Though they played two different positions while members of the Yale football team, running back Tyler Varga ’15 and quarterback Morgan Roberts ’16 have plenty in common.
Both transferred to Yale, where they earned starting positions and were key leaders of a record-setting high-octane 2014 offense. By the time they graduated, the duo had left their mark all over Yale’s record books.
And in the immediate future, both could be suiting up when the 2016 NFL season kicks off next September.
“As far as their football character, [Roberts and Varga are] more or less alike,” said Larry Ciotti, former Yale running backs coach and current advisor to the head coach. “They’re both very focused on excelling in football and Morgan is a student of the game, as was Tyler.”
Roberts, a two-year starter, graduated in December of 2015 as Yale’s all-time leader in passing yards, total offense and completion percentage, as well as second in passing touchdowns and completions.
The Charlotte, North Carolina native began his collegiate career at Atlantic Coast Conference powerhouse Clemson, but transferred to Yale after his freshman season. He earned the starting quarterback position in the 2015 season as a junior, a record-setting campaign in which he completed 66.8 percent of his passes and tallied 3,230 yards through the air.
After signing with agent Jay Courie of MGC Sports in December, Roberts spent two and a half months at Chip Smith Performance Systems, a training facility in Georgia, to prepare for his tryouts. The intensive experience, Roberts said, made him feel more like a “total athlete” than he had before.
“My last 10 weeks, I’ve never trained harder since it’s the only thing that’s been on my mind,” Roberts said. “I really enjoyed the scientific approach, and I’ve definitely improved in all areas, though footwork was the hardest barrier to leap over.”
After operating in a spread offense, a style gaining increasing popularity in the professional ranks, through most of high school and all throughout college, Roberts said returning to the fundamentals of the quarterback position, such as footwork, was helpful.
That training yielded dividends at the signal-caller’s Pro Day on Tuesday, in which he performed in front of four scouts from three teams: the New England Patriots, New York Jets and Indianapolis Colts, according to Roberts.
In addition to showing off his arm with the help of wide receiver Matthew Rubino ’16, Roberts demonstrated his athleticism by broad jumping 10 feet and recording a vertical jump of 34 inches. Those figures would rank him third and second, respectively, among all 15 quarterbacks at the 2016 NFL Combine.
Paxton Lynch of Memphis, a projected late-first or early-second round pick according to ESPN, was the only other quarterback who ranked in the top three in both categories.
Roberts’ numbers and highlights have already begun to draw attention. Roberts has already worked out for a few teams, he said, and his agent fielded calls from multiple teams following his Pro Day.
Should Roberts go unselected at the NFL Draft on April 28–30, a team can invite him to attend a team’s training camp as either an undrafted free agent or a free agent. The former is preferable, as it indicates a team is more serious about retaining the player: An undrafted free agent enters training camp with a contract whereas a free agent is invited without a contact.
“I think my best case scenario is finding the right team,” Roberts said. “What Varga did last year, and Varga 100 percent should have been drafted, was ideal. He had the opportunity to select a team that was the right fit for him, so I’m hoping for a call from teams on Draft Day so I can be an undrafted free agent.”
Currently the only former Eli active on an NFL roster, Varga signed with the Indianapolis Colts as an undrafted free agent in May 2015, immediately following the 2015 draft. The bruising running back earned a spot on the final 53-man roster after impressing fans and teammates alike in a preseason that featured 18 carries for 69 yards, a rushing touchdown and five receptions for 36 yards.
“I think they saw his value once he got a few repetitions at running back,” Ciotti said. “He was, at one point, their third-down back. They saw his ability as a blocker, as a pass-catcher, as a runner. In my opinion, he could be a full-time running back, not just a specialist.”
Though he was active for three regular season games, Varga sustained a concussion on Sept. 27 against the Tennessee Titans and was placed on injured reserve on Oct. 14, ending his rookie season.
That Varga went to injured reserve is significant, Ciotti said.
“When he did his rehab and cleared the concussion [protocol], they could’ve easily waived him,” Ciotti said. “But rather than waive him, the general manager said, we want to put you on injured reserve for the rest of the year, and that protects you from anyone else taking you. That shows me that they value his skills.”
Considering how difficult it is to miss a 5-foot-11, 222-pound man, Varga has become a familiar sight around New Haven, where he works as an intern in the Yale Office of Investments.
However, he will return to football in less than two weeks, as he reports to the Colts on April 18 for the beginning of preseason training.
Joe Linta ’88, Varga’s agent, told the News that in his communications with Ryan Grigson, general manager of the Colts, Grigson has reiterated the Colts’ interest in Varga.
“He looks great, feels great and is ready to go,” Linta said. “I know he’s excited to get back in there for a whole year.”
Linta and Ciotti both said that Varga, who began last season as the fifth running back on the Colts’ depth chart, will be slotted higher this year. But with five-time Pro Bowl rusher Frank Gore on the roster, it is unlikely Varga will start come September.
Still, Ciotti expressed hope that the Colts will allow Varga to display his full potential.
“He needs repetition and practice so he can demonstrate what he demonstrated at Yale for three years,” Ciotti said. “He has some skills that I’ve never seen the likes of.”
Correction, Apr. 7: A previous version of this article misstated the location of Charlotte, North Carolina.