Today is the opening day of the NFL season, so I thought I would take a look at all the Virginia alumni playing in the league. I hope to be able to update this periodically during the NFL season. Players are listed by position.
Matt Schaub, Houston Texans - There is only 1 Virginia signal caller in the NFL, but at least he's a good one. Schaub is the unquestioned starter in Houston, and has thrown for over 4000 yards each of the past two seasons. Schaub's Texans look to make their first ever playoff appearance this year.
Check back after the jump for more.
Thomas Jones, Kansas City Chiefs - TJ is backing up Jamaal Charles in Kansas City, but I expect him to get plenty of opportunities. This will be TJ's 12th year in the NFL, which is a lot for a RB. Despite a slow start with the Cardinals, Jones has surpassed 10,000 yards rushing. Jones is only about 300 yards behind Tiki for the all-time lead among UVA alumns. He may not reach the 896 yards rushing he accumulated last year, but I expect him to get well more than the 336 he needs.
Cedric Peerman, Cincinnati Bengals - Peerman is listed as the 4th RB, so I don't really expect him to get many carries, barring injuries. Then again, the Bengals RB situation isn't great, especially with Cedric Benson in trouble with the law again. So maybe he will. Regardless, he figures to get some chances to return kickoffs, and probably will see other roles on special teams.
Jason Snelling, Atlanta Falcons - Snelling has had a couple of solid seasons backing up Michael Turner in Atlanta. He's become a valuable pass receiving threat out of the backfield, and also gets to carry the ball in certain situations. The Falcons let Jerius Norwood go, so Snelling figures to be in line for even more touches this year.
Kevin Ogletree, Dallas Cowboys - The Cowboys have two talented WRs in starting spots, but Ogletree should be the 3rd WR in the game. The Cowboys let Roy Williams and Sam Hurd go, showing confidence in Ogletree. Kevin hasn't had much of an opportunity so far, with just 10 career catches. That number will go up significantly this season.
Heath Miller, Pittsburgh Steelers - Heath has had a strong career already, with 2 super bowl rings and over 3000 receiving yards. Heath is one of the best two way tight ends in the NFL, a great blocker and solid receiver for the Steelers. I see no reason to think this season will be any different for him.
John Phillips, Dallas Cowboys - Phillips missed all of last year after a knee injury. However, the Cowboys kept him around because they like his potential. He is listed as the 3rd string TE, but with 2nd string TE Martellus Bennett out for a couple of weeks, Phillips has a chance to impress. Bennett is talented but is a bit of a head case, so Phillips has an opportunity to win over the coaching staff and make Bennett expendable.
Branden Albert, Kansas City Chiefs - Albert is the starting LT for the Chiefs, and helped them lead the NFL in rushing last season. Albert is a good solid LT, and at just 26 years old, is really just entering his prime.
D'Brickashaw Ferguson, New York Jets - Brick is also starting at LT, a spot he has held for 6 years now. Ferguson is one of the top LTs in the NFL, and anchors of one of the top OLs in the league.
Eugene Monroe, Jacksonville Jaguars - Monroe also starts at LT (seeing a trend here?), and helped the Jags finish 3rd in the NFL in rushing last year. Monroe is just 24 years old, so he has many years remaining at a high level.
Chris Canty, New York Giants - Canty signed a big contract with the Giants two years ago, and hasn't really lived up to it. Nonetheless, the Giants DL is arguably the best in the NFL and Canty has been a part of that. The Giants used to have depth at DT, but due to some injuries and defections, Canty is going to be relied on heavily this season.
Nate Collins, Jacksonville Jaguars - Collins has made just one appearance so far in the NFL, but the Jags have him on their active roster this season. He is currently listed 3rd on the depth chart at DT, so he may not see much time early on. Collins has the ability to play either inside or outside, and in a 3-4 or 4-3, so that versatility may help him stick around. Right now, I might see him play some special teams, but he is going to have trouble breaking into the rotation on the DL.
Chris Long, St. Louis Rams - The #2 overall pick in 2008, big things were expected of Long right away. He began to fulfill that promise last year, finishing with 8.5 sacks. Long is developing into one of the better DEs in the league, and I fully expect him to break double digits in sacks this year.
Darryl Blackstock, Oakland Raiders - Blackstock hasn't played since 2008, due to injuries and ineffectiveness, but it seems like he's healthy and ready to go. He is listed as the backup SLB, which is really the only position he can play. The Raiders LBs aren't very good, so Blackstock has a real chance to play. At the very least, he will be a major player on special teams units.
Ahmad Brooks, San Francisco 49ers - It has taken a while, but Brooks is starting to live up to the expectations he had when he arrived at Virginia. Brooks is a starting OLB for the 3-4 Niners defense. His strength is as a pass rusher off the edge, while he struggles in pass coverage. He has 11 sacks combined over the past two years, and much of that came as a backup and situational player. He is starting now, so those numbers should go up this year.
Isaiah Ekejiuba, Detroit Lions - Isaiah has been in the NFL for 7 years now, and has racked up 59 tackles, almost exclusively on special teams. He is one of the top special teams guys in the NFL, and should continue to be for a few more years. I do not expect him to see the field on defense this season, barring a major rash of injuries for the Lions.
James Farrior, Pittsburgh Steelers - Farrior is getting up there in age, entering his 15th NFL season. He isn't quite the athlete he was a decade ago, but he makes up for it with intelligence and experience. He has over 1000 tackles, including over 100 last year. He also had 6 sacks last year. There are really no up and coming LBs on the Steelers right now, so Farrior should start all season long. I fully expect him to keep going for a few more years.
Clint Sintim, New York Giants - Sintim has been a disappointment to the Giants since they drafted him. His best fit is as a 3-4 OLB, but the Giants are a 4-3 team. Sintim suffered a "catastrophic" knee injury in a preseason game, and will be out for the season. Some are calling the injury career threatening. At the very least, I think Sintim's Giants career is over.
Ronde Barber, Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Ronde has been at this just as long as Farrior has. He is building as case as one of the top overall CBs in NFL history. He has racked up 40 INTs, 26 sacks, 11 fumble recoveries, and over a thousand tackles. He has also scored 7 TDs. Ronde is one of the leaders on a young team, and I see no signs of him slowing down.
Chris Cook, Minnesota Vikings - Cook played in 6 games last year, getting some time in the secondary but also playing on special teams. He is still working to gain a foothold on a team with 2 solid veteran CBs. Cook will get his chance, but it may not be this year.
Ras-I Dowling, New England Patriots - Dowling was drafted in the first round by the Pats this offseason, and they figure to use out of him right away. The Patriots also have two veteran CBs, but Dowling is good enough to supplant Leigh Bodden by the end of the season. Dowling will get some chances early on as a nickel back, and I would not be surprised if he was starting by season's end.
Danny Aiken, New England Patriots - The Patriots signed Aiken just a couple of days ago, because they were unhappy with the results they were getting at the position. Aiken was a very good LS at Virginia, and it looks like the Pats are happy with his performance so far. Aiken could have a long career at a very specialized position.