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Making Waves 2020 Edition: How did Tulane alum fare this NFL season?

The Green Wave had nine former players don NFL jerseys this fall and one of them won the Super Bowl.

NFL: New Orleans Saints at Chicago Bears Mike Dinovo-USA TODAY Sports

We are now a few weeks removed from the conclusion of the Super Bowl and once again the NFL saw talent from Tulane strung far and wide. Some former Greenies came in and dazzled in their rookie seasons while others returned to the gridiron as seasoned NFL vets. Before an unprecedented FCS season steals the football spotlight this spring, lets take a look at how Green Wave alum did during the 2020 NFL season.

Missing the Playoffs

Darius Bradwell - RB: Los Angeles Chargers

NFL: Los Angeles Chargers Scrimmage Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Running back Darius Bradwell signed as an undrafted free with the Chargers during the offseason but did not see hardly any NFL action in his rookie season. He made appearances in two September games for Los Angeles but has yet to record a carry.

Tanzel Smart - DL: New York Jets

NFL: New York Jets at Los Angeles Rams Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Following a two-year stint with the Rams (2017, 2019), defensive lineman Tanzel Smart ended up in New York with Jets in 2020. His time in the Big Apple would see him have a significant decrease in game time as, in his two seasons in LA, Smart played in 21 total contests while dropping to only three this season.

All three of Smart’s tackles last fall coincidentally came against the Patriots. He notched two in New York’s narrow loss to New England on MNF back in November and tacked on one more in the season finale in early January.

Dontrell Hilliard - RB: Cleveland Browns/Houston Texans

Baltimore Ravens v Cleveland Browns Photo by: 2019 Nick Cammett/Diamond Images via Getty Images

Running back Dontrell Hilliard began the 2020 campaign with the Cleveland Browns where he saw his only real action this season. In Cleveland’s Week 4 win in Dallas, Hilliard carried the ball five times for 19 yards and caught a pass. Two weeks later in Pittsburgh he toted it another four times for 29 yards.

After being waived by the Browns later in the season, he was picked up by Houston in December. Hilliard has yet to see game time with the Texans though.

Making the Playoffs

Darnell Mooney - WR: Chicago Bears

NFL: DEC 27 Bears at Jaguars Photo by David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Without a doubt the most prolific Green Wave alum in the league this season was rookie receiver Darnell Mooney. Mooney, a fifth-round draft selection by the Bears last spring, had a standout first year. He finished the regular season as Chicago’s second-leading receiver behind only Allen Robinson with 631 yards and four touchdowns.

He impressed with his speed at the 2020 NFL Combine, coming out as the fourth-fastest wideout to run the 40-yard dash (4.38) in Indy. It didn’t take Mooney long to become a weekly mainstay in the Bears’ offensive scheme, culminating in a career game against division foe Green Bay in the final week of the regular season. He was targeted 13 times by QB Mitch Trubisky against the Packers and hauled in 11 catches for a team-leading 93 yards. His efforts helped the Bears finish at 8-8 and qualify for the playoffs.

“This kid, like, he never gets tired,” said Chicago head coach Matt Nagy in a September press conference “It’s unbelievable. [He] just runs and runs and runs.” So much of Mooney’s success this season was attributed to things that don’t necessarily show up on a stat sheet. For instance, he led all rookie WRs in forced missed tackles by opponents with 17. Those efforts helped him set a new Bears franchise record for receptions by a rookie (61) that had stood since the 1954 season.

Cairo Santos - K: Chicago Bears

Minnesota Vikins v Chicago Bears Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Joining Mooney in Chicago was veteran kicker Cairo Santos. Santos who has been a journeyman in the NFL since arriving in 2014, wound up with the Bears for the second time in his career after prior stints in Tennessee, Kansas City, Tampa Bay and Los Angeles (Rams). In 2020 he made 30 of his 32 field goal attempts (93.8%) and only missed one PAT, good for the best single-season FG percentage of his career.

Week 6 against Carolina saw him connect on a career-best 55-yard field goal. Santos helped the Bears to a close win over Minnesota in Week 15 when he hit all four of his field goal tires. He was named NFC Special Teams Player of the Month for December.

In the playoffs, Santos was responsible for some of the Bears’ only postseason points as he booted a 36-yard field goal in New Orleans.

BoPete Keyes - DB: Kansas City Chiefs

NFL: Carolina Panthers at Kansas City Chiefs Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Drafted in the seventh round, BoPete Keyes began his in NFL career this season with the defending Super Bowl champion Chiefs. With standout cornerbacks like Charvarius Ward and L’Jarius Sneed already on the roster however, Keyes did not experience much playing time in his rookie year. In fact he didn’t see his first defensive snap until Kansas City’s Week 7 game in Denver.

He earned his one and only start in the season finale against the Chargers when most of the Chiefs’ starters were rested prior to the playoffs. In that game Keyes recorded his first NFL tackles (seven solo, one assisted).

In the postseason, Keyes did not see any game time but accompanied the Chiefs on their return trip to the Super Bowl.

Ryan Griffin - QB: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

NFL: Indianapolis Colts at Tampa Bay Buccaneers Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

The only other Green Wave alum joining Keyes in the Super Bowl down in Tampa was veteran quarterback Ryan Griffin. Griffin, who has served as a backup for the majority of his NFL career had the honors of serving as QB2 to the great Tom Brady this season and, with someone like Brady ahead of him, one can imagine that he didn’t hit the field too much.

Still, when Tampa called his name Griffin was ready to deliver. In a close victory over the Colts in December, he came in and completed two passes for 18 yards.

With the Buccaneers taking the title, Griffin became the first Tulane alum to win the Super Bowl since Lorenzo Doss with Denver in 2015.

John Leglue - OL: Pittsburgh Steelers

NFL: Denver Broncos-Minicamp Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

After spending much of the season as a free agent, offensive lineman John Leglue signed with the Steelers before the final weekend of the regular season. He spent 2019 (his rookie season) with Broncos, Saints and Packers respectively.

Leglue did not get to see any game time with Pittsburgh but currently remains on the roster in hopes of moving up the depth chart this offseason.

Parry Nickerson - DB: Green Bay Packers

NFL: Player Headshots 2020 Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

Parry Nickerson, like many of his former Green Wave compatriots, has moved around the NFL since coming in in 2017. After stints with Jets, Seahawks and Jaguars, the safety made his way to Green Bay in 2020. Although he did not see any significant snaps with the Packers this season, Nickerson was with the team all the way through its run to the NFC Championship.

Others To Note:

  • The Colts signed cornerback Roderic Teamer to a futures/reserve contract on January 10