The 2022 NFL season kicks off this weekend and once again Long Beach will have several representatives on NFL rosters. Some veteran stalwarts like Joel Bitonio and Marcedes Lewis are still with the same organizations while other big names were on the move this offseason.
Long Beach Poly
Perhaps the biggest name in a new place is WR JuJu Smith-Schuster, 25, who will be a key weapon for the Kansas City Chiefs this year. The former Poly Jackrabbit spent his first five seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers, and was a Pro Bowl selection in 2018. After playing just five games last year before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury, Smith-Schuster has the chance to reassert himself as one of the top wideouts in the league while playing with All-Pro quarterback Patrick Mahomes.
Fellow Jackrabbit Jayon Brown has a new home with the Las Vegas Raiders. where he’ll be playing for former Poly head coach Antonio Pierce, now the Raiders’ linebackers coach. Brown, 27, was with the Tennessee Titans for his first five pro seasons, but injuries slowed him down the past two years. Brown had his best season in 2019 with 105 tackles in 14 games.
Meanwhile, Marcedes Lewis remains the ageless wonder who is rewriting the NFL record books at his position. The 38-year-old out of Long Beach Poly is entering his 17th NFL season, a remarkable achievement for a tight end. Lewis is currently tied for 99th on the all-time list for games played with 234, and if he plays a full season with the Green Bay Packers, he’ll be on the cusp of the Top 50.
As far as tight ends go, if Lewis plays in three games in 2022 he’ll pass Antonio Gates for third on the all-time list for that position, trailing only Jason Witten (271) and Tony Gonzalez (270).
Linebacker Quinton Bell is a great success story of this year’s preseason, making the Opening Day roster for the Atlanta Falcons. Bell played five games for Tampa Bay in 2020, and was a practice squad player with the Falcons in 2021. But his play during the preseason, which included a blocked punt in the finale, has earned him a role on special teams and he could join the defensive rotation as an edge rusher for the Falcons. The Long Beach native played his first two high school seasons at Poly before transferring to Costa Mesa High.
There are also some new names out of Long Beach getting their first taste of the league this year. Most notable among that group is New England Patriots rookie cornerback, Jack Jones. The former All-American at Poly was a fourth round pick of the Patriots out of Arizona State and has really turned heads in the preseason. He has a decent shot at playing time in the Pats’ secondary after making the 53-man roster last week. Jones, 24, had his best game of the preseason in the finale against the Raiders, recording a pass breakup and a forced fumble.
A couple more Jackrabbit rookies will start the season on the injured list. QB Matt Corral was a third round pick by the Carolina Panthers, but suffered a season-ending foot injury during the preseason and will be on the IL for all of 2022.
Running back Aaron Shampklin got a good look with the Dallas Cowboys during the preseason, rushing for 106 yards on 28 carries across three games. He suffered an ankle injury in the final minute of the preseason finale and will need to rehab to start the year before hopefully joining Dallas’ practice squad. As an undrafted rookie out of Harvard, that’s a successful preseason effort with the chance to work his way onto the full roster later in the season.
Veteran wideout DeSean Jackson remains a free agent, and he may have played his last NFL game. After 15 NFL seasons, the three-time Pro Bowler has considered retirement, but could also return if the right fit presents itself. Jackson, 35, played for the Rams and Raiders last year, and has put together what’s arguably a Hall of Fame career as a deep-threat weapon and return specialist.
Former Poly cornerback Iman “Biggie'' Marshall has been plagued by injury during his pro career. He was waived over the summer by the Baltimore Ravens, the team that drafted him out of USC in the fourth round of the 2019 draft.
Joel Bitonio, 30, is set to begin his ninth campaign with the Cleveland Browns and remains one of the top offensive linemen in the league. The former Wilson Bruin has been an ironman at left guard, starting all 65 games for Cleveland the past four years while garnering four straight Pro Bowl selections. Bitonio was a first-team All-Pro selection in 2021, and enters the 2022 season as the No. 55-ranked player on the NFL’s annual Top 100 list.
Lakewood and LBCC alum, Matt Pryor, is back for his second season with the Indianapolis Colts. The 27-year-old offensive lineman has played in 44 games across three NFL seasons, making 15 starts.
Long Beach native Jeremy McNichols, who started his high school career at Lakewood High, is dealing with an injury at the start of the season. The 26-year-old running back has played for four different teams across five NFL seasons and was signed by the Pittsburgh Steelers during the offseason. He’ll start the year on the Steelers’ injured reserve with a shoulder injury.
Other free agents who could make their way onto NFL rosters this season include Jordan alum John Ross, who spent the offseason recovering from a knee injury and is ready to get back on the field. He’s dealt with a number of injuries during his pro career, most recently as a member of the New York Giants, but the former No. 9 overall pick remains an enticing target due to his record-setting speed and big play ability.
St. Anthony grad Curtis Weaver was with the Cleveland Browns during the preseason but was waived shortly before the rosters were reduced to 53 players. The defensive end was a former fifth round pick of the Miami Dolphins back in 2020.