL rosters who have combined career earnings of more than 80 million dollars.

As we approach the 2022 NFL draft, we put the spotlight on the NIU players selected by the NFL in the past five drafts, checking in on how they’ve fared:


WR Kenny Golladay

Dallas Cowboys v New York Giants Photo by Rey Del Rio/Getty Images

Drafted: 2017, third round, 96th overall, Detroit Lions

NFL Stats: 220 catches, 3,589 yards, and 21 scores in 61 games (53 starts)

Golladay traveled a long road to star in the NFL but has always made his mark in football at every point along the way.

Debuting in college with FCS North Dakota in 2012, Golladay was the only true freshman to see the field that season, logging 30 catches for 429 yards and a score. The Fighting Hawk then took flight in 2013, recording 69 catches for 844 yards and eight scores before transferring to NIU in 2014.

After Golladay sat out the transfer year, he took the MAC by storm his final two seasons, recording 160 catches for 2,285 yards and 18 receiving scores before his selection by the Lions.

The former NIU star blossomed in his second and third years with the Lions, taking the starting position and earning a Pro Bowl nod in 2019.

After his rookie deal, Golladay signed a four-year, $72 million deal with the New York Giants in 2021. Golladay, still struggling with an injury suffered in 2020 as a member of the Lions, didn’t see the field until the tail end of the season for the Giants, so he’ll have a lot to prove for his new employer this upcoming season.

Golladay is in his prime and poised to have one of the best NFL careers for a former NIU wideout.


OL Max Scharping

NFL: AUG 14 Preseason - Texans at Packers Photo by Larry Radloff/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Drafted: 2019, second round, 55th overall, Houston Texans

Scharping blazed a trail through the MAC, garnering first-team all-MAC honors over three straight seasons, while displaying his versatility, playing at both tackle positions and right guard.

The NIU linemen started 14 games for the Texans at left guard as a rookie, executing all manner of blocks, pulling as a power guard, working to the next level on combo blocks, and communicating well with teammates to handle stunts.

Scharping started 11 of 17 games for the Texans in 2021, and heads into his contract year in competition with other players to impress new offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton and O-line coach George Warhop.


DL/LB/FB Sutton Smith

Los Angeles Chargers v Las Vegas Raiders Photo by Chris Unger/Getty Images

Drafted: 2019, sixth round, 175th overall, Pittsburgh Steelers

Smith’s career at NIU was nothing short of legendary and he had the hardware to prove it, garnering a gaggle of honors including two-time All-American and first-team all-MAC awards, along with twice being named MAC Defensive Player of the Year.

Since being drafted by the Steelers, the NIU star appeared on rosters in Jacksonville, Seattle, and New Orleans before potentially finding a home and a position with the Las Vegas Raiders.

In November 2021, the Raiders signed Smith as a fullback and he was quickly elevated to the active roster and special teams duty. Las Vegas must have liked what they saw in Smith after the position conversion, signing him in early December 2021 to a contract for the 2022 season.