When Josiah Scott decided he was bypassing his final season at Michigan State, he didn’t need to hear from anyone in the NFL.
“When you leave college early, you never know what to expect,” Scott said on Saturday. “I never filed for a grade or anything like that, I was kind of just betting on myself.”
That bet paid off as Scott was taken in the fourth round of the NFL Draft by the Jacksonville Jaguars. The former Spartans cornerback was taken No. 137 overall, the 31st pick in the fourth round, making him the first Michigan State player taken. His selection extends Michigan State’s streak to 80 straight seasons it has had a player taken in the NFL Draft, the third-longest in the nation.
Another former Spartan came off the board in the seventh round when defensive end Kenny Willekes was selected No. 225 overall by the Minnesota Vikings.
“Thinking about going in the fourth round, it’s just about opportunity,” Scott said. “At the end of the day, my goal was to just to get in the league and now it’s time to stay in the league and that’s been my mindset the entire time.
“Going in the fourth round is good with me, now it's just time to work. There really isn't too much to it with me, it's just that I'm ready to work and I'm excited."
A freshman All-American in 2017, Scott started all 30 games of his Spartan career and was a two-time All-Big Ten selection, earning second-team honors as a junior in 2019 and third team by the media in 2017.
Last season, Scott had a career-high 55 tackles and tied for fourth in the Big Ten during the regular season with 11 passes defended, including eight pass breakups and three interceptions.
Scott finished his Michigan State career with 98 tackles, 25 pass breakups and seven interceptions in 30 games. He overcame a knee injury that forced him to miss eight games as a sophomore in 2018.
“He has a quieter personality, but you can tell just with his football intellect, how important football was to him,” Mark Ellenz, the Jaguars’ director of college scouting said. “This is a kid that walked on campus as a freshman and earned a starting job. He had to overcome some injuries in his career and had to bounce back. Just liked the makeup of the player.”
At just under 5-foot-10, the only knock on Scott is his ability in 50/50 balls with bigger receivers. However, he’s made up for it with his speed and athleticism, running a 4.42 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine.
Scott said the Jaguars, who met with at the Combine but had only minimal contact with leading up to the draft, expect him to come in and contribute right away.
“They asked if I’m ready to go in the slot and I definitely am,” Scott said. “Definitely can contribute to special teams, and that's what they asked about also. I think that's what they're expecting of me, to go in and play nickel and special teams, and contribute."
His history at Michigan State was a positive, as well.
“Definitely toughness,” Scott said. “He likes Michigan State guys and what they bring to the table with toughness, being able to tackle, cover, and just being an aggressive person, that's what they kind of liked from me.”
Willekes had to wait longer than some expected, being taken with the 11th pick of the final round by the Vikings.
“I’m excited,” Willekes said. “I’m ready to get to work.”
Willekes was the Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year as a junior in 2018 and returned for his senior season after suffering a broken leg in the Redbox Bowl. In 2019, Willekes recorded 10.5 sacks and finished his career with 51 tackles for loss, the most in program history.
"He had to earn everything he got at Michigan State," ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said. "A classic overachiever. He doesn’t have long arms you want in a defensive end and he’s a former walk-on, but he has that knack for getting after the quarterback. ... What he does is he anticipates that snap. He wants to beat that offensive tackle out of his stance and he does it a decent amount of time.
“Will the NFL be too much for him when he’s going against the best offensive tackles in the world? Maybe, but this is the kind of guy you don’t want to bet against.”
Getting taken in the final round will allow Willekes to follow a similar path as he did at Michigan State, going from a walk-on to a two-time second-team All-American.
“No doubt,” Willekes said. “I went through the same thing walking on at Michigan State. I’m no stranger to adversity, no stranger to hard work. I said many times during the process, it doesn’t matter where I get picked. Whatever team picks me, whatever team takes a chance on me, I’m gonna show up, be all in and be ready to work.”
There were a handful of Michigan State players that hoped to get drafted but were not selected, namely defensive tackle Raequan Williams and linebacker Joe Bachie. Neither heard their name called, nor did quarterback Brian Lewerke, defensive tackle Mike Panasiuk, wide receivers Darrell Stewart and Cody White as well as offensive lineman Tyler Higby and safety David Dowell.
Soon after the draft, Bachie had signed as a free agent with the New Orleans Saints while Panasiuk signed with the Las Vegas Raiders, Williams signed with the Philadelphia Eagles, Stewart with the Green Bay Packers and White with the Kansas City Chiefs. Reports stated Higby signed with the Minnesota Vikings.