IU in the League: A preview of your beloved former Hoosiers trying to make it in the NFL

We’re finally at a game week, and while I’m as excited as anyone to see the Hoosiers in action at Lucas Oil Stadium Saturday afternoon, I also thought the NFL fans among us would appreciate a run-down of all Hoosier Football alumni on training camp rosters/listed by ESPN as active NFL players.

With training camp cuts looming, I’ve ordered these players according to their likelihood of making the 53-man roster. I’m sure the ‘likelihood’ rating could be a point of contention, and for that I did my best to stick to where these guys are listed on their respective teams’ depth charts.

Projected Starters and Key Contributors

Rodger Saffold, G – Tennessee

The longest-tenured Hoosier in the league, Rodger Saffold helped the Rams make the Super Bowl last year before leaving to sign a 4-year, $44M contract with the Titans this offseason. Saffold was a second team All-Pro two years ago, and ended last season with the seventh-best grade among guards according to Pro Football Focus. The Rams were the only team to finish in the top-five in rushing and passing yards, and Saffold hopes to bring some of that elite production to Tennessee this season.

Tevin Coleman, RB – San Francisco

The 49ers signed the former Hoosier 2,000-yard rusher to a 2-year, $8.5M deal in free agency, reuniting him with Kyle Shanahan. He figures to be the Niners’ feature back this season, although he faces very talented competition for touches. Teammate Jerick McKinnon was signed last offseason, missed all of last season with an ACL injury, and is slowly working his way back to practice. While McKinnon was a breakout-candidate running back heading into last year, his expected absence from the first few 49ers games could solidify Coleman as the starter. The shifty-and-explosive Matt Breida was one of the more efficient backs in the NFL last year, averaging 5.3 yards per carry and 9.7 yards per reception, but his durability issues point to Coleman eclipsing him as the 49ers leader in touches. After registering over 1,000 yards from scrimmage last season, Tevin Coleman appears poised to have a career year in Shanahan’s offense.

Jordan Howard, RB – Philadelphia

Howard burst onto the scene quickly for the Bears in his first two seasons, rushing for over 1,000 yards each year and joining Gale Sayers as the other Bears rookie running back to make a Pro Bowl. Last year, he got to 935 yards while sharing the backfield with Tarik Cohen, and didn’t have a great game in the Bears Wildcard game loss, grinding out 35 yards on 10 attempts. The Bears decided to part ways with the 24-year-old in March, trading him to the Eagles for a 6th round pick. Philadelphia currently carries three backs with significant NFL experience (Josh Adams, Corey Clement, Wendell Smallwood), as well as hyped rookie Miles Sanders and Veteran 3rd-down back Darren Sproles. Despite the competition, Howard is still listed as the RB1 on the Eagles depth chart and figures to get significant carries in early downs and on the goal line.

Dan Feeney, G – LA Chargers

The former two-time All-American (and one of the best IU lineman ever) was a first team All-Rookie selection in 2017, and followed that up by starting all 16 games for the 2018 Chargers. The Chargers finished last season as the 5th-best run-blocking team in the NFL last season, and are expected to be in the top half of units again this year.

Ian Thomas, TE – Carolina

Thomas was drafted in the 4th round of the 2018 draft by the Panthers, and became a starter earlier than expected after an injury to Greg Olsen last season. In 16 games, Thomas caught 36 balls for 333 yards, the majority of that coming during the 6 games he started in Olsen’s absence. Olsen will be back in the starting spot for the Panthers this season, but his age and Thomas’ burgeoning skill will lead to the Panthers turning to Thomas more and more often. He’ll figure to play often in multiple tight end sets, and will be given the starting role with confidence if the oft-injured Olsen goes down again.

Active Roster: Could See Significant Time

Cody Latimer, WR – New York Giants

The 56th overall selection in the 2014 draft got buried in the depth chart early in his career, spending most of his time behind Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders(and winning a ring!) on the Broncos. He signed with the Giants before last season, and caught 11 passes for 190 yards in the six games he didn’t miss due to a hamstring injury. Luckily for Latimer, he’ll likely get the best opportunity in his career this upcoming season, as the Giants traded Odell Beckham Jr. and will be without free-agent signee Golden Tate for their first four games. Latimer could be as high as the WR2 on the Giants to start the season, and will hopefully make an impact enough to stay in the rotation when Tate returns.

Nate Sudfeld, QB – Philadelphia

Sudfeld has seen limited playing time in his first two years, playing in three games while serving as a backup QB for the Eagles. After Carson Wentz tore his ACL in the 2017 season, Sudfeld was promoted to backup quarterback as previous backup and now-Eagles-legend Nick Foles led the team to a Super Bowl win (peep the Sudfeld cameo in that Philly Special video, complimenting Trey Burton’s throw). This season will be a lot more tricky for Sudfeld. After breaking his wrist in the Eagles’ first preseason game, Nate is expected to take until at least late-September to recover fully. In his absence, the Eagles signed Josh McCown (who has impressed), and have given playing time to fifth-round draft pick Clayton Thorson. In the wake of Andrew Luck’s retirement, Eagles blogs have even pointed to the possibility that the Colts trade for Sudfeld to reunite with Frank Reich and serve as the primary backup to new starting QB Jacoby Brissett. Regardless of where, Nate Sudfeld will still most likely spend the majority of this season as a backup quarterback.

Wes Martin, G – Washington

Martin was a 4th-round pick for Washington in April and will have an opportunity to get into the rotation early. Ereck Flowers is listed ahead of Martin on the depth chart, but is coming to his third team in two years after being benched and cut by the Giants. Flowers is currently transitioning to guard after starting his career at tackle. Brandon Scherff, the other guard, is a two-time Pro-Bowler, but missed the last half of last season with a torn pec. These concerns, as well as Martin’s mid-round pedigree, should give him a good chance to see the field this season.

Chris Covington, LB – Dallas

Covington is entering his second year on the Cowboys, where he recorded a single tackle in 5 games played last season. He led the Cowboys with 5 tackles in their first preseason game against the 49ers, but suffered a stinger in their second game and left without recording any stats. The injury does not appear to be serious, and Covington figures to be a depth linebacker and special teamer for the Cowboys this season.

Firmly on the Bubble

Simmie Cobbs Jr., WR – New Orleans

The Saints are expected to carry five Wide Receivers into camp per Big Easy Magazine, and Simmie will have to perform well to ensure his spot. Last-year signee Cam Meredith was released at the end of July, meaning there will be two receiver slots open out of the group of nine currently battling. Cobbs and Travin Dural caught 2 passes each to lead the Saints in their recent preseason game against the Chargers, but teammate and former Northwestern Wildcat Austin Carr had more yards on only one catch when he hauled in a 27-yard touchdown late in the third quarter. The starters played more in this past weekend’s game against the Jets so it will come down to the wire for Simmie, but if the Saints had to make cuts now I think he squeaks in as the 5th receiver.

Brandon Knight, OT – Dallas

Knight signed with the Cowboys after going undrafted, and initially impressed with his size and positional flexibility. Unfortunately, he suffered a torn plantar fascia early in the preseason, causing him to miss two games and hurting his chances of a roster spot. He got playing time in the Cowboys preseason win against the Texans, but making the roster on one of the best O-Line units in the league will be tough.

Practice Squad Likely

Rob McCray, LB – Kansas City

McCray went undrafted a year ago and spent some time on the Chiefs practice squad during his rookie year before being released. He’s back with the Chiefs for training camp, and has registered a few tackles and a sack in preseason games so far. He’s listed as the third-string defensive end on the Chiefs depth chart, so while he is far from a lock to make the active roster, he’s played enough to be in strong contention for the practice squad once again.

Tegray Scales, LB – Pittsburgh

Scales went undrafted last season after being a first-team all Big-Ten selection his senior season in Bloomington. He got cut by the Rams at the end of training camp last summer, and spent a couple weeks on the Colts’ practice squad in December. The Steelers signed him in January, and he has been practicing with them since, recording five tackles thus far in the preseason. The Steelers have a lot of depth at linebacker this year, so it appears Scales may be looking for practice squad spots again this season.

Dan Godsil, LS – Cincinnati

Godsil was the lone long snapper at the NFL Combine in the spring, and set two Combine long snapper records: Highest vertical jump and longest broad jump. He signed with the Buccaneers after going undrafted, got waived in May, and signed with the Bengals in late July. He’s currently listed second on the Bengals depth chart behind former Pro Bowler Clark Harris. It doesn’t seem likely that Godsil would beat Harris outright, but getting cut is common fare for a long snapper, even amongst the successful ones.

Injured/Not Likely to Play in 2019

Jason Spriggs, OT – Green Bay

Spriggs, a former second-round pick of the Packers, has battled numerous injuries in his career so far, starting only 9 games in three seasons. Early this training camp, Spriggs was waived by the Packers and then placed on their Injured Reserve after not being claimed off waivers. He’ll spend the rest of this season on Injured Reserve recovering from a back muscle injury.

Rashard Fant, CB – Chicago

The young cornerback has battled injuries early on in his career, missing all of last season after being placed on IR for an undisclosed injury. He’s currently on the IR/PUP for the Bears, and isn’t counting against their 90-man roster. Indiana’s all-time leader in passes defended and pass breakups won’t start the season on the Bears active roster, but has managed to hang on via injured lists.

Please call me out on errors/omissions because I’m as interested as anyone in IU NFL players. Hope you made it down this far and enjoyed reading.

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