The NFL currently employs 17 UConn Football alumni, representing 13 teams with multiple players on the Colts, Raiders, Jaguars, and Chargers. That number was 18 until Nick Williams was cut by the Redskins. Yawin Smallwood missed the final cut with the Falcons this preseason, but did work out with the Patriots this week.
Here is our weekly update on how UConn alumni fared in the opening weekend of NFL action:
LB Sio Moore, Oakland Raiders
12 tackles (10 solo), 1 sack
Sio Moore kicked off his second season for the Raiders with a very strong performance. After a brief scare in the preseason that saw him carried off on a stretcher, it's great to see him at 100%.
After posting a solid rookie campaign, Moore's continued excellence is a bright spot for this struggling franchise, who I believe are now on their eight-millionth starting QB. With a career high 13 tackles, Moore is looking like a future mainstay of the Raiders defense along with former Husky Tyvon Branch.
SS Tyvon Branch, Oakland Raiders
7 tackles (6 solo), 1 sack, 1 TFL, 1 pass deflection
For Tyvon Branch, this was no ordinary season opener. On Sunday, he played in his first regular-season game since September of last year.
Before missing all but two games last season due to an ankle injury, Branch has anchored the Radiers secondary since 2009- the year after he was drafted in the fourth round. From 2009-2012, he started every game and averaged 109 tackles per season.
Just for funsies, you should check out this detailed account of how Branch shut down Gronk back in 2012.
CB Robert ‘Reggie’ McClain, Atlanta Falcons
5 tackles, 1 pass deflection, 1 INT
McClain had a tough match-up against New Orleans' trendy preseason fantasy-favorite Brandin Cooks, but he caught a huge interception in the endzone in one-on-one coverage against Cooks to make an important stop in the Falcons' win. His performance earned him the starting job at nickel corner.
Shamar Stephen, Minnesota Vikings:
1 Tackle (NFL debut)
Drafted this past May in the 7th round, Shamar Stephen impressed enough through mini-camp and preseason to earn a spot on Minnesota's 53-man roster. In first career NFL game, he played 25% of the Vikings' defensive snaps and made one tackle. He also made Mel Kiper's Preseason All-Rookie Team.
RB Jordan Todman, Jacksonville Jaguars
3 carries for 6 yards, 1 reception for 5 yards, 1 tackle on special teams
Todman is Toby Gerhart’s backup and has quite a different running style than the bruising starter. Look for JT to have his shots this season after ending the last one with a 100-yard game against a stout Bills defense.
CB Dwayne Gratz, Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jags starting cornerback opposite Will Blackmon was having a solid day until his Jaguars blew a 17-point lead. Nevertheless, Gratz will get plenty of playing time this year after a promising rookie campaign in 2013. SB Nation's Jaguars site, Big Cat Country, tabbed him as a standout performer in Week 1.
WR Marcus Easley, Buffalo Bills
Marcus Easley, the Bunnell High star who walked on at UConn, has been making a living on special teams in the NFL. Year over year he earns a roster spot because of his incredible consistency in the third phase of the game. In Week One Easley had two special teams tackles in the Bills' overtime upset over the Chicago Bears.
In previous preseasons, Easley has had a couple of monster receiving performances. There is a large (though dwindling) faction of Bills fans who still believe he can be an impact receiver down the road. He has lost a few seasons in varied unfortunate ways, if he can stay fully healthy for a few years in a row anything is possible.
There are more #UConn products in the NFL (16) than from OKSt (14) ARK/Washington (13), MissSt/Pitt (12), Maryland/MichSt (11) & TTU (7)— Bruce Feldman (@BruceFeldmanCFB) September 10, 2014
TE Ryan Griffin, Houston Texans
1 reception for 6 yards
Griffin is the Texans backup tight end behind first-year starter Garret Graham. He was drafted in the sixth round last year.
CB Blidi Wreh-Wilson, Tennessee Titans
Blidi Wreh-Wilson earned a starting cornerback job this year after a rookie season where he didn't see very much time. The Titans are hoping the hard-hitting Wreh-Wilson can be a playmaker on the outside after they invested a third-round pick on him last year.
LB Danny Lansanah, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The 29 year-old journeyman made the roster for a season opener for the first time in his professional football career. The heart of UConn’s defense in the memorable 2007 co-Big East championship season, Lansanah is a model of persistence. Last year he played in an NFL game for the first time since 2008, going between practice squads and the UFL to keep the dream alive. This year he has a legitimate shot at keeping a roster spot all season and we couldn't be happier.
FB Anthony Sherman, Kansas City Chiefs
1 rush for 4 yards, 1 tackle
Sherman is the starting full back for the Chiefs, paving the way for all-pro running back Jamaal Charles on the field. Though the run game struggled in a blowout loss to the Titans on Sunday, look for Sherman to help fix that and as the season progresses. He did a pretty good job last year.
Sherman is also a well-respected leader in the locker room among the running backs.
CB Darius Butler, Indianapolis Colts
4 tackles, 1 pass deflection
Darius Butler’s pass deflection on a 3rd-and-short play in the Colts' comeback campaign against the Broncos on Sunday night would have been one of the key plays of the game if the Colts could have sent it into overtime on the ensuing drive. Butler is coming off back-to-back 4-interception seasons and has proven to be a solid NFL nickel corner, one of the most challenging yet valuable positions in the NFL.
OL Donald Thomas, Indianapolis Colts
After sitting out the 2013 season with a torn quad, Thomas re-tore that same quad in training camp for the Colts this year. He is on a lucrative 4-year contract with the Colts so he should get one more shot next year to be the starting guard for their struggling offensive line.
OT William Beatty, New York Giants
In last night's game against the Lions, Will Beatty had a tough matchup against a very talented end in Ziggy Ansah, but managed to keep him away from Eli for most of the game. The second-round pick for the Giants in 2009 has had to deal with injuries most of his career until finishing his first full season at left tackle for New York last year.
QB Dan Orlovsky, Detroit Lions
Now in his his 10th NFL season, Dan Orlovsky is back where he started in Detroit-- the team that drafted him in the fifth round of the NFL Draft. Though he is best-known in football circles as the guy who ran out of the back of the endzone, Orlovsky holds a special place in our hearts and, even as a career back-up, to hold down a job for this long is impressive. The man is one of the best in the world at the most important position of the most popular sport in America.
Meanwhile, at UConn, in the year 2014, we're still looking for his replacement.
DL Kendall Reyes, San Diego Chargers
The 2012 second round pick for the Chargers didn't fill the stat sheet, but his job is to take up blockers and create space for the linebackers and he did just that.
Last year, Reyes started all sixteen games, finishing second on the team in sacks, QB pressures and hits. This year, Chargers fans are expecting to see him take his game to another level.
RB Donald Brown, San Diego Chargers
2 carries for -2 yards
In his first game as a San Diego Charger, the Huskies' first ever 1st round draft pick was not very involved in the gameplan. Hopefully that changes down the road as Donald is known for his overall excellence (see UConn 2008, Indianapolis Colts 2013) and recent history suggests that he is capable of 5-700 yards from scrimmage and 3-6 touchdowns.