For the better part of three decades, Kansas State has mined some exceptional homegrown talent in the Sunflower State. Since 1990, the Wildcats have featured all-conference players from 28 different cities and towns in the state of Kansas. Some of those standouts were fortunate enough to either be selected in the NFL Draft or signed with an NFL squad as an undrafted free agent.
The leader of the pack, of course, is Salina native Terence Newman, who was selected by the Dallas Cowboys with the fifth overall pick in the 2003 NFL Draft. Newman was the highest-drafted Kansas native since Nicodemus native Veryl Switzer was taken by the Green Bay Packers with the fourth overall pick in the 1954 NFL Draft.
Newman was a two-time Pro Bowl selection, but he wasn’t alone. Olathe native Darren Sproles, earned a Pro Bowl nod three times, and became the first player in NFL history to record at least 2,2000 all-purpose yards in four different seasons.
Sproles retired from the NFL after the 2019 season, just five months after Jordy Nelson of Riley called it a career. The Pro Bowler, NFL Comeback Player of the Year and Super Bowl XLV champion etched out several top-10 receiving marks during his 10 years with the Green Bay Packers.
There have been several other K-State notables from the Sunflower State who have been drafted or have signed undrafted free agent contracts with NFL teams through the years.
Here’s a look at 20 of those homegrown heroes:
Alex Barnes, a running back and a native of Pittsburg, finished fifth all-time at K-State with 2,616 career rushing yards before declaring for the NFL Draft following his junior season. He turned heads at the 2019 NFL Combine with 34 reps on bench press, which ranked as the most all-time by a running back at the combine, but went undrafted. He signed as an undrafted free agent with the Tennessee Titans.
Monty Beisel, a defensive end/linebacker and native of Douglass, was taken by the Kansas City Chiefs in the fourth round with the 107th overall pick in the 2001 NFL Draft, spurring a nine-year career that included stops with the Chiefs (2001-04), the New England Patriots (2005), the Arizona Cardinals (2006-08), the Chiefs again (2009), and the Cardinals again (2009-10). Beisel finish his NFL career with 236 tackles, including nine tackles for a loss with 4.5 sacks, two interceptions, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery in 119 games.
Arthur Brown, a linebacker and a native of Wichita, was drafted by the Baltimore Ravens in the second round with the 56th overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft. Unfortunately, Brown had to undergo hernia surgery a few weeks after the draft. He had 15 tackles and one forced fumble in 14 games his rookie season, which proved to be the most productive year of his brief career. He went on injured reserve in January 2015 and the Ravens released him in September 2016. Brown bounced from the Jacksonville Jaguars to the New York Jets to the Seattle Seahawks. He finished his NFL career with 20 tackles and one forced fumble in 48 games over a span of four years.
Morgan Burns, a cornerback and return specialist from Wichita, was a 2015 first-team All-American as a kickoff returner after leading the FBS in averaging 32.5 yards per kickoff return, earning Big 12 Special Teams Player of the Year. He also led the nation with four kickoff return touchdowns and 1,138 total kickoff return yards. His five career kickoff return touchdowns tied for ninth most by a player in the NCAA since 1976. He also finished his career with 105 career tackles and four interceptions. He signed as a free agent with the Tennessee Titans on April 30, 2016, but opted not to pursue a football career.
Ian Campbell, a defensive end and native of Cimarron, is a former walk-on and two-time first-team All-Big 12 selection who finished his K-State career with 166 tackles, including 37 tackles for a loss and 20.5 sacks. He finished tied for third all-time in sacks and also tied for tops all-time in season sacks with 11.5 in 2006. He had 47 tackles and 4.5 sacks as a senior and blocked a school-record three field-goal attempts. Campbell signed with the St. Louis Rams as an undrafted free agent on April 26, 2009. He was cut during the final cuts on September 5.
Lamar Chapman, a cornerback and Liberal native, was selected by the Cleveland Browns in the fifth round with the 146th overall pick in the 2000 NFL Draft. He recorded two tackles and one interception while playing in eight games over his two-year NFL career with the Browns. He was waived August 5, 2002.
B.J. Finney, an offensive lineman and native of Andale, signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers as an undrafted free agent following the 2015 NFL Draft. He made his first-career start against the Kansas City Chiefs in 2016 and finished the season with three starts in 13 games. He played in 59 games with 13 starts during four seasons with the Steelers. Finney signed a two-year contract with the Seattle Seahawks on March 23, 2020.
Chris Harper, a wide receiver and a native of Wichita, was selected by the Seattle Seahawks in the fourth round with the 123rd overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft. Unfortunately, Harper did not make the Seahawks opening day roster. After the final roster cuts, Harper was signed by the San Francisco 49ers and he stuck for a month. Then he was with the Green Bay Packers for 10 months before finishing out his career with an 11-month stint with the New York Giants. He did not make a reception in a NFL regular-season game.
Tysyn Hartman, a safety and native of Wichita, finished his K-State career with 258 total tackles, including 2.5 tackles for a loss and 10 interceptions in 50 career games. He signed with the Kansas City Chiefs as an undrafted free agent following the 2012 NFL Draft. He recorded 24 tackles and three pass breakups in 11 games with two starts during his only year with the Chiefs in 2012.
Ryan Lilja was a second-team All-Big 12 selection while helping K-State to the 2003 Big 12 Championship with a 35-7 win over No. 1 Oklahoma in Kansas City. Lilja started in 14 of 23 games at offensive guard with the Wildcats after a two-year stint at Coffeyville Community College. After initially signing with the Kansas City Chiefs as an undrafted free agent, Lilja was claimed off of wavers by the Indianapolis Colts. He was a part of two Super Bowls — first when the Indianapolis Colts defeated the Chicago Bears 29-17 in Super Bowl XLI, and then when the Colts lost to the New Orleans Saints 31-17 in Super Bowl XLIV. He played in 111 games in his 10-year career with 104 starts.
Jon McGraw, a safety and native of Riley, was drafted by the New York Jets in the second round with the 57th overall pick in the 2002 NFL Draft. McGraw appeared in 122 games over a 10-year NFL career that included three years with the Jets, two with the Detroit Lions and the final five with the Kansas City Chiefs. McGraw, a special teams captain, was awarded the Chief’s Ed Block Courage Award for inspiration, sportsmanship and courage by teammates in 2011 during his final year in the NFL. He finished his career with 360 tackles, including two sacks with 10 interceptions, five forced fumbles and four fumble recoveries in 122 games.
Jordy Nelson, a wide receiver and Riley native, was drafted by the Green Bay Packers in the second round with the 36th overall pick in the 2008 NFL Draft. The former walk-on defensive back was a Pro Bowler, earned a NFL Comeback Player of the Year honor, and won Super Bowl XLV with the Packers, finishing top 10 all-time in franchise history with 550 receptions (second), 7,848 yards (fifth), 69 touchdowns (second) and with 25 100-yard receiving games (third) before playing the 2018 season with the Oakland Raiders. Nelson finished his 11-year career with 613 catches for 8,587 yards and 72 touchdowns in 151 games with 102 starts. He signed a one-day contract with Green Bay to retire as a Packer in August 2019.
Terence Newman, a cornerback and native of Salina, drafted by the Dallas Cowboys in the first round with the fifth pick overall in the 2003 NFL Draft, becoming the highest-drafted K-State player in the modern NFL era. A two-time Pro Bowl selection, Newman recorded 545 tackles, including 20 tackles for a loss and two sacks to go along with 32 interceptions, seven forced fumbles and eight fumble recoveries in 133 games with 131 starts before he was released by the Cowboys on March 13, 2012. Newman then spent three years with the Cincinnati Bengals before finishing the last three years of his career with the Minnesota Vikings. Newman announced his retirement on September 1, 2018 and immediately joined the Vikings coaching staff. Newman finished his 15-year NFL career with 879 tackles, including 35 tackles for a loss and two sacks to go along with 42 interceptions, eight forced fumbles and 11 fumble recoveries in 221 games with 205 starts. He also averaged 7.5 yards on 38 punt returns with one touchdown.
Mark Simoneau, a linebacker and native of Smith Center, was drafted by the Atlanta Falcons in the third round with the 67th overall pick in the 2000 NFL Draft. He finished his 10-year NFL career with 435 tackles, including 18 tackles for a loss and seven sacks to go along with seven forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries and one interception in 124 career games with 67 starts. After spending his first three seasons with the Falcons, Simoneau was traded to the Philadelphia Eagles prior to the 2003 season. He led the team with a career-high 100 tackles, including 22 tackles for a loss and a career high-tying two sacks and three forced fumbles. In 2005, he kicked a point-after attempt for his first NFL points, becoming the first defensive player to do so since 1980. In 2006, Simoneau was traded to the New Orleans Saints and was a part of the 31-17 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals in Super Bowl XLIV. He was placed on injured reserve on August 16, 2009 with a torn triceps muscle and was released in March 2010 before finishing out his career with the Kansas City Chiefs. He announced his retirement on November 18, 2010.
Darren Sproles, a running back and native of Olathe, was a fourth-round pick to the San Diego Chargers in the 2005 NFL Draft. He was honored as a member of the San Diego Chargers 50th Anniversary Team, recorded a NFL single-season record 2,696 all-purpose yards during his first season with the New Orleans Saints in 2011, and was named All-Pro for the first time following his initial season with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2014. Sproles, a three time Pro Bowler, played in 183 games in his career with the Chargers (2005-10), Saints (2011-13) and Eagles (2014-19). He finished his career with 732 carries for 3,552 yards and 23 touchdowns. He had 553 receptions for 4,840 yards and 32 touchdowns. He had 311 punt returns for 2,961 yards and seven touchdowns. He had 332 kickoff returns for 8,352 yards and two touchdowns. He accounted for 390 points. He ranks fifth all-time in NFL history with 19,696 all-purpose yards, trailing only Jerry Rice, Brian Mitchell, Walter Payton and Emmitt Smith. He retired after the 2019 season.
Travis Tannahill, a tight end and Overland Park native, was a first-team All-Big 12 selection following his senior season at K-State in 2012. He finished his career with 42 catches for 528 yards and three touchdowns. He signed with the Cleveland Browns as an undrafted free agent following the 2013 NFL Draft. He did not catch a pass in an official NFL game.
Rashad Washington, a safety and native of Wichita, was selected by the New York Jets in the seventh round with the 236th overall pick in the 2004 NFL Draft. Washington recorded 77 tackles, 1.5 sacks and two passes defended during his 50-game career with the Jets, which ended when he was released on November 5, 2007.
Cody Whitehair, an offensive lineman and native of Abilene, was drafted by the Chicago Bears in the second round with the 56th overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft. Whitehair started every game at center his rookie season and was named to the All-Rookie Team. In 2018, he played every snap and was named to the 2019 Pro Bowl. He has started all 64 games in his career heading into his fifth NFL season in 2020.
Braden Wilson, a fullback and native of Smith Center, was selected by the Kansas City Chiefs in the sixth round with the 204th overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft. A four-year starter at K-State, Wilson had 21 carries for 44 yards and two touchdowns to go along with 18 catches for 144 yards in 51 career games. He was cut by the Chiefs on August 25, 2013.
Ty Zimmerman, a safety and native of Junction City, was the first four-time all-conference player in K-State history and a two-time second-team All-American. He finished his K-State career with 257 tackles, including 11 tackles for a loss and 13 interceptions with two pick-six. He finished third in K-State history in career interceptions. He signed with the New Orleans Saints as an undrafted free agent following the 2014 NFL Draft, making “a nice diving interception of Drew Brees in practice, a play that ended up on YouTube,” according to the USA Today. Later, Zimmerman tried out for the New York Jets in 2015. He did not play in an official NFL game.