MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Heading into the 2021 NFL season, the West Virginia Mountaineers had 19 players playing professional football in the United States. Now, as teams have solidified their 53-man rosters, that number has dwindled significantly.
Cornerback Daryl Worley was drafted in 2016 to the Carolina Panthers, landing in the middle of the third round. After bouncing around the league in 2018 and 2020 due to off-the-field disciplinary issues, including stints in Philadelphia, Oakland, Las Vegas, Dallas, and Buffalo, he found a home with the Arizona Cardinals. That comfort will continue in 2021, as he resumes his position with the threes.
The Panthers are no stranger to WVU alumni. Both quarterback Will Grier (2019) and safety Kenny Robinson (2020) were on the roster going into the season. Unfortunately, the Mountain State presence in Carolina evaporated, as neither Grier nor Robinson made the official 53-man.
In Cincinnati, offensive lineman Quinton Spain, originally drafted in 2015 to the Tennessee Titans, found a solid place to land. He’s been with Bengals offensive line coach Frank Pollack’s room since 2020, when an intermediary Bills team released him. He’s since become a stand-out on the Bengals front line, starting at left guard. He’s not going anywhere.
Staying in Ohio, Tony Fields Jr. found a home in Cleveland. A fifth-round pick in the 2021 draft, Fields Jr. transitioned from MIKE to SAM once he got to the NFL. He’s officially staying put in Cleveland, joining a robust linebacker room.
Cornerback Rasul Douglas, who had only been in Houston for a week following a trade from the Las Vegas Raiders, was cut yesterday. He’s been in the NFL since 2017, when he was drafted to the Philadelphia Eagles.
In Indianapolis, offensive lineman Mark Glowinski is entering the final season of his contract. He’s a mainstay in the Colts’ offensive presence, starting 32 straight regular season games. His position is in relative jeopardy though, considering the impact of 2020 fifth-rounder right guard Danny Pinter. An up-and-comer, coupled with the possibility of the Colts gaining $6.15 million if the team was to cut Glowinski, added a bit of ambiguity to his starting position. Fortunately, the 53-man roster has been released and Glowinski is finishing out his contract through 2021.
San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Tavon Austin is no stranger to free agency. Tied with the Seahawks’ Geno Smith for most veteran WVU alumnus currently in the pros, Austin’s stock is rapidly dropping, considering that he’s beginning this season already addressing a quad injury. In his ninth season in the NFL, he’s recorded 2,006 career rushing yards on 220 receptions and 15 touchdowns, but it may not be enough.
Staying in California, the Los Angeles Chargers are keeping 2018 draft pick, linebacker Kyzir White on the 53-man. He’s made a name for himself on the twos, finishing 2020 with 55 tackles, including 30 solo, and an interception. He appeared in all 16 games and started seven.
Next door in Las Vegas, the Raiders have a long history of finding roster spots for Mountaineers. Unfortunately, that number is slimming in 2021, as the team cut 2016 draft pick, safety Karl Joseph. He’s been plagued by injury since he was drafted, and that was enough to find his name omitted from the 53-man.
Joseph’s fellow 2016 draft pick, MIKE Nick Kwiatkoski is a similar story. Adding to the Raiders’ ghastly IR, Kwiatkoski, who started all 12 of his 2020 appearances, may find himself a casualty of the Raiders linebacker restructuring. The plan is to carry five linebackers, and if that’s the case, the injured Kwiatkoski doesn’t stay in Las Vegas. He’s on the cusp, but it’s a long shot.
Across the country in Miami, it’s unlikely that the Dolphins will keep right tackle Adam Pankey. He’s been with the team since 2019, when the Dolphins nabbed him from free agency. He was drafted in 2017 to the Packers and spent all of 2017, 2018, and 2019 in Green Bay. After a short stint in Tennessee, he landed in Miami, where he’s been with the twos ever since. His position with the Dolphins isn’t anywhere near solidified, and it’s likely he’ll find his name on the chopping block.
In Foxborough, Patriots fans are quite aware of left tackle Yodny Cajuste, and for good reason. The 2019 third-rounder has made himself indispensable for Bill Belichick’s team, making a name for himself every practice. He’s also played in 31 career games and started all but one. He was spotted at Patriots practice earlier today, so I’d say it’s fair to say that he’s not going anywhere.
2019 fourth-round draft pick Trevon Wesco found a steady home with the New York Jets. Since leaving the Mountaineers, he’s been a perfect fit for the Jets, filling a versatile tight end/ fullback combination. Though he’ll be behind starter Tyler Kroft, it’s fair to say that Wesco is a confirmed long-term back-up.
Behind Russell Wilson in Seattle is 2013 second-rounder Geno Smith. He’s a quality back-up quarterback with starting experience. I’d advise Seahawks fans to familiarize themselves with Smith’s name.
In Tennessee, there’s been no sight of 2019 draft pick, linebacker David Long Jr. today at open practice. It doesn’t bode well for his inclusion on the Titans 53-man roster, although he’s currently second-string behind veteran Jayon Brown.