After having no players selected in the NFL Draft last year for the first time in quite a while, Virginia football had two of its players drafted Saturday to begin a new streak of Cavaliers entering the pros. As happens every year, several other key Virginia players were given a shot at starting an NFL career as undrafted free agent signings.
Here are some highlights from draft weekend, and how some former Virginia players may fit into roles in their new teams.
Inside Linebacker Micah Kiser
Drafted by the Los Angeles Rams in Round 5, pick No. 147
The first player off the board for the Cavaliers, Kiser saw his illustrious, hard-working career as a Virginia student athlete pay off. The 2017 winner of the Campbell Trophy — college football’s academic Heisman — is eager to get his NFL career started.
“I’m pumped. This is a blessing,” Kiser said. “I knew all along the Rams organization liked me as a player. I felt like it was a great fit and I’m so happy to be a Ram and glad that they chose me.”
Kiser joins a Rams defense that figures to be a force in 2018. Already having former NFL Defensive Player of the Year defensive tackle Aaron Donald on the field, coach Sean McVay added All-Pro defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh to the front seven over the offseason to give his team a devastating presece up front.
Kiser looks forward to adding whatever value he can to the loaded defensive front.
“[The Rams are getting] a really smart linebacker [and] leader on the field [in me],” Kiser said when asked what he would bring to the Rams. “I think I’ve been one of the more productive linebackers in college football the last three years. So, I’m just going to come in and do whatever they want me to do.”
With the Rams loading up on talent to make a run at the Super Bowl this year, Kiser has the chance to make an impact on team with its sights set on glory. His incredible poise and hard-working attitude will be sure to aid him along the way.
Defensive End/Tackle Andrew Brown
Drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals in Round 5, pick No. 158
The second Virginia player taken in the NFL Draft, Brown was thrilled to have been selected in the NFL Draft.
“It’s been a very surreal day — it’s crazy,” Brown said. “I can’t even put the words together.”
After a college career in which he played below the expectations of some — coming into Virginia as a highly-touted five-star recruit — Brown struggled with criticism in college for his play.
“Everybody was saying I was a bust, and I wasn’t doing anything in college,” Brown said. “There were all sorts of things, calling me soft. Just for me to get drafted, period, is a blessing. It’s just amazing how God works.”
Brown credits the support and tutelage of Virginia Coach Bronco Mendenhall for his strong senior season and for the opportunity to play in the NFL. Mendenhall instilled confidence in Brown, and entrusted him with significant responsibilities in his senior season.
Brown joins an aging Bengals defensive front and could instantly provide talent, aggression and power to bolster their defense. While he played in college as an end, Brown will most likely transition to defensive tackle in the NFL, as the Bengals look to make use of his power and strength in the defensive line.
Brown is excited to start off his NFL career and silence his college critics.
“They don’t even know the half of what is coming,” Brown said. “I am ready to go.”
Quarterback Kurt Benkert
Signed as a free agent with Atlanta Falcons
Although Benkert wasn’t selected in the draft like he had hoped, he signed as a free agent with the Atlanta Falcons.
In his senior year, Benkert threw for 3,207 yards, which made for a single-season, school-record. Benkert also recorded 25 touchdowns in 2017, helping Virginia reach its first bowl game since 2011. Benkert’s arm strength is his greatest threat and throughout his last year of college football he showed tremendous improvement and increased confidence. However, he isn’t quite as athletic as some other quarterbacks and his accuracy has been questionable at times.
Benkert joins an Atlanta roster that already has quite a few quarterbacks. There is veteran starter Matt Ryan and backup Matt Schaub, a Virginia graduate who had a great career during his years in Charlottesville. The Falcons also have younger players in the position, with Trevor Knight signed on the practice squad and Garrett Grayson, signed to a future contact. It won’t be an easy road for Benkert to get action on the field, but if he continues to improve as he did in his senior year, there is potential for him.