Utah had five players get a shot to make NFL rosters as undrafted free agents: wide receiver Dres Anderson, linebackers Brian Blechen and Jacoby Hale, tight end Westlee Tonga, and defensive end Greg Reese. We will look at the chances each player has to make an NFL roster.
Dres Anderson - wide receiver
The former Ute signed an UDFA contract with the San Francisco 49ers. According to the Salt Lake Tribune, as many as 15 NFL teams were looking to sign Anderson after the draft.Anderson finished his Utah career with 2,077 receiving yards and 17 receiving touchdowns. Walter Football's 2015 NFL Mock Draft had Anderson going in the third round to the Baltimore Ravens. With how many teams were interested in him and the fact that almost every mock draft included Anderson, it seems he will almost certainly make an NFL roster. Anderson showed at his personal pro day that his knee is recovered, posting a 40-time in the 4.3 to 4.4 range. He is not without his issues (the main one being drops), but he could immediately help a receiving corps that lost Michael Crabtree and Stevie Johnson this offseason. The leading receiver in 2014 was Anquan Boldin, who will turn 35 this season. San Francisco only added one wide receiver (4th round pick DeAndre Smelter) in the draft, so Anderson should have opportunities to contribute as a rookie. If for some reason he is cut by the 49ers, I expect there would be interest from other NFL teams in the Red Rocket. Of all of the undrafted free agent former Utes, Anderson has the best chance in my opinion to make an NFL roster for the 2015 season and beyond.
Brian Blechen - linebacker
Blechen signed an UDFA contract with the Carolina Panthers. Blechen showed flashes of brilliance in his career. He was named a freshman All-American and was Honorable mention All-Pac-12 in his sophomore, junior, and senior seasons. At Utah, Blechen mainly played strong safety (but did see some time at linebacker). Blechen does not have the speed to play safety in the NFL (and would lead to him occasionally getting beat deep by faster Pac-12 wide receivers). Linebacker seems like a better fit for Blechen in the NFL, but he will need to add at least 10-25 pounds of muscle. There is also injury concerns with Blechen as he missed all of the 2013 season due to a knee injury. What I like about Blechen is he is a smart player, who can lay a textbook hard hit on opposing players (watch what he did to Michigan WR/TE Devin Funchess). If he can add weight but keep his speed, he could make an NFL roster, and Carolina would be a good place for him as he would get to play with former teammate defensive tackle Star Lotulelei.
Jacoby Hale - linebacker
Hale signed an UDFA contract with the Oakland Raiders. He will join former Utah teammates, cornerback Keith McGill and offensive lineman Tony Bergstrom. Hale is a player I think could make the Raiders roster. They need serious help on defense, especially getting after the quarterback. Oakland only recorded 22 sacks last season (tied for 30th), and they are in a division that features Peyton Manning, Phillip Rivers, and Alex Smith at quarterback. While only playing in nine games in 2013, Hale recorded 6.5 sacks. He showed he could be a relentless pass rusher and was the leading candidate to replace Trevor Reilly's production before a knee injury in spring camp limited his availability in the 2014 season. The Raiders are likely the NFL team where Hale has the best shot to make the roster. They did not address the outside linebacker position until the 5th round of the draft when they took Florida outside linebacker Neiron Ball. They also drafted Virginia outside linebacker (though he played defensive end in college) Max Valles in the 6th round. Ball only recorded 3.0 sacks in his entire four year career at Florida. Valles did have 13.0 sacks (including 9.0 last season), but he is widely regarded as a raw prospect who got sacks largely based off of athleticism rather than polished pass rushing moves. Hale has more pass rushing ability than Ball and is likely more polished than Valles. Provided his knee is fully healed, Hale has a good shot to make the Raiders' 53-man roster.
Westlee Tonga - tight end
Tonga signed an UDFA contract with the Kansas City Chiefs, where he will join former Utes quarterback Alex Smith and cornerback Sean Smith. Tonga was only a starter for one season at Utah, but he contributed throughout his career. In 2014, Tonga caught 30 passes for 391 yards and four touchdowns. Tonga had games where he played very well but also would disappear in games or struggle with drops. Because of a medical redshirt and a two year LDS mission, Tonga will be a 27-year-old NFL rookie. He is primarily a receiving tight end and is not a great blocker. The Chiefs do need help in the passing game however. Not a single Chiefs wide receiver last season caught a touchdown pass. The Chiefs added targets in the passing game for Smith this offseason by signing free agent wide receiver Jeremy Maclin and drafting wide receivers Chris Conley (Georgia) Da'Ron Brown (Northern Illinois) in the 3rd and 7th round respectively and Illinois St. tight end James O'Shaughnessy in the 5th round. The Chiefs return starting tight end Travis Kelce (who led the team in receiving yards and touchdowns last season), but they released their No. 2 tight end Anthony Fasano. Despite the need for playmakers in the passing game, I do not think Tonga will make the Chiefs roster due to his age and inability as a blocker.
Greg Reese - defensive end/tight end
Reese was invited to attend a rookie minicamp held by the Seattle Seahawks. Reese came to Utah as the No. 8 rated JUCO tight end (according to the 24/7 Sports Composite ranking) in 2013, but he was switched to defensive end and struggled with injuries. Reese clearly has talent and athleticism, but can he get a spot on one of the most talented NFL rosters? It is unclear what position the Seahawks want Reese to play. The Seahawks traded for Pro-Bowl tight end Jimmy Graham before the NFL draft and have a serviceable backup to him in Luke Willson. The defensive end spot is crowded, but Seattle likes to rotate guys. The Seahawks added Frank Clark of Michigan and Obum Gwatcham of Oregon State in the 2nd and 7th rounds respectively. Reese is likely getting a shot with the Seahawks due to his potential, but as he did not even sign an UDFA contract, it seems unlikely he will make the team.
Which undrafted former Utes do you think will make NFL rosters this season?