Star Tech defenders selected at 2016 NFL Draft

Photo by John Nakano

Outsiders to Tech football often think first of its unconventional attack, a jumble of bruising running backs, quick edge players, field-stretching receivers and a quarterback mobile enough to perhaps form a coherent offense. Left out of the discussion is the defense.

While hardly reminiscent of the 1985 Chicago Bears’ fearsome unit, Ted Roof’s players have provided timely stops in big games, from an end-zone interception against previously unblemished Florida State passer Everett Golson to a clutch sack to prevent a Bulldogs score before halftime in the latest rendition of “Good, Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate.”

The success of the Jackets defense, particularly its individual performances, was not lost on general managers at the 2016 NFL Draft, where two Tech players were selected: defensive end, Adam Gotsis, and cornerback, D.J. White.

Selected by the defending Super Bowl champion, the Denver Broncos, Gotsis will have an early opportunity to join one of pro football’s finest defenses in recent memory. An Australia native, the 6-foot-4-inch team captain made an impact that reached beyond his relatively modest statistical contributions. 

Gotsis occupied double teams, freeing up linebackers to make plays against the run and pass. His absence for much of the UNC game following a controversial ejection began the Jackets’ unraveling against Marquise Williams and the Tar Heels offense, and a season-ending knee injury against the Cavaliers stripped Tech of its premier player in its defensive front seven.

Broncos fans can expect Gotsis to occupy a similar role at the next level. While he has gotten after the passer on occasion and shown flashes of disruption, scouts question his ability to stay on the field in third-down situations, courtesy of NFL.com. His forte will likely remain his capacity to free up elite edge rushers like Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware, a strong enough value that Denver general manager John Elway saw  fit to draft Gotsis.

On Gotsis, Elway said that the former Jacket was “a guy that we targeted and we didn’t want to take any chances to let him slide,” courtesy of ESPN.com. The Hall of Fame quarterback turned team executive was reportedly enamored the defensive end’s physical stature upon meeting him, although he admitted that the team drafted Gotsis earlier than most projections would have led outsiders to expect.

Other NFL pick, cornerback D.J. White, will forever be remembered in Tech lore for sealing the 2015 contest against UGA with an overtime interception. He will look to make his mark on a similarly rich football tradition in Kansas City, joining the Chiefs and occupying the same division as former teammate Gotsis.

While Gotsis found himself drafted on day two, White waited until the sixth round to hear his name called. This was not a drastic surprise — the cornerback class was a particularly strong one in a rather deep draft — but will no doubt provide the Atlanta native with a chip on his shoulder.

CBS Sports’ Rob Rang wrote before the draft that while White lacks the long frame that pro scouts increasingly covet in corners and safeties, he has the athleticism and skillset to succeed in the nickel package, guarding smaller slot receivers.

While no other Jackets heard their names called in Chicago during the draft, multiple have found opportunities via undrafted free agents. Safety Demond Smith and running back Broderick Snoddy signed pacts with the Green Bay Packers. Smith joins former Tech standout Morgan Burnett in the Packers defensive backfield.

Meanwhile, safety and special teams maven Jamal Golden earned a free agent tryout from the Atlanta Falcons.

Despite its typical inability to recruit elite high school talent and its unconventional style of play, Tech has seen a number of stars on the Flats turn into excellent competitors at the NFL level.

Wide receivers such as Calvin Johnson and Demaryius Thomas, defensive ends like Michael Johnson and Derrick Morgan, and the aforementioned Burnett have played key roles on their respective teams, while young players such as Jeremiah Attaochu are beginning to assume significant roles themselves.

Nonetheless, the jump from college football to the National Football League is rarely an easy one. Offensive linemen are bigger and more athletic, defenders apply honed technique along with raw talent, and both offensive and defensive schemes become significantly more complicated.

This rapid escalation has its casualties. For example, former Tech wide receiver Stephen Hill has toiled in relative obscurity despite his position’s pedigree at Tech. There is no guarantee that even the brightest of college stars will achieve any success in the NFL.

Whether the Jackets’ latest batch of NFL players will make it big or succumb to the NFL’s high pressure environment will be a small subplot in one of professional sports’ most fervently followed theaters.