With the NFL regular season coming to a close, it ends what was a bit of a turbulent year for many UConn prospects. Some got surprising opportunities, while others faltered, languishing either on the injury table or in the doghouse of various coaches. In this edition of UConn in the NFL, we will hand out the seasonal awards - including a bit of a surprise for the Most Valuable Husky.
Rookie of the Year Award - Byron Jones
This was not a really competitive category, but the first round pick raised his game throughout the year, drawing matchups against tough receivers and rising to the challenge in most cases. Jones had some shaky games, specifically against the likes of Jordan Matthews later in the season, but proved to be quite the tight end stopper. His best game was probably when he went head-to-head with Rob Gronkowski and held him to a paltry performance, catching the eyes of Jim Nantz, Phil Simms, and the nation as a whole. Cowboys defensive backs coach Rod Marinelli has previously referred to Jones as the most talented rookie running back that he has ever coached. Given time, Jones has the potential to be special. Hopefully, next year, he can build on his momentum and grow as a player.
Comeback Player of the Year Award - Tyvon Branch
At the ripe old age of 29, Tyvon Branch has been, pretty much undoubtedly, the most consistent past Husky in the NFL. However, this year proved to be a new challenge for him. After being released by the Raiders, Branch caught on as a depth player on the Kansas City Chiefs, a team that consisted of a multitude of young, athletic secondary stars such as rookie Pro Bowler Marcus Peters, strong safety Eric Berry, and sleeper Phillip Gaines. However, thanks to injuries, Branch ended up climbing the depth chart, and his presence has been a key component of his team's 10-game winning streak en route to the playoffs.
Branch's best moment was undoubtedly when he intercepted Derek Carr for a long touchdown in Week 13, getting revenge on the team that let him go. Branch is a credit to the Huskies, and hopefully his career continues as he nears age 30.
Biggest Letdown - Sio Moore
When Sio Moore was traded to the Colts, many expected that he would use the opportunity to break out. Indianapolis needed help in terms of edge rushers, and Moore had accrued eight sacks and 138 tackles over his first two seasons. However, this was not the case, as in twelve games Moore was only able to rack up 13 tackles and zero sacks.
Moore's attitude has continually been referred to as an issue, which seems weird considering it was not ever a problem in either of his first two seasons. Moore has one more year on his contract, but given his situation and low cap hit, the Colts may opt to set him free and let him find a different team. Hopefully, he makes the most out of his next opportunity next season, wherever that may be.
Best Husky Play of the Year - Marcus Easley's TD reception (over Dwayne Gratz)
In Storrs, Marcus Easley walked on to the team, then toiled away as a blocker and on special teams for four years before eventually making an impact as a senior. He turned into a dynamic, big play threat and forged an unlikely path from college walk-on to fourth-round draft pick. In Buffalo, Easley spent much of his first three seasons as a special teams ace, earning adulation for his hustle and ability as a gunner despite only catching two catches for 13 yards. However, in London this year, Easley saw a chance to make a play and seized it, beating fellow Husky alumnus Dwayne Gratz deep for a 58-yard touchdown reception.
It was a great moment to see such a selfless individual earn a shot to make a big play for his team. Now, Easley's focus can turn to rehabbing his broken kneecap and, hopefully, making it back for the 2016 season to earn more opportunities as a big play threat for the Bills.
Most Valuable Husky - Ryan Griffin
This may be a bit of a surprise, but no Husky has played better or more consistently this season than the Londonderry, New Hampshire native. After sitting for nine weeks due to injuries, Griffin returned to face the Bengals in week ten and, since then, has been a consistent intermediate weapon, helping his middling quarterbacks find receivers NOT named DeAndre Hopkins.
Griffin racked up 20 catches for 251 yards and two scores on the year, but his presence was felt in multiple facets of the offense. His size forced defenders to account for him in the middle of the field, allowing for other pass catchers to make plays, while his blocking helped to spring some solid late-season starts by the Texans' runners. Griffin seems to be on track to continue to grow into his role as one of Houston's starting tight ends. Now, with the playoffs on the horizon, he has an opportunity to make a play on the biggest possible stage.