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Former Virginia football players hope to shine in the NFL

A number of former Cavaliers will be debuting as rookies this season while veterans look to make a lasting impact on their teams

Currently listed as a reserve, Hall should get the chance to see the field in the near future considering the lack of talent in the Jets' secondary.
Currently listed as a reserve, Hall should get the chance to see the field in the near future considering the lack of talent in the Jets' secondary.

With a new NFL season underway, many former Virginia football players will have the opportunity to showcase their talent at the professional level. In a year where sports across the nation have been profoundly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, week one proved that football will be no exception. Despite the crowdless stadiums and new safety protocols, former Cavaliers — ranging from rookies to veterans —  will be taking the field and competing at the highest level. Here’s what to expect from the Cavaliers in the NFL.

Rookies

Following one of the best seasons in recent Virginia football history, a number of highly valuable players on both sides of the ball declared for the NFL draft. While some Cavaliers generated buzz as the draft neared, the first Virginia football player did not come off the board until the fifth round. With that being said, every Virginia rookie selected or signed this past offseason will have a lot to prove in their first NFL season. 

Joe Reed, wide receiver, Los Angeles Chargers

The first Cavalier to come off the board in the 2020 draft with the 151st pick, Reed is slated to have a big role with the Los Angeles Chargers this season. Despite an outstanding year as Virginia’s top wide receiver, posting 77 receptions for 679 yards and seven touchdowns, Reed’s biggest impact in Los Angeles may not come on offense. With the Chargers loaded at the receiver position with the likes of Keenan Allen and Mike Williams, Reed will have a chance to make a name for himself as a return specialist. Reed already started to debut his explosiveness with a 46-yard return in his first-ever NFL game against the Cincinnati Bengals Sunday.

Bryce Hall, cornerback, New York Jets

Just seven picks after Reed, the standout ACC cornerback was selected by the New York Jets with the 158th pick. A legitimate lock-down cornerback, Hall posted 154 tackles and five interceptions throughout his college career. Hall was considered to be a potential first-round pick at one point during the 2019 season, but had his year cut short due to a devastating ankle injury. Following his injury, Hall’s stock plummeted which allowed him to be available for the Jets in the draft’s fifth round. Currently listed as a reserve, Hall should get the chance to see the field in the near future considering the lack of talent in the New York secondary. 

Jordan Mack, linebacker, Carolina Panthers

A deep linebacker class in 2020 resulted in Mack falling out of the draft. However, he signed with the Carolina Panthers as a free agent. Racking up 69 tackles, 8 sacks and two forced fumbles in his final year at Virginia, Mack will still have to work his way up the roster in order to earn a more meaningful role on defense.

Bryce Perkins, quarterback, Los Angeles Rams

The heart and soul of the Virginia offense in 2019, Perkins’ play style is defined by his electrifying athleticism and physicality. After being signed by the Los Angeles Rams following the draft, Perkins is on the practice squad at the moment. Despite his current status, Perkins’ ability leaves the door open to making the active roster one day, especially since the Rams lack a reliable back-up to starting quarterback Jared Goff.

Established starters 

In today’s NFL, a number of Cavaliers have stuck around and made a name for themselves as starters in the league. With a number of standouts on both offense and defense, these former Virginia football players include a Super Bowl champion and the league’s reigning leader in interceptions.

Rodney McLeod, free safety, Philadelphia Eagles

The starting free safety of the Super Bowl LII champions, McLeod is slated for a bigger role this year than any other with the Philadelphia Eagles. Due to the departure of teammate Malcolm Jenkins, McLeod is now set to be the team’s top safety. Totaling an impressive 76 tackles, two interceptions and two forced fumbles in 2019, McLeod is a player to watch as the Eagles attempt to defend their 2019 NFC East title.

Anthony Harris, free safety, Minnesota Vikings

There has been a lot of noise regarding the Minnesota Vikings’ starting free safety and whether he is the best overall player at this position in the NFL. The former Cavalier has the statistics to back up the claim, having tied for the league lead in interceptions in 2019 with six. Now entering his sixth season, Harris was recently rated the second-best safety in the league by Pro Football Focus with a 90.5 overall grade. Harris is just getting started and will be an impact player on the Minnesota defense in 2020.

Morgan Moses, right tackle, Washington Football Team

Moses was one of the higher draft picks in modern Virginia history when he landed on the Washington Football Team — then known as the Washington Redskins. He was selected with the 66th overall pick in the third round of the 2014 NFL Draft. Despite flying under the radar, Moses has proven to be a consistent and solid starter on the right side of the Washington offensive line, allowing a total of just five sacks in 2019. Moses’ role in 2020 will be critical as he is tasked with protecting second-year quarterback Dwayne Haskins. This past Sunday, he made his 81st straight start for Washington.

Dontrelle Inman, wide receiver, Washington Football Team

Like Moses, Inman is another former Virginia player who has found a home with Washington. Inman had a quiet first week with two receptions and 21 yards. In spite of a slow start, he is expected to have a large role on the Washington offense as the starting slot receiver. Inman’s 2019 season was stymied by injuries but he had a solid showing in 2018 with 28 receptions, 304 yards and three touchdowns. Having bounced around the league since 2011, Washington hopes Inman can be a reliable veteran target for Haskins. 

Micah Kiser, linebacker, Los Angeles Rams

Of all the former Cavaliers in the NFL, Kiser caused the most buzz after week one of the 2020 season. His impressive debut for the Los Angeles Rams could be a sign of things to come. The inside linebacker played all 72 defensive snaps and recorded seven total tackles with two passes defended. Kiser could be an every-down linebacker for the Rams this season and may have the opportunity to turn in a monstrous season on the Los Angeles defense.

High-potential players

Still young in their NFL careers, a couple of Cavaliers in their sophomore seasons will be looking to continue to grow and develop in 2020. These former Virginia players enter the new season with a real chip on their shoulders.

Juan Thornhill, free safety, Kansas City Chiefs

The highest Virginia draft pick since 2011, Thornhill was drafted by the Kansas City Chiefs in the second round of the 2019 NFL Draft. Thornhill had an impressive rookie campaign, recording 46 tackles and three interceptions, one of which was returned 46-yards for a touchdown. Although Thornhill’s season was cut short due to an ACL tear, he is currently working his way back up the depth chart for the Chiefs.

Olamide Zaccheaus, wide receiver, Atlanta Falcons

With little playing time in 2019, playing behind Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley, Zaccheaus showed flashes of excellence with the opportunities he had for the Atlanta Falcons. The second-year player posted three receptions for 125 yards and a touchdown last year. Expect Zaccheus to continue to have a supporting role on offense and a more prominent role on special teams.

The Veteran

Matt Schaub, quarterback, Atlanta Falcons

At 39 years old, the reliable Schaub is still hanging around the NFL — he’s served as Matt Ryan’s backup in Atlanta since 2016. Though his days as a starting professional quarterback are over, Schaub has proven to be a reliable second-string quarterback and can still contribute when called upon. He completed 50 passes for 580 yards and three touchdowns in 2019. 

Notable Mentions

Not every former Virginia player in the NFL is on a starting lineup or an active roster. A number of former Cavaliers are in supporting roles as second- or third-string players or even practice squad members. These individuals, who are still contributing around the league in one capacity or another include Kurt Benkert, LaRoy Reynolds, Brent Urban, Andrew Brown, Maurice Canady, Eric Smith, Oday Aboushi and Tim Harris.

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