There are 13 Colorado Buffaloes alumni in the NFL this season, plus a few more on the fringes. There haven’t been that many since the early 2000s, which is a testament to the longevity of Hawkins and Embree era Buffs, as well as it is to the NFL talent MacIntyre had in Boulder. Before the NFL kicks off on Sunday, it’s important to look around the league to find all those Buffs.
David Bakhtiari, LT, Green Bay Packers
Bakhtiari is the best left tackle in the NFL and possibly the best offensive lineman, full stop. No one has his combination of quickness, hand work and technical ability. He heads into 2019 once again protecting Aaron Rodgers’s blind side. That’s a vital role as Rodgers is an injury-plagued former MVP, although pressure has never really come from Bakhtiari’s side.
Phillip Lindsay, RB, Denver Broncos
Everyone’s favorite player is his hometown team’s starting running back. Lindsay won’t have to prove himself as the best in Denver — as he did last year as an undrafted rookie — but that only means he has to prove himself as one of the best in the NFL. Denver’s offensive line looks better than it has been in a long time, so both he could have a second breakout.
Chidobe Awuzie, CB, Dallas Cowboys
The Cowboys have one of the best and youngest secondaries in the NFL, and Chido is a major reason for that. He’s a born playmaker who came into his own in his second season in 2018. Watch for him to be even better this season as Dallas vies for a playoff spot.
Jimmy Smith, CB, Baltimore Raven
Awuzie may have passed Smith as the best CU defensive back in the league. Part of that is Awuzie being fun as hell, and another is Jimmy Smith slipping some with age. He’s still a good starter in what may be the league’s best secondary (especially now with Earl Thomas at safety).
Nate Solder, LT, New York Giants
Solder received a massive payday as the desperate Giants pried him from New England. He disappointed some as New York’s line fell apart, but he picked up his play and heads into 2019 as a steady starter. That offense might be rough after trading Odell Beckham, but if they surprise, Solder holding down left tackle would be a reason why.
Paul Richardson, WR, Washington
Like Solder, Richardson got paid in the 2018 offseason as he left Seattle for D.C. Richardson is Washington’s best receiver by quite a bit, although that’s not a good sign. P-Rich is more of a field stretcher who opens up space for playmakers underneath; he’s not quite durable or consistent enough to be a number 1 option. That said, this would be the year for Richardson to put up the best numbers of his career.
Mason Crosby, K, Packers
The old Buffs are aging, sadly, and Crosby is chief among them. The last holdover from the Barnett days had a trying 2018, but fended off competition to win the Packers’ kicking job. He enters his 13th year as starting kicker is Green Bay’s all-time leading scorer. Hopefully he will bounce back and keep on going forever.
Tedric Thompson, S, Seattle Seahawks
After Earl Thomas’s Seattle career ended in a devastating injury (as well as a shocking f-you to the team), Tedric Thompson assumed the starting job and broke out. We all know how good he is at playmaking in coverage and that’s transitioned to the NFL. He’s a free safety in a young but promising secondary, and although the Seahawks drafted his competition in second rounder Marquise Blair, Thompson is posed for another big year.
Isaiah Oliver, CB, Atlanta Falcons
Oliver only started one season at CU before he was drafted in the second round. He was somewhat raw, so it made sense for the Falcons to treat his rookie year as something of a redshirt season. After impressing in training camps and preseason, Oliver moves into a starting position. He’s big and athletic enough to match up with the freak receivers in the NFC South, so we’ll soon see what Oliver is capable of.
Ken Crawley, CB, New Orleans Saints
After a breakout 2017, Crawley regressed last year. He plays opposite Marshon Lattimore, one of the best in the game, so he saw a ton of action that he didn’t deal well with. New Orleans traded for Eli Apple midseason, moved Crawley to bench and improved their defense. He enters the season as a bench player, but hopefully he can work his way back into the starting lineup.
Ahkello Witherspoon, CB, San Francisco 49ers
Witherspoon enters his third season hoping to play more like he did as a rookie, when he looked like a future shutdown corner, than he did as a sophomore, when he was benched after multiple poor starts. Witherspoon will start for the 49ers opposite Richard Sherman, the gold standard of lengthy corners who has hopefully taught the CU alumnus some valuable lessons.
Juwann Winfree, WR, Broncos
The best news of the preseason was seeing Juwann Winfree make the Broncos’ final roster. He’s Denver’s fifth receiver and might not see that many touches, but he’s there waiting for an opportunity. He’s a hard worker, a great leader and has a history of overcoming the odds, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see Winfree make the most of his chance.
Josh Tupou, NT, Cincinnati Bengals
Tupou enters his third season with the Bengals and he’s a depth piece on the defensive line. He’s a massive man who’s there to eat space against the run. The Bengals are quite bad and will down in most of their games, so Tupou’s run-stuffing ability might be needed often.
Late cuts: Travon McMillian (Steelers), Javier Edwards (Texans), Shay Fields (Washington) and Daniel Munyer (Colts) were final cuts and may see time in the NFL later on this year. Kabion Ento is also on the Packers’ practice squad.
This article was updated to include Ahkello Witherspoon, who I somehow forgot, and Kabion Ento, who @MaxMKE pointed out on Twitter.