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Eight former Virginia players crack NFL 53-man rosters

This fall’s crop of ‘Hoos in the NFL includes two rookies

NFL: Indianapolis Colts at Buffalo Bills Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

Twenty former Virginia Cavaliers football players made it into NFL training camps this fall, and after final roster cuts on August 30th, eight ‘Hoos officially cracked their final 53-man squad. One player who was a practical lock for their team was instead placed on injured reserve early in camp, and the other 11 were cut in the final chop from 80 to 53 players.

WR Olamide Zaccheaus, Atlanta Falcons

Olamide Zaccheaus will have plenty of opportunities to contribute in a Falcons wide receiver room in flux. Last fall, Zaccheaus racked up career highs in catches, yards, and touchdowns, the beneficiary of Calvin Ridley’s extended absence. This season, with Ridley serving a year-long suspension and Russell Gage departing for Tampa Bay, there are holes to be filled in Atlanta.

The Falcons invested heavily in rookie wideout Drake London, and Kyle Pitts will see the team’s top target share, but Zaccheaus is solidly the team’s number two wideout. He’ll also spend some time in the slot in three-WR sets with Bryan Edwards split out wide. Shaky QB play could limit Zaccheaus’s output, but he’ll be awarded plenty of playing time by the Falcons this season.

OT Morgan Moses, Baltimore Ravens

Morgan Moses was a major offseason addition by the Ravens, whose poor injury luck along the offensive line last season exposed a critical lack of depth. They addressed it by inking a three-year, $15 million deal with the veteran Moses, who spent seven seasons in Washington before a brief jaunt with the Jets last year. Moses will step into a major role as the starting right tackle on the NFL’s most prolific rushing attack; along with rookie center Tyler Linderbaum and a healthy Ronnie Stanley, the Virginian will be a key part of restoring Baltimore’s identity as a ground-and-pound offense.

TE Jelani Woods, Indianapolis Colts

The first of two Virginia rookies to crack an NFL roster, Jelani Woods’ star has been rising since the moment he set foot on grounds in Charlottesville last fall. First, he led all ACC tight ends in receiving yards and touchdowns as a ‘Hoo. Then, Woods impressed at the East-West Shrine Bowl and — perhaps more importantly — recorded the highest Relative Athletic Score of any tight end in NFL history at the NFL Combine.

The Colts snagged him in the third round with the 73rd overall pick. Woods struggled to start training camp, but turned things around after a highlight TD catch in his first preseason game against the Bills. The Colts still see him as a developmental player solidly behind tight ends Mo Alie-Cox and Kylen Granson, but his future is bright.

S Rodney McLeod, Indianapolis Colts

After the Eagles elected not to extend an offer to the veteran safety, Rodney McLeod inked a one-year, $1.77 million contract with the Indianapolis Colts. The 10-year veteran recorded two interceptions and four passes defended with Philadelphia last season, but worries about his age and recovery from two serious knee injuries allowed McLeod to hit the open market.

He had an eventful training camp including a scuffle with new No. 1 receiver Michael Pittman, and is currently listed as the backup at strong safety to rookie Nick Cross. However, if the rookie struggles this year, it won’t be surprising to see head coach Frank Reich get McLeod out there as a dependable veteran.

S Juan Thornhill, Kansas City Chiefs

Juan Thornhill burst onto the scene as a rookie in Kansas City, but a variety of nagging injuries and setbacks stemming from his ACL tear at the end of his rookie season have hampered his career in recent years. However, reports out of Chiefs training camp suggest that Thornhill looks healthier than he has since that first year of his career. He’s listed as the team’s starting free safety opposite Justin Reid, and is one of the few holdovers in a defensive backs room that has undergone significant changes in each of the past few seasons. He’ll be asked to do a lot for a team with championship aspirations.

QB Bryce Perkins, Los Angeles Rams

Perkins’s spot on the roster was in flux — not all teams keep three quarterbacks, and Matthew Stafford and John Wolford remain solidly ahead of Perkins on the depth chart — but he eventually made the cut for the reigning Super Bowl champions. Perkins completed 35 of his 49 passes in preseason for 399 yards and two touchdowns. A nagging elbow injury to Stafford might’ve also influenced the team’s decision to keep Perkins aboard and avoid losing him to a waiver claim, and head coach Sean McVay is a fan of the dual-threat Virginia product. Odds are he won’t see the field this year, but he’s a valuable asset for the Rams going forward.

CB Bryce Hall, New York Jets

Bryce Hall might be staring at a move down the depth chart for reasons out of his control, but whether he’s CB2 or CB3 the Virginia product will likely play a large role in the Jets secondary this season. New York made a 3-year, $33 million commitment to Chiefs cornerback D.J. Reed to fill their top spot and brought in Cincinnati corner Sauce Gardner with the fourth overall pick in the NFL draft.

Reed is locked in as CB1 on account of both his talent and the team’s financial commitment, and Gardner looks like an absolute stud — he wasn’t even targeted once in coverage this preseason. Hall, on the other hand, struggled: he got toasted for a 52-yard grab by Kyle Pitts and followed it up by allowing a TD grab Olamide Zaccheaus (go ‘Hoos). As backups go, though, Hall is elite.

S Joey Blount, Seattle Seahawks

Many expected Blount to be on the outside looking in come cutdown day as an un-drafted rookie free agent on a team with an already-massive nine-player rookie class. However, head coach Pete Carroll has taken a liking to the All-ACC safety, and it culminated with Blount cracking Seattle’s initial 53.

Blount made winning plays in the preseason, including an onside kick recovery. Former second-round pick Marquise Blair was cut to make room for Blount on the roster; Seattle’s willingness to part with a former high-investment selection represents a vote of confidence in the ‘Hoo to become at least a solid depth piece.

Honorable Mention: LB Micah Kiser, Las Vegas Raiders

Micah Kiser inked a 1-year, $1.065 million deal with the Raiders at the beginning of the offseason. Early in training camp, Kiser suffered a leg injury and had to be carted off the field. A few days later, the Raiders designated the veteran Virginia product on injured reserve, effectively ending his season; he won’t be eligible to play a game for Las Vegas this year. Kiser has always been a solid player, but linebackers simply don’t carry much value in the modern NFL, and after his contract runs out this year it’ll be tough sledding for him to find a team coming off a major leg injury. While Kiser is technically on injured reserve, he would’ve been essentially a lock for Vegas’s final 53-man roster.

Final Cuts

In addition to the 8 (or 9, if you count IR) players from Virginia who made NFL rosters, eleven others just barely missed making the final 53. Anthony Harris was a surprise cut in Philadelphia; he’ll almost certainly be claimed before the start of the season. Veteran defensive end Charles Snowden was a casualty of Chicago’s youth movement. Wide receivers Joe Reed and Ra’Shaun Henry couldn’t do enough to win spots in the crowded WR rooms of the Chargers and Panthers, respectively.

UDFA offensive lineman Chris Glaser was waived by Kansas City in the Orlando Brown fracas, and never really had a chance to stick with the Jets. Green Bay’s flier on UDFA De’Vante Cross didn’t work out. The Giants brought in journeyman veteran Eric Smith to fill the IR slot opened up by Marcus McKethan’s ACL tear, but he didn’t make the final cut. In a tough competition for the final interior DL slot for the Chargers, Andrew Brown lost out to LSU product Breiden Fehoko. Josh Oliver made a surprising jump over Tony Poljan in Baltimore’s TE room, as the Ravens also waived vested veteran Brent Urban. The Bills also made Tim Harris one of their initial cuts at corner.