It started in fall camp, when Colorado’s senior defensive backs came to an agreement, the Buffaloes would climb out of the Pac-12 basement, and then it was NFL or bust. The trio’s drive to cash in on their talent and show the world their hard work led to the rise of a nickname that would encompass everything that season, from play style to turnover celebrations: Money Gang. More than just a moniker, it became a mindset that fueled each of the three’s ambition to play in the National Football League.
A few months after helping to revive Colorado Football, seniors Chidobe Awuzie, Ahkello Witherspoon and Tedric Thompson heard their names called in the second, third and fourth rounds of the NFL Draft, respectively. For the first time in nearly twenty years, there were three Colorado defensive backs drafted to the NFL, confirmation that last year’s success was real and that the Buffs are back.
Last season, Colorado boasted one of the most dominant secondaries in college football, accumulating 58 passes broken up between the trio. Now they will go their separate ways, fighting for starting spots on some of the most talented rosters in professional football. A dynamic defensive approach has made each of them dangerous in their own way, from Awuzie’s sticky man coverage to Witherspoon’s press of receivers and striking athleticism. As members of new teams, each is poised to carry Colorado Football to the next level, by exceeding expectations in the NFL.
Awuzie is the clearcut favorite to have the most immediate impact. Drafted in the second round by the Dallas Cowboys, he joins a playoff contender that struggled defensively last season, despite a dynamic one-two offensive punch in rookies Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott. This year, the Cowboys drafted a bevy of secondary pieces who will bring balance to their talented roster, with Awuzie topping the list.
With pick No. 60, Awuzie was the first Colorado player off the board. A disruptive, multi-dimensional defensive weapon, the Buffs corner is an immediate upgrade at the position for Dallas, who ranked No. 27 in the NFL last season in total interceptions. With Orlando Scandrick, Anthony Brown and Nolan Carroll atop the Cowboys current depth chart, Awuzie should compete for a starting job from day one. Dallas invested four picks in their secondary, grabbing Jourdan Lewis in the third, Xavier Woods in the fourth and Marquez White in the sixth. An obvious area of need for the Cowboys, with Awuzie at the head of the rookie class.
Awuzie is in the perfect position for success in Dallas. He is far and away the most talented player taken by the Cowboys at his position, and his work ethic, dedication and leadership (common knowledge to Buffs fans), will set him apart right away. Awuzie should earn play time immediately, and is one of the few Cowboys players with the ability to blitz the passer in addition to providing true cover for receivers. He will give Dallas the defensive spark they need, and leave 31 teams regretting passing on him not once, but twice.
Fellow cornerback Witherspoon finds himself in a similar position, joining a defense where he can step in and have an instant impact. Selected by the San Francisco 49ers with pick No. 66—just a few spots behind Awuzie—Witherspoon should also be competing for a starting job in camp. The 49ers have struggled on both sides of the ball over the last few seasons, and bring the big, athletic corner in to shore up their secondary. The NFC West division houses some serious offensive weapons, and Witherspoon’s success could be crucial to San Francisco’s hope for a turnaround.
Witherspoon will bring a dynamic playmaking option to the 49ers, who ranked 24th in the league in interceptions last season with only 10. Witherspoon, on the other hand, led all of the NCAA last year in passes broken up (a title he shared with Thompson.) He will attempt to translate that disruptive skill set to the 49ers secondary. He will be fighting Dontae Johnson, Jimmie Ward and others for a starting role, but should earn significant play time early on thanks to his size and athleticism.The 49ers could certainly use some of this Oregon interception magic on their defense, and Witherspoon will bring it to them.
Thompson, who received a call from the Seattle Seahawks at the beginning of the fourth round, joins a monster defense that will utilize his skill set perfectly. Despite significant talent at his position (Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor are the Seahawks starting safeties,) Thompson may have found the best eventual fit of the three. The ‘Legion of Boom’ will give him exactly what he needs: the ability to develop behind some of the best in the game.
With a cemented status as a ballhawk, Thompson will earn play time early on. Alongside Witherspoon, Thompson led all of college football in passes defended, a trait that matches what Seattle looks for in defenders. His natural instincts, ball-tracking skills and good hands (a high school wide receiver) will allow him to easily translate his talents to the next level.
Each of the Buffs defensive juggernauts has found a solid fit in the NFL. The Pac-12 South champs will bring their big-play mentality to the big game, lighting up opposing offenses on Sundays and continuing to show the world what Colorado Football is all about. Their success at the next level will be grounded in hard work, drive and the dominating mindset that became a defining trait of ‘Money Gang’s’ final season at Colorado.