Blessuan Austin, Saquan Hampton further football careers in NFL
Senior defensive backs Blessuan Austin and Saquan Hampton are moving up to the highest level of football. The two individuals on the Rutgers football team were picked in the NFL Draft by the New York Jets and the New Orleans Saints, respectively, last Saturday in Nashville.
Hampton, a fifth-year senior, was the first Scarlet Knight off the board in the sixth round as the 177th pick to New Orleans. The Rutgers defensive back was the second safety that the Saints took in the draft after taking Florida’s Chauncey Gardner-Johnson in the fourth round.
Hampton, who was a team captain last season, totaled 177 tackles and 5 interceptions in 39 games as a Knight. At the NFL Combine in Indianapolis early in March, the safety ran a 4.448 in the 40-yard dash.
Austin, a Queens, New York native, was selected 19 picks after his teammate by the Garden State Area’s AFC local team: the Jets. He was the second Big Ten player to be drafted by New York, after Minnesota linebacker Blake Cashman in the fifth round.
The 6-foot-1-inch cornerback missed 11 games after suffering a season-ending injury against Texas State, back on Sept. 1. Austin has not played a full season since 2016, when, as a sophomore, he broke up an average of 1.7 passes per game, good for 12th in the nation.
Five out of the Jets’ six draft picks were defensive players. Austin was the lone secondary taken in this year’s NFL Draft and is the first Rutgers student athlete to be selected to New York since 1967.
But, Austin and Hampton weren’t the only former Knights to join NFL clubs. Fifth-year seniors offensive lineman Tariq Cole and defensive lineman Kevin Wilkins were the first pair of undrafted Rutgers soon-to-be alumni to be picked up by the Arizona Cardinals and the Philadelphia Eagles, respectively.
Cole, a fifth-year senior, served as an offensive team captain last season as a left tackle. He was an Honorable Mention All-Big Ten in 2016 and 2017.
In 47 games as a Knight, Wilkins played in 12 games except for 11 last season. He made 126 total and 46 solo career tackles. During his career, he made 2.5 sacks for a loss of 10 combined yards.
Graduate student running back Jonathan Hilliman was picked up by the New York Giants, marking the third Rutgers player to sign an undrafted free agent deal. Hilliman, who transferred to the Banks after spending the previous three seasons at Boston College, rushed for six touchdowns and 337 yards last season.
With Boston’s ACC team in 2017, the Plainfield, New Jersey native ran for five touchdowns and found the end zone twice as a receiver. He is 12th on the Eagles’ program list with 2,238 rushing yards and ranks seventh with 26 touchdowns on the ground.
Hilliman joins alumnus running back Robert Martin on the Giants, who signed a reserve contract earlier this season with the team.
Senior linebacker and last season’s defensive team captain Deonte Roberts rounded out the Knights’ undrafted free agent list, finding a home with the San Francisco 49ers. He made 297 total and 93 solo career tackles in four seasons at Rutgers.