As the UConn Huskies begin to rebound in terms of their on-field performance, alumni have gone onto bigger and better things in the National Football League. 2015 has been a banner year for UConn pros, with 17 former players earning game time this year, and one other spending the season on injured reserve. This does not even count the players like Deshon Foxx, Scott Lutrus, and Teddy Jennings, all of whom are fighting in various lower leagues to earn a spot on a team's 53 man roster.
Various Huskies have really stepped up this season, earning starting spots and great adulation from their coaches and media figures. Others have faced obstacles that have prevented them from producing effectively. Let's take a look at how everyone has stacked up thus far.
(Out with injury - OT Will Beatty, TE Ryan Griffin, DT Shamar Stephen)
Tyvon Branch, S, Kansas City
Branch, the godfather in terms of UConn secondary players transitioning to the pros, has made big money throughout his career as a speedy safety with the ability to jar balls loose with hard hits. He was one of two ex-Huskies on the Oakland Raiders, both of whom were jettisoned by new head coach Jack Del Rio over the offseason. Branch ended up joining their rivals in the AFC West, the Kansas City Chiefs, and he has acquitted himself decently in game action. Branch has made 16 tackles and defended two passes while playing both cornerback and safety on the beleaguered and beaten up Kansas City defense. His veteran leadership has helped to stabilize the team, and at 28, Branch still has some of the juice that made him such an impactful player for UConn.
Donald Brown, RB, San Diego
UConn first (and only) Round 1 selection in the Edsall era, The Donald had a pretty good debut season with the Chargers in 2014, racking up 223 yards on the ground and 211 through the air as a complementary back. However, Danny Woodhead's return has resulted in Brown being inactive for most of this season, and he has yet to register a single carry as he sits behind Woodhead, first round pick Melvin Gordon and the shifty ex-Buffalo Bull Branden Oliver. Brown's chance may be coming soon, though, as Oliver was just placed on IR and he should get some opportunities in the coming weeks.
Darius Butler, CB, Indianapolis
Butler has found a home in Indianapolis, serving as the team's nickel corner behind Greg Toler and Vontae Davis. While he has yet to register an interception in 2015, he does have 16 tackles and two forced fumbles. Butler had a lot of issues with Jaguars receiver Allen Robinson a couple of weeks ago, and his role has decreased since then. It remains to be seen if he will be able to get back into the good graces of the Colts' defensive coaching staff.
Geremy Davis, WR, New York Giants
The Giants have a history of grooming late round receivers, and Geremy Davis managed to stick on the 53 man roster after an impressive preseason. He has made some small contributions to date, racking up two catches for 21 yards this year. Davis has not looked out of place in the NFL, and it remains to be seen if his role will expand as the year goes on.
Marcus Easley, WR, Buffalo
When Marcus Easley caught a 57-yard touchdown pass from EJ Manuel - beating fellow ex-Husky Dwayne Gratz in the process - it was like he was back in Rentschler Field again, catching wobbly deep balls from Zach Frazer and Cody Endres. Easley has stuck on the Bills since he was drafted, mostly thanks to his special teams acumen. He only has 3 career receptions, so it was nice to see him rewarded for all of his hard work and effort with a big play.
Dwayne Gratz, CB, Jacksonville
Thanks to his vindictive coach, Gratz was able to earn a starting spot over teammate Davon House against the Bills. While he got beat by the aforementioned Easley for a touchdown, he did acquit himself fairly well in game action, as he has all season long. Gratz once started full-time in Jacksonville, but has since been relegated to a rotational, backup role, and only has nine tackles this season. He will need to improve his ball awareness and physicality if he is going to take back a starting spot, as the Jaguars have a solid corps of corners.
Byron Jones, CB/S, Dallas
There is palpable excitement in Dallas about Byron Jones, with defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli even calling him "the best rookie defensive back in the league and the best one I've ever had." Jones only has seven tackles and four passes defended, but his stock is still through the roof and, when he has played, he has been a shutdown player. Jones had his most hyped performance this season against the Patriots, when he went toe-to-toe against behemoth Rob Gronkowski and held his own. Jones has done well in man on tight ends and in off as a safety in more spread-oriented formations. The future looks bright for Byron.
Danny Lansanah, LB, Tampa Bay
Lansanah fought his way onto the Bucs in 2014, impressing head coach Lovie Smith with his defensive know-how and tenacity, amassing 61 tackles, 1.5 sacks, and eight passes defended. His encore in 2015 has been a little more mild, as Lansanah only has 19 tackles, a sack, a pass defended, and a forced fumble to date. He is a playmaker, and has a natural nose for the football, both of which shone through at UConn and have persisted in the NFL. Lansanah is a true success story, and an example of how hard work and schematic fit can help someone's football dreams come true.
Sio Moore, LB, Indianapolis
One of the oddest trades of the offseason transpired when Sio Moore, who apparently had fallen out of favor with Jack Del Rio in Oakland, was moved to the Colts. Even odder, Moore has really not gotten much playing time in Indianapolis, with his biggest impact this season coming on a Ryan Mallett roughing the passer play. Moore was a blossoming star in Oakland, so perhaps the change of scenery and defensive schemes has him a bit behind the eight ball. No matter what, though, Moore possesses the ability to change a game with his pass rushing acumen, and if he puts it all together, he could truly elevate the Colts defense.
Dan Orlovsky, QB, Detroit
Dan O actually played this year! The backup quarterback best known for running out of the end zone by accident has actually become a reliable veteran second stringer in the twilight of his career. Lions fans probably hope that he is not called into action again, but given the recent firings that happened there recently, who knows what's in store.
Kendall Reyes, DL, San Diego
Reyes has been a consistent Charger presence ever since he was drafted by the team in 2012. This year, he has 19 tackles and a sack on his resume. Reyes had a disappointing 2014, specifically due to the fact that he does not fit San Diego's scheme. He is at his best when he is allowed to penetrate, and in San Diego he is forced to hold the point of attack more often due to Corey Liuget's penchant to penetrate inside. As the year goes on, perhaps Reyes can grow a bit and become a more reliable defensive tackle.
Anthony Sherman, FB, Kansas City
Affectionately known as The Shermanator, one of Tyler Lorenzen's favorite receiving targets has made a name for himself as the top fullback in the NFL. Sherman does it all for Kansas City - he blocks, he runs the ball, and he catches two-yard passes from Alex Smith. This year, he has touched the ball three times for 13 total yards, but as the days get shorter and the temperature gets colder, it would not be a surprise for Sherman to receive some more opportunities to tote the rock.
Jordan Todman, RB, Pittsburgh
After bouncing around a bit to start his career, Todman found a home in Jacksonville from 2012 through 2014. Now, he is on the Steelers, who just lost their star running back, Le'Veon Bell, for the season. Todman figures to complement De'Angelo Williams in the Pittsburgh backfield. Hopefully, he can increase his current year's statistics (one carry for 11 yards) over the next few games.
Nick Williams, WR, Atlanta
Nick Williams, despite getting slapped with the undrafted tag, has now made NFL teams in back-to-back years. On Washington in 2014, Williams made his way over to a more stable situation and cracked the Falcons' 53 man roster in 2015. Williams has nine catches for 98 yards and has also been a presence on special teams. He is a great story and, hopefully, will continue to pick up work as a slot receiver and gunner.
Blidi Wreh-Wilson, CB, Tennessee
Blidi had a lot of hype coming into the NFL and has gotten a consistent opportunity on the Titans. He still shows some issues against faster receivers, but has not acquitted himself badly this season, racking up 13 tackles and 3 passes defensed. Blidi has been relegated to a nickel role after holding a starting spot for all of 2014 because of his lackluster performance. He does have a chance to potentially reclaim a starting spot, as Coty Sensabaugh was roundly beaten for much of last week. However, he still has a ways to go to reach the potential some thought he had coming out of UConn.