With the NFL Draft wrapping up on Saturday and the Undrafted Free Agency frenzy coming to an end, I decided to take a look back and where Utah players ended up and how well they should fit into their newest teams. In total, nine former Utes found homes on various NFL teams. Five coming through the annual NFL Draft, and four as Undrafted Free Agents.
Marquise Blair - Seattle Seahawks
The hard-hitting safety was the first Utah player taken in the NFL Draft, going in the second round - 47th overall - to the Seattle Seahawks. The Seahawks’ defense, who was known as the legion of boom, has changed drastically over the past few seasons due to injuries, retirements and player departures. Safety Kam Chancellor retired, while fellow safety Earl Thomas and cornerback Richard Sherman both found homes on different teams. So while the Seattle defense in 2019 is far different than the one that helped Seattle to a Super Bowl victory in 2014, they are still full of promising young talent. Blair should fit perfectly in Pete Carroll’s system as a high-motor player who isn’t afraid to try and take somebody’s head off. And with the departure of safety Earl Thomas to Baltimore this offseason, Blair should see significant playing time.
Cody Barton - Seattle Seahawks
Barton and Blair were teammates for two seasons in Salt Lake City, and Utah fans are hoping they’ll be teammates for many more as Barton joined his former Utah teammate as a Seattle Seahawk after being selected in the third round - 88th overall. Much like Blair, Barton is a high-motor player that loves to hit opposing players. Unlike Blair, however, Barton should have a more difficult time seeing consistent playing time out of the gate. Seattle is led by linebacker Bobby Wagner who has cemented himself as one of the premier defensive players in the NFL and won’t be going anywhere anytime soon. Additionally, Seattle has K.J. Wright and Barkevious Mingo, two solid linebackers, to play alongside Wagner. As of now, CBS Sports has Barton backing up Wright as Seattle’s strongside linebacker, but Barton should still see the field as a rotation guy and has a good chance of stepping into a starting role once a starting spot opens up in Seattle.
Mitch Wishnowsky - San Francisco 49ers
Utah Punter Mitch Wishnowsky was the first punter off the board and the first Ute to not be selected by the Seahawks when he was selected in the fourth round - 110th overall - albeit still in the NFC West. Wishnowsky should be the starting punter from day one in San Francisco after punter Bradley Pinion signed a four-year deal with Tampa Bay this offseason. Additionally, 49ers GM John Lynch called Wishnowsky the long-term answer at Punter for the 49ers, adding that he hopes the Ray Guy Award Winner can be a “10-year guy.”
Matt Gay - Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Matt Gay became the second Utah specialist to be selected in the Draft when he was picked by Tampa Bay in the fifth round. Gay and Wishnowsky became the first punter and kicker to be drafted from the same college in the same year since Clemson’s Dale Hatcher and Donald Igwebuike in 1985. The Bucs used two kickers last season, Chandler Catanzaro and Cairo Santos, and with Catanzaro joining the Jets this offseason, the door is wide open for Gay to be the starting kicker in Tampa from day one. Of course, Bucs fans weren’t happy with the decision to select Gay in the fourth round, but that has more to do with Tampa Bay’s decision to trade up to select Roberto Aguayo in the second round in 2016, a decision that ended up being a disaster. Gay marks the third Ute drafted that should be a starter as soon as they step foot onto the field in Training Camp.
Jackson Barton - Indianapolis Colts
Jackson Barton joined his brother Cody Barton as Ute draftees being the fifth and final Utah player selected in the Draft, going in the seventh round - 240th overall - to the Colts. Indianapolis has spent significant resources trying to bolster their offensive line over the past couple of seasons in an attempt to better protect their franchise quarterback Andrew Luck. Barton was one of two offensive linemen chosen by Indianapolis in the draft, both being seventh-round selections. Barton will have a difficult time trying to unseat nine-year NFL vet Anthony Castonzo as the starting left tackle for the Colts, but sitting and learning behind an experienced lineman could serve useful to Barton in the long run. There are other teams where Barton could have had a better chance of playing quickly, but line depth has been a priority in Indianapolis and as such could help a young player like Barton.
Undrafted Free Agents
Chase Hansen - New Orleans Saints
Typically, Undrafted Free Agents face an uphill battle when trying to make a final roster in the NFL, but Hansen should have a pretty good chance of lasting in New Orleans. It’s long been my belief that Hansen will have a productive career, and make his money in the Pros, as a Special Teams player, and there aren’t many other places better at taking advantages of a player’s unique skill set and putting them in positions to succeed - just see Taysom Hill - as New Orleans. Head Coach Sean Payton should be able to use the dynamic Hasen in multiple ways, whether it’s on punt teams, kickoffs or even trick plays, and the pairing of Taysom Hill and Chase Hansen should be something even BYU and Utah fans can get behind.
Corrion Ballard - Carolina Panthers
Ballard is the second Utah safety to find a landing spot in the NFL, although he will face a much more difficult time earning a roster spot than his counterpart in Marquise Blair. While Blair should step into a role with Seattle, Ballard will have to battle it out with Panthers’ safety Rashaan Gaulden for a chance to start alongside Eric Reid on this Panthers’ defense. While there is a chance that Ballard could find himself on the field in Week One, he has a difficult challenge in going up against Gaulden, Carolina’s third-round pick in 2018. As far as Undrafted Free Agents go, however, Ballard should have a better shot than most.
Lo Falemaka - Seattle Seahawks
I hope Utah fans didn’t have a strong allegiance to an NFL team before this weekend as the Seahawks are making a case to be the favorite amongst Ute fans, adding their third Utah product. In addition to Blair and Barton, Falemaka also joins former Ute Nate Orchard as members of the Seahawks as well as Jordan Agasiva who received a Rookie Mini-Camp invite. The former Utah center, however, faces what I believe to be the most difficulty in making a final roster of all the Undrafted Ute signees. Seattle has done a lot the past could of seasons to better their offensive line, which means there are already a lot of new faces along the Seattle O-Line. Falemaka isn’t going to start right away as the center spot belongs to Justin Britt, who is entering the second year of a three-year extension, but there is a chance Falemaka stays on to help with offensive-line depth.