Mekhi Becton is the latest Louisville Cardinal to don the New York Jets’ shades of green. How did the others fare?
With their first choice in the 2020 NFL Draft, the New York Jets ventured to their old Kentucky home of the University of Louisville. Offensive tackle Mekhi Becton, the 11th overall pick of Thursday’s first round, is the sixth former Cardinal the Jets have taken in draft proceedings.
Other alums to take to the New York sports arena include Liberty guard Asia Durr (the second overall pick of the 2018 WNBA Draft) and Yankees relief pitcher Chad Green.
How have the others who have made the Cardinals-to-Jets transition fared? ESNY investigates…
1991: QB Browning Nagle
A transfer from West Virginia, Nagle boosted his stock with a stellar senior season. He guided the Cardinals to their best-ever showing in the final AP poll and capped off his tenure with a 451-yard showing in the 1991 Fiesta Bowl (a 34-7 win over Alabama). Nagle went to the Jets with the 34th overall pick…one choice after Atlanta took future thrower Brett Favre.
Nagle was granted the Jets’ starting reins during the 1992 season. He got off to a decent start (366 yards and two scores in a Week 1 loss to the Falcons) but struggled in his lone season as the primary quarterback.
Nagle went 3-10 as the Jets’ starter and ended his lone year at the helm with only seven touchdowns (to go with 17 interceptions). Exploits in the Arena Football League awaited Nagle at the turn of the century, but not before one last start with the Colts to conclude the 1994 season.
2005: DB Kerry Rhodes
Rhodes originally set out to be a Cardinals quarterback, but he instead found a niche at safety. A stellar senior campaign (leading Conference USA with six interceptions) drew the Jets’ attention in the fourth round of the 2005 selections. He earned a starting job immediately, putting up 108 tackles and an interception. All-Pro honors awaited Rhodes after the 2006 season, and a five-year, $33.5 million extension followed in the spring of 2008.
Unfortunately, Rhodes clashed with head coach Rex Ryan, who would label him “a selfish-a** guy” and “a Hollywood type” in his 2011 book Play Like You Mean It: Passion, Laughs, and Leadership in the World’s Most Beautiful Game. Rhodes played with a different brand of Cardinals, those from Arizona, when he was traded by the Jets in 2010.
After his NFL departure, Rhodes became a true Hollywood type as an actor and producer. His most notable screen work to date came through a recurring role on If Loving You Is Wrong, a prime time soap opera that was created by Tyler Perry and ran for five seasons on OWN.
2011: RB Bilal Powell
It’s unknown if Powell’s current hold on the position of “longest-tenured New York Jet” will continue, as he remains up for free agency. Since his NFL entry as a fourth-round pick of the Jets, Powell’s average of 4.32 yards per carry is good for 15th amongst running backs with at least 800 attempts. His best Jets performance to date was a 163-yard showing in an upset victory over future AFC finalist Jacksonville in October 2017.
Powell made himself known to the Jets with a big senior year in one of the Big East’s final seasons. He finished second in the conference in rushing yards (1,405) and shared the lead for touchdowns with Connecticut’s Jordan Todman (14). A career tally of 2,338 rushing yards still places him in Louisville’s top ten list.
2014: DB Calvin Pryor
Becton joins Pryor as the second Cardinal to exchange red for green in the first round. The 18th overall selection had a decent rookie season (61 tackles), one decent enough to earn a spot on Pro Football Focus’ All-Rookie team.
Things quickly soured, however, and when the Jets brought in Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye in the back-to-back rounds during the 2017 proceedings, Pryor was shipped off to Cleveland and later Jacksonville. He ended his NFL career with 191 tackles and just two interceptions.
Making the process all the more painful for the Jets was the fact that nine future Pro Bowlers were chosen immediately ahead of Pryor at No. 18 (including future linebacker C.J. Mosley). Notables chosen shortly after Pryor include Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Dee Ford, and DeMarcus Lawrence.
2015: LB Lorenzo Mauldin
The Jets were apparently so pleased with Pryor’s rookie season, they brought in Mauldin, one of his Cardinal teammates, in the third round a year later. Mauldin would go on to partake in 26 games over two seasons with the Jets, earning 6.5 sacks and an interception.
His ability to get to the quarterback wasn’t a surprise after he picked up 21 quarterback takedowns at Louisville. He notably forced a fumble on Johnny Manziel during the 2015 season opener, but suffered a scary injury that turned out to be a concussion.
Mauldin spent the 2019 season with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats of the Canadian Football League, earning three more sacks over 11 games.
Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags