Duke Shelley faced an uphill battle to the NFL when his senior year at Kansas State was cut short with a toe injury.
Shelley, a former defensive back for the Wildcats, missed the final five games of his college career and was then unable to participate in any all-star games leading up to this week’s draft. His only opportunity to show off for NFL scouts came at K-State’s pro day in early March.
Turns out that was enough for him to make an impression.
The Chicago Bears selected Shelley in the sixth round of the NFL Draft with the 205th overall pick on Saturday.
He is the second former K-State player to hear his name called in the 2019 draft. The first was right tackle Dalton Risner, who went to the Denver Broncos in the second round with the 41st pick on Friday.
That comes as a bit of a surprise, considering running back Alex Barnes and fellow defensive back Eli Walker both arguably entered the draft with more buzz.
But Barnes went undrafted and signed a free agent deal with the Tennessee Titans.
Shelley is capable of excelling at the next level. A four-year starter for the Wildcats, he proved himself as a quality cover corner in the pass-happy Big 12 and was having an excellent senior campaign before going down with an injury.
His season actually ended after he made an interception against Oklahoma State last October when he tore a ligament in his big toe while trying to return the pick for a touchdown.
Just when it seemed like Shelley was turning into the unquestioned leader of K-State’s defense with 33 tackles, nine defended passes and three interceptions, his college career was over.
But he recovered quickly enough to turn heads at K-State’s pro day, and now he’s headed to the NFL.
Barnes will also get a shot to make a NFL roster, even if he didn’t get drafted as expected.
He left K-State a year early to get a jump start on his professional career after putting up strong numbers as a junior last season. The Pittsburg native was an absolute workhorse in his final year at K-State. He turned 256 carries into 1,355 yards and 12 touchdowns, while also catching 20 passes for 194 yards. He led the Big 12 in rushing and earned all-conference honors.
His draft stock seemed to rise when he showed off his strength at the NFL Scouting Combine earlier this year, making some think he might be selected in the middle rounds. But expectations dipped a bit in recent weeks, and he was viewed more as a late-rounder. He ended up going undrafted and will need to prove himself over the next few months.