UAB Football may not play a single down for yet another season, but that won’t stop several former Blazers from suiting up in the big leagues. Lets catch up with them and see who is where representing the Green and Gold in the NFL.
Kennard Backman – Tight End – Green Bay Packers: Kennard was drafted in the 6th round, 213th overall, by the Green Bay Packers in the 2015 NFL Draft. He did not have any stats recorded for the 2015-2016 NFL season, but did receive playing time in seven games, including two playoff games. According to espn.com, he is also projected to make the 53 man roster for the upcoming NFL season.
- Chris Hubbard – Center – Pittsburgh Steelers: Chris signed to the Steelers as an undrafted free agent in 2013. Since then he has been released, signed on the Steelers practice squad, and is back in the 53 man roster with the Steelers. He played in seven games this past season.
- Matt McCants – Offensive Tackle – Oakland Raiders: Matt was drafted in the 6th round, 201st overall by the New York Giants in the 2012 NFL Draft. He has played three seasons with the Oakland Raiders. In those three seasons he has played in 26 games and started three of those games. The 2015 season he only played in two games, however. According to Oakland’s official website he is listed as a second team right tackle.
- JJ Nelson – Wide Receiver – Arizona Cardinals: JJ was drafted in the 5th round, 159th overall, by the Arizona Cardinals in the 2015 NFL Draft. JJ played in 11 games with two starts. He caught 11 passes on 27 targets for 299 yards and 2 touchdowns. He had a breakout performance against the Cincinnati Bengals in which he caught 4 passes for 142 yards and a touchdown. He has been tabbed by several media outlets as a potential star at the Cardinals in the near future because of his insane speed, and on a side note he is one of my favorite players in the NFL currently (obviously there is no bias for UAB players…).
- Darrin Reaves – Running Back – Kansas City Chiefs: Darrin signed with the Carolina Panthers as an undrafted free agent in 2014. At Carolina he carried the ball 31 times for 78 yards in six games. He also had 31 receiving yards on 5 receptions. In 2015 he was cut by the Panthers and signed to the Kansas City Chiefs practice squad. This season he will be looking to make it into the Chiefs 53 man roster.
- Swayze Waters – Place Kicker – Carolina Panthers: Swayze will be seeing his first NFL action in a while after being signed by the Panthers after a four year stint in the Canadian Football League. He was signed as an undrafted free agent in 2009 by the Detroit Lions. The next season he was at the Oakland Raiders, and the next at the Pittsburgh Steelers. After three seasons for three different teams he went to the Edmonton Eskimos and then to the Toronto Argonauts. At UAB he was a long field goal specialist kicking 80 percent from beyond 40 yards and 75 percent from beyond 50 yards. He was also a finalist for the Lou Groza Award in 2009.
- Joe Webb – Quarterback/Specialist – Carolina Panthers: Joe was drafted in the 6th round, 199th overall, by the Minnesota Vikings in the 2010 NFL Draft. You won’t see him taking many snaps as a quarterback nowadays as he has said he will play whatever role his team needs him for. Over his four seasons in the NFL (three at the Vikings and one at the Panthers) he has played in 56 games. Over those 56 games he has attempted only 152 passes, all for the Vikings. This past season at Carolina he rushed the ball once, returned 8 kickoffs for 178 yards, recorded 7 solo tackles, and had a fumble recovery for 14 yards. He may not play quarterback anymore, but he can play pretty much anywhere with his size and athletic abilities.
- Roddy White – Wide Receiver – Free Agent: Roddy was drafted in the 1st round, 27th overall, by the Atlanta Falcons in the 2005 NFL Draft. During his time at Atlanta he has become their all-time leading receiver. Over his career he has caught 808 passes in 171 games for 10,863 yards and 63 touchdowns. Unfortunately, the Falcons drafted Julio Jones, arguably one of the best receivers in the league currently, and because of this Roddy received fewer looks. The Falcons released him this past spring. He has said that several teams have reached out to him, but says he will only sign with a team that is a serious Super Bowl Contender. According to an article by CBS Sports, Roddy said that if he doesn’t find a team by Week 4 or 5 he might hang his cleats up on a power line Marshawn Lynch style. This isn’t terribly surprising as he is now 34, 35 after this offseason.
New Additions to the NFL
Although the Blazers did not have a team for the 2015-2016 season, four former players were either drafted or signed as undrafted free agents.
- Jordan Howard – Running Back – Chicago Bears: Jordan was drafted in the 5th round, 150th overall, by the Bears in the 2016 NFL Draft. Look for him to be a major contributor, and potentially main running back, with the loss of Matt Forte by the Bears. At UAB he was heck of a running back. He was, pardon my comparison to an Alabama player, very similar to Derrick Henry in running style. He can grind out the tough yards and turn on the jets in the open field. After the cutting of football he transferred to the Indiana Hoosiers. In his single season there he rushed for 1,213 yards on 196 attempts. That was in just nine games due to injury. He had more yards averaged per attempt than Heisman winner Derrick Henry. He rushed for 238 yard against Michigan, the second most ever allowed by a Michigan team. Ever. Had he remained healthy for the entire 2015-2016 season I believe he could have won the Heisman.
- Jake Ganus – Linebacker – Minnesota Vikings: Jake signed with the Vikings as an undrafted free agent after the 2016 NFL Draft. He was one of the main defensive contributors at UAB and transferred to the Georgia Bulldogs after the cutting of the program. He led the Bulldogs in tackles (102 tackles, 5 tackles for loss, and 2 interceptions), he had 28 more than 1st round, 9th overall, pick Leonard Floyd. As many scouts have pointed out, Jake isn’t quite as big as a middle linebacker should be. This may limit his playing at the Vikings, but if he plays with the same drive and heart as he did in college, he should be just fine.
- Jontavious Morris – Defensive Line – Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Morris signed with the Bucs as an undrafted free agent after the 2016 NFL Draft. His last season at UAB he had 20 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, a blocked kick, and a 43 yard scoop and score against North Texas. After the team was cut he transferred to conference foe Western Kentucky. He finished his senior season there with 34 tackles, 2 sacks, and 2 blocked kicks. His ability to get through lines and block kicks is rare and valuable. The Bucs also have a need for defensive players, and because of this I can see him being a big piece of their special teams unit, and maybe even an eventual starter for the Buccaneers.
- Rolan Milligan – Defensive Back – Dallas Cowboys: Rolan signed with the Cowboys soon after the 2016 NFL Draft ended as an undrafted free agent. His final season with the Blazers was a productive one. He was second on the team in tackles with 54. After the team was cut he transferred to the Toledo Rockets. During his season there he amassed 48 tackles, 4 tackles for loss, 3 passes defended, 3 forced fumbles, and 2 interceptions. He was one of 5 defensive players taken by the Cowboys in the draft or free agency, and if he continues to stand out like he did with UAB and Toledo, I believe he could be a contributor to America’s Team.
I have a feeling this list will grow quite a bit in the next few years now that the football team has been reinstated, as well as getting all new facilities. With Coach Clark at the helm, anything is possible!
Its a great day to be a Blazer!