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Cougars in the NFL: Final Roster Cuts

Some are safe, several are on the bubble

NFL: Denver Broncos-Training Camp Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL is in its final preseason week, which means teams are required to trim their rosters to the 53-man limit by Saturday. In an article released this morning, ESPN projected the final rosters for all 32 teams. It was good news for some Washington State alumni, not so good for others, and for a couple of former Cougs, their performance in the final week of the preseason may determine whether they land on the roster, the practice squad, or back into free agency.

The Veterans

Deone Bucannon - A mortal lock to make the Arizona roster, the Cardinals’ 2013 first round draft pick has thrived in the desert, operating in their “moneybacker” position as part-safety, part-linebacker, part-human wrecking ball. Bucannon has totaled 366 career tackles as he enters his fifth professional season.

NFL: Arizona Cardinals at San Francisco 49ers
Deone Bucannon has established himself as a key piece of the Cardinals defense.
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Destiny Vaeao - Fresh off winning the Super Bowl with the Eagles, Vaeao is in a solid position to play in Philly for a third season. Playing time dipped a bit last year for the defensive lineman due to a wrist injury, as he appeared in only eleven games in 2017 after seeing time in all sixteen during his rookie season. But the three postseason appearances and the new jewelry probably more than made up for a few missed games early in the year.

Vince Mayle - The former Cougar wide receiver has bounced around a bit during his time in the league. He spent two seasons in Dallas as a reciever, primarily playing on special teams, before heading to Baltimore where he saw a position switch to tight end while scoring his first professional touchdown—on a rushing play, of course. Mayle finds himself square on the bubble after Baltimore spent its 2018 first round selection on Hayden Hurst, a tight end from South Carolina. Hurst is injured and out for at least two weeks. If the Ravens want to keep a fifth tight end, that and Mayle’s experience on special teams may be enough to earn him a spot. The Ravens play their final preseason game against Washington on Thursday night.

Xavier Cooper - Originally drafted by the Browns, Cooper is looking to stick with the New York Jets in their defensive line rotation. Cooper has had solid numbers for a defensive tackle, putting up 56 tackles and 3 sacks over his first three seasons, but he may face a numbers problem as the Jets employ a 3-4 defense. There are some injury questions in front of him, but the Jets seem pretty set on Mike Pennel and Folorunso Fatukasi at nose. Cooper might find himself on the outside looking in after Saturday.

NFL: Los Angeles Rams at Detroit Lions
Dahl’s ability to play multiple OL positions makes him valuable to the Lions offense.
Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

Joe Dahl - The versatile offensive lineman goes into his third season as a backup interior guy for the Lions. His ability to play three positions on the line (and, in pinch, all five) is going to give him a good chance to stay in the league for several more years, assuming no injury or personal issues. Dahl has been solid throughout his career, and has seen a few spot starts. There’s no reason to think that will change going into 2018.

Shalom Luani - The secondary situation in Oakland is all over the place, with suspensions and injuries and even a high 2017 draft pick that got cut in Obi Melifonwu. Luani is likely to be caught in the crossfire and left without a roster spot, but with that much uncertainty, the only people who have a real idea are the Oakland staffers. Luani does have the bonus of playing well on special teams throughout last season. Oakland closes out its preseason in the PNW Thursday night.

The Rookies

Luke Falk - The curse of the Air Raid quarterback seems alive and well, as Luke Falk looks to be the third wheel in Nashville. Falk didn’t do nearly enough to unseat veteran backup Blaine Gabbert as the primary reserve quarterback. Tennessee will likely only keep two quarterbacks on the roster. It would not be a surprise to see Tennessee sign Luke to the practice squad as an insurance policy against Marcus Mariota going down to injury. Regardless, Luke Falk will probably not be on an NFL roster after Saturday. Tennessee hosts the Vikings on Thursday night.

NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Tennessee Titans
Luke Falk may find himself on the outside of the Titans QB carousel.
Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

Daniel Ekuale - The defensive lineman dealt with a calf injury early in the preseason, but has played well when his number was called by the Browns. He recorded three tackles and a sack as the Cleveland bullpen held up against Philadelphia in a 5-0 win. It remains to be seen whether that will be enough to get Ekuale in the D-Line rotation, and he finds himself squarely on the bubble going into week four. He’ll have his last chance to impress on Thursday night in Detroit.

River Cracraft - Technically in his second stint with the Broncos, Cracraft is looking to make his debut with Denver in 2018. He has received some positive press during the preseason, but hasn’t received a great number of passes while on the field, only recording two catches. He has seen a lot of run on special teams, even dropping back as a punt returner on at least one occasion. It remains to be seen whether River has done enough to land a spot, or whether he’ll wind up on the practice squad. Which, as far as consolation prizes go, isn’t too terrible. Denver heads to the desert Thursday to take on Arizona in their final preseason contest.

Frankie Luvu - The Cobra might be the surprise of the preseason. Luvu has played well (sometimes a little too well) enough to earn a spot at outside linebacker for the Jets. Strange things can happen in the NFL, but it would be a shock if Frankie Luvu wasn’t in suited up against the Lions on the first Monday Night Football of the year.

The Unknowns

An ACL injury derailed Hercules Mata’afa’s season before it got started. Can he rebound next year?
John Autey/Pioneer Press

Hercules Mata’afa - The player many thought had the best chance of all the Cougs to stick on an NFL roster (despite somehow not being drafted) ended up tearing his ACL during the offseason, never even making it to the preseason with the Minnesota Vikings. It remains to be seen if he can rebound from his injury and resume his playing career, but he has a model to follow in former teammate River Cracraft, who is walking the same path.

Cole Madison - After being drafted in the 5th round by the Green Bay packers, the offensive lineman ended up on the Reserve/Did Not Report list, after failing to show up to camp while dealing with what has been called a “personal issue.” The Packers front office has expressed support for Madison, but in a cutthroat business, it’s difficult to determine whether that support will translate into another opportunity to make the team.