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There are 1,696 players in the NFL, and each year over 300 players come into the league through the NFL draft or by signing with teams as undrafted free agents. Of those undrafted players, only a tiny percentage land on a practice squad, with even less making the final 53-man roster. In this year’s NFL training camp, a slew of Utes will be vying for one of those coveted spots.
Britain Covey – Philadelphia Eagles
Covey signed as an undrafted free agent with the opportunity to play in the city of brotherly love. The Eagles have had a need at receiver in the past few seasons, but Howie Roseman and Co. have heavily invested in the position. In one of the biggest storylines of draft night, Philly traded for AJ Brown, the former Titans star who signed a new four-year deal as soon as the trade was finalized. Opposite Brown is former Heisman winner Devonte Smith, who had a strong rookie season and should find even more success with defenses now keying in on Brown. The Eagles also have former first-round pick Jalen Reagor, who hasn’t lived up to his draft stock but could have a big year as the third receiving threat. Zach Pascal also comes over from the Colts, where he had lots of success as their third/fourth receiver. Greg Ward and Quez Watkins round out an improved receiver room meaning Covey’s best shot at making Philly’s roster will come down to how he performs as a returner. Fortunately, as Utah fans know, this is the long-time Utes specialty. Covey is also a great locker room presence whose new Philly teammates should quickly come to love. The Eagles got modest production out of their return teams a year ago, but if Covey can shine in training camp, he could very well win either job. It’s hard to secure a return job as a rookie, but Covey should leave a good enough impression on the coaches that they decide to keep him around the land of Philly Cheesesteaks. Prediction: Practice Squad
Cole Fotheringham – Raiders
The tight ends position is essential to nearly every NFL offense. The threat they pose as both an extra blocker and receiver can be crucial in offenses moving the chains. While Cole isn’t the greatest route runner, he is an exceptional blocker. Some of his former Ute teammates even joked he could play tackle if he put on the weight. The Raiders have their top two tight ends set with the All-pro Darren Waller and the reliable Foster Monroe as his backup. Additionally, the Black and Silver added veteran Jacob Hollister who struggled in Jacksonville a year ago but before joining the Jaguars, Hollister had two strong seasons in Seattle, totaling 558 yards and six touchdowns. Other tight ends on the Raiders roster include the former Penn State product Nick Bowers and seldom-used Bears tight end Jesper Horsted. This may seem like a lot of names but just a year ago with the Patriots, then-New-England-coordinator-now-Raiders Head Coach Josh McDaniel operated with five tight ends on their roster. More and more teams are also utilizing 12 & 13 personal, with two and three tight ends, meaning there could be room in Vegas for Fotheinginham. On the other hand, one of the reasons New England had so many on their roster was due to their high investment in four of them. Whether acquiring tight ends through the draft or free agency, New England was an outlier across the league. Fotheringham will have a chance to impress the Raiders but will face an uphill battle to make it in Vegas. Predictions: Cut
Bamidele Olaseni – Raiders
Fotheringham isn’t the only Ute in Vegas, with the Utes mammoth left tackle also joining him. The Raiders look set at left tackle with former first-round pick and Bruin Kolton Miller. Right tackle is more of an enigma for the Silver and Black, with Alex Leatherwood starting the 2021 season in that spot but, after struggling, was then kicked inside to right guard. Leatherwood will have a chance to win the job back for the 2022 season but will be competing with former Ute Jackson Barton and veteran Brandon Parker. The Raider’s tackle depth will make it challenging for Olaseni to make the 53-man roster, but his upside should give him a chance to make the practice squad. Despite his age (26), Olaseni has only played football for a few years and still has room to grow as he learns more of the game’s nuances. Olaseni could be stashed and developed for a few years to refine his skills before stepping in as a swing tackle. He already excels at taking defensive linemen from point A to point B once he gets his hands on them and could become a force in league with the right coaching. Prediction: Practice Squad
Nick Ford – Jaguars
Doug Petersons’ top priority in Jacksonville should be the development of Trevor Lawrence. The Jaguars took the right steps in free agency, spending big on Brandon Scherff, one of the league’s top guards, and locking in tackle Cam Robison to a long-term deal. This Jaguars also invested in numerous draft picks to build a strong offensive line. Whether it be tackles Jawann Taylor and Walker Little or interior offensive linemen Luke Fortner and Ben Bartch, that’s before mentioning a veteran like Tyler Shatley, who went undrafted in 2014, but signed with Jacksonville and has remained in place since. The Jaguars may be attracted to Ford’s versatility, but they will no doubt want him to clean up some of the inconsistencies that prevented him from being drafted. Because of the crowded room, Ford will more than likely be a roster casualty. Predictions: Cut
TJ Pledger – Cardinals
The last Ute to sign as an undefeated free agent, the speedy Pledger will look to impress Arizona as a third-down back just as he did with Utah last season. Pledger’s skills could also be maximized in the Cardinals screen game, where he can show off his shiftiness in open space. The former Ute and Sooner would complement Arizona’s lead back, James Conner, well. Conner is the bruiser, and Pledger could take over on third and longs. The Cardinals understand the appeal with paring Conners with a third-down back and have added super bowl champion Darrell Williams who had 452 receiving yards last season with the Chiefs. Another former Pac-12 back in Arizona State’s Eno Benjamin, will also look to make his mark in his second season with the Cardinals. Pledger will also be battling it out with another undrafted free agent in USC’s Keaontay Ingram. Most NFL teams keep 3-4 backs on their roster and practice squad, meaning Pledger will have to impress in Training Camp to make either. Pledger’s limited size and strength could hurt him in the NFL, where he will have a hard time breaking tackles once defenders get their hands on him. As mentioned earlier, Conner shinnied in Kliff Kingsbury’s offense a year ago and will once again be the feature back. After him, it will more than likely be Williams who backs him up, with Benjamin contributing on special teams and getting reps on the practice. Prediction: Cut
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