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Duke in the NFL: Former Blue Devils Ready for NFL Playoffs

Credit:Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

While the Duke Football season has come to a close, several former Blue Devils are preparing for the NFL Playoffs.  The Seattle Seahawks, Washington Redskins, Denver Broncos, Cincinnati Bengals, and Pittsburgh Steelers all have Blue Devils alumni on their respective rosters who are hoping to be a part of a Super Bowl run.

Jamison Crowder gets to experience a division championship and a trip to the playoffs in his first season as a pro.  The fourth round pick has been a reliable part of Washington’s offense and closed out his first regular season with his best game yet.  Crowder caught five passes for 109 yards and a touchdown in the season finale win over Dallas.  He finished the 2015 regular season with 59 catches for 604 yards and 2 touchdowns.  Crowder also caught 2 two point conversions.  Late in Sunday’s game Crowder passed Art Monk and set the Redskins’ record for receptions by a rookie.  Crowder also served as a primary punt returner for Washington.  After a stellar rookie campaign he appears to have found his role as the slot receiver of the present and future for Washington.  Washington will host the Green Bay Packers this weekend.

Ross Cockrell found his stride in his second season in the NFL.  Cockrell was released by the Bills before the season began, but was signed by the Pittsburgh Steelers after week one.  It didn’t take long for Cockrell to make an impact.  Cockrell quickly emerged as the third cornerback for the Steelers.  After a silent rookie season in a deep Bills secondary, Cockrell posted 33 tackles solo tackles and 10 assisted, 2 interceptions, 1 forced fumble, and 1 fumble recovery.  He also posted a team leading 11 passes defended.  Cockrell appears to have made enough of an impression to become a part of the Steelers future.  He will have his hands full against a talented group Cincinnati Bengals’ receivers in the Wild Card Round Saturday night.

The Bengals’ defense has a former Blue Devil helping lead the way, as well.  Vincent Rey has become a key part of the Bengals, primarily at the middle linebacker position.  Rey has spent more time on the field than any other Bengal linebacker, seeing the field on nearly 68% of defensive stats, according to FootballOutsiders.com.  Rey is as reliable as they come.  He has played in every game over the last five seasons.  This year he totalled 62 solo tackles and 33 assisted, 1 sack, 1 forced fumbled, and 5 passes defended.  Rey has always been a great ambassador for Duke University and the NFL.  In November he was nominated for the Art Rooney Sportsmanship Award, which will be given out before the Super Bowl.

The Denver Broncos locked up the top seed in the AFC and will rest this weekend before their playoff run begins.  Juwan Thompson spent most of the 2015 season as the third runningback for the Broncos, depending  on the injury situation.  Thompson has made a reputation as a tough runner and being very good in pass protection.  Thompson saw most of his playing time on special teams this season, even forcing a fumble on a return earlier this year.  Thompson saw less time in the backfield this season, partly due to Denver’s need to rely more on the running game than passing game.  CJ Anderson and Ronnie Hillman split nearly all of the offensie snaps for the Broncos, with Thompson seeing some reserve action.  Thompson still remains an important part of the Broncos backfield, the coaches aren’t afraid to turn to him if needed.  The 2015 season started off with much promise for Kenny Anunike.  After overcoming some minor injuries in the preseason Anunike started the season on the active roster for the Broncos after spending his rookie season on IR.  Anunike saw some time on defense and special teams early in the year, but was placed on season ending IR late in November.  The Broncos have been impressed with Anunike when he is healthy.  Hopefully he can comeback from his injuries and have an even bigger impact in 2016.

Tight End Cooper Helfet just completed his second season on the Seattle Seahawks active roster after spending time on their practice squad for a couple seasons.  Helfet was the third tight end, behind Jimmy Graham and Luke Wilson and also plays on special teams.  His role has increased since Graham’s season ending injury about a month ago.  He caught 4 passes for 40+ yards in each of the last two games.  The Seahawks will face the Vikings this weekend as they look to advance to the Super Bowl for the third straight season.