Four BYU Cougars sign NFL contracts

When the NFL draft ended Saturday night, not a single member of the 2011 Brigham Young Cougars football squad was associated with an NFL team. Later that night, three former Cougars signed free-agent contracts and one more signed a contract on Sunday.

Offensive tackle Matt Reynolds signed a deal with the Carolina Panthers, fellow offensive lineman Terrence Brown with the Miami Dolphins, defensive lineman Hebron Fangupo signed with the Houston Texans, and on Sunday, wide receiver McKay Jacobson signed with the Philadelphia Eagles.

While no Cougars were picked up by teams in this year’s draft, this does not degrade the athletes to future NFL flops. Many undrafted free-agents have gone on to do remarkable things in the NFL in recent years. In 2010, running back LeGarrette Blount, undrafted out of Oregon, rushed for 1,007 yards for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the most among NFL rookie running backs that season. On a team full of former college All-Americans and first round draft picks, undrafted rookie running back Chris Ivory, from little known Tiffin University, led the playoff bound New Orleans Saints in rushing. BYU’s own Max Hall had an impact in his rookie season as an undrafted quarterback, leading the Arizona Cardinals to a thrilling victory over the defending Super Bowl XLIV champion Saints. In 2011, BYU’s Vic So’oto signed an undrafted free-agent rookie contract with the defending Super Bowl XLV champion Green Bay Packers and after impressive mini- and summer-camps, and a stellar preseason, not only made the regular season roster but had a major impact before suffering a season-ending injury midway through the season.

Each Cougar who signed this year finds himself in a unique but positive position. Reynolds, who just a year ago was projected to be a late first or early second round pick, will find himself joining a young, up-and-coming Carolina team and will have the chance to block for the likes of Cam Newton and Jonathan Stewart. Even though his draft stock dropped this season, the Panthers no doubt saw his competitiveness in the Armed Forces Bowl when, after being knocked to the ground and losing his helmet, he got back up to stalk down a defensive lineman and lay down a punishing block, allowing Riley Nelson to throw for a touchdown. That firepower could be just what Reynolds needs to earn him a spot in the rotation. Reynolds is the first BYU player to sign with the Panthers since tight end Andrew George signed a free-agent offer following the 2010 NFL Draft.

The other former Cougars also find themselves in encouraging situations. Brown joins a Dolphins team that spent much of its draft revamping its offensive firepower, including picking up quarterback Ryan Tannehill with the eighth overall pick. With Brown joining the Dolphins, there is now a trio of BYU Cougars on the roster. Long snapper John Denny and fellow offensive lineman Ray Feinga are the others.

Fangupo will join the defending AFC South champions Houston Texans, just as Blue Cougar Football thought could happen (see post from April 24). The Texans had the fourth ranked run defense in the NFL last season and look to be a promising team in the next few years. Although the Texans have only been in Houston since 2002, Fangupo is hoping to become the second BYU Cougar to make a name for himself in this Gulf coast metropolis. Quarterback Gifford Nielsen played six seasons with the Houston Oilers before retiring and enjoying a long broadcast career with a local television station.

Jacobson will join maybe the most athletic team in the league, the Philadelphia Eagles. With Jacobson’s speed and athleticism, he seems a perfect fit to join that offense. Eagles’ head coach Andy Reid is a BYU graduate and has likely taken interest in Jacobson’s skill set. Jacobson’s versatility as a punt and kickoff returner could open the door for him to fill a role similar to Reno Mahe. After his BYU career, Mahe landed with the Eagles and led the NFL averaging 12.8 yards per punt return in 2005.

These four players will take part in mini-camps and summer camps and will look not only to make their respective teams’ rosters, but have an impact at the next level.

A few other Cougars are still hoping to catch a break and sign NFL deals in the coming days. Those who participated in BYU’s Pro Day that have yet to sign include running back JJ DiLuigi, linebackers Jamison Frazier and Jordan Pendleton, safety Travis Uale and defensive end Matt Putnam.

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