Pittsburg State receiver Marquise Cushon knows that going from Division II to the NFL is a big leap. But it’s one he’s seen plenty of his former teammates navigate in recent years, with the most notable being his ex-roommate, Arizona Cardinals receiver John Brown.
Brown, 26, was drafted by the Cardinals in the third round of the 2014 draft after finishing his career as Pitt State’s all-time leader in receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns. The sizzling 4.34 40-yard dash he ran at his pro day didn’t hurt his cause, either.
While Cushon is not quite as fast — the Raytown South graduate says he ran a 4.46 at his pro day and has also been clocked in the 4.5s during his predraft testing — he’s optimistic that Brown’s success in the NFL (where he’s averaged 56 catches, 849 yards and six touchdowns in his two seasons) will help his cause.
“I feel like John definitely opened doors up for players like me,” Cushon said. “That’s what I want to do for guys in the KC metro area, so they can see me as living proof as guy who went to Raytown South and played at a big-time D-II school and had opportunity to play in the NFL. That’s what I want to do, give younger guys in the metro area hope.”
That’s a big goal, but it’s one Cushon is serious about. In the future, he says he wants to hold camps in the community for kids and give back to youth football through nonprofits.
But for the immediate future, he’s focused on making his NFL dream a reality. And he’s leaned on Brown and two former teammates who landed in rookie camps last May — cornerback De’Vante Bausby (Chiefs) and receiver Gavin Lutman (Vikings) — for advice.
“They just told me to control what I can control and be ready for my workouts, and that’s exactly what I did,” said Cushon, who has spent the last few months working out with former Chief Alphonso Hodge at Hodge’s Do Work Factory in Lee’s Summit.
To make it in the NFL, Cushon — who checks in at 5 feet 8 inches and 172 pounds — will probably have to earn his living as a slot receiver and return specialist. A three-year starter at Pitt State, he caught 40 passes for 483 yards and a touchdown in 2015, while rushing 27 times for 257 yards. He also returned 15 kicks for 329 yards (a 21.9-yard average) and nine punts for 84 yards (a 9.3-yard average).
“I played defense, so I’m good at reading defenses,” said Cushon, who played 10 games at cornerback as a true freshman in 2012. “Also, I bring speed and excitement to the game — I’m a big play waiting to happen.”
Cushon, who was invited to the Chiefs’ local pro day in early April, said the experience went well.
“I got to meet the staff, and the GM (John Dorsey) was very excited to have us there — guys that grew up in community, living out their dream,” Cushon said. “It was a fun experience.”
Cushon said he’s talked to some teams over the last few months, including the Jets, Steelers, Cowboys and Washington. He’s not sure where the next step of his journey will take him, but he’s optimistic he’ll at least get a shot to show his ability in some team’s rookie minicamp held the week after the draft.
“I had a pretty good pro day, and at the end of my pro day, the Rams told me the least I have to worry about is getting invited to a camp,” Cushon said. “So I feel like they really like me, and there’s a lot of teams that know what I can do.
“If a team takes a chance on me in the draft, they’re gonna get a quality player.”
Inside the 2016 NFL Draft: receivers
Chiefs’ needs: The Chiefs have a bonafide No. 1 receiver in Jeremy Maclin, and they also return Albert Wilson, their No. 2 receiver last year, and Chris Conley, a promising 2015 third-round pick. They also signed veterans Mike Williams and Rod Streater to one-year prove-it deals, and still have some young players they've been grooming (Da’Ron Brown, Frankie Hammond and Fred Williams) in the fold, but the Chiefs could still use a possession receiver, provided the right one falls to them. De’Anthony Thomas is apparently back in the mix following an uncertain end to the 2015 season, but a slot receiver with return skills would be nice insurance.
Sleeper: South Carolina’s Pharoh Cooper is being overlooked. An elusive, athletic receiver with return skills, he caught 66 passes for 973 yards and eight touchdowns. Someone is going to get a dynamic contributor in the middle rounds.
Other local/area prospects
Andre Davis, Kansas State, 6-0, 203: Caught 12 passes for 166 yards and zero touchdowns in 2015.
Robert Johnson, Avila, 5-10, 185: Caught 55 passes for 580 yards and a touchdown in 2015.
Deron Kirkwood, MidAmerica Nazarene, 6-1, 180: Center High School graduate caught one pass for 36 yards in only four games in 2015.
Brandon Rowe, Lincoln, 6-2, 200: Caught 21 passes for 327 yards and a touchdown in 10 games.