Dreams turned into realities this summer when four Yale football players battled their way into NFL rookie minicamps. While linebacker Foye Oluokun ’18 was the only one of the four to be drafted in April, tight end Jaeden Graham ’18, linebacker Matt Oplinger ’18 and defensive lineman Copache Tyler ’18 all joined Oluokun in rookie camps around the league.
As the 200th pick in the sixth round by the Atlanta Falcons, Oluokun became the first Bulldog drafted since 2011, a year in which running back Shane Bannon ’11 was drafted 223rd overall by the Kansas City Chiefs. Graham, Oplinger and Tyler, on the other hand, were given a chance at the pros by the Oakland Raiders, the Arizona Cardinals and the Tennessee Titans, respectively. Four months later, however, only three Elis remain in contention for 53-man roster spots with the final week of preseason games looming.
“It’s been a lot of fun to watch,” head coach Tony Reno said. “We want to recruit kids who love football but want the world’s best education. We want them to be world-class in whatever they do. It’s a credit to the entire Yale football family from our sports performance director to our medical staff all the way up to President Salovey, and we hope every year we’re able to put more and more guys in training camps.”
While Oluokun and Oplinger have remained with the teams that they first signed with, Graham followed up his rookie minicamp performance by joining Oluokun in Atlanta for training camp. The Falcons and head coach Dan Quinn have seemingly taken a liking to Ancient Eight talents this season as they also have a third Ivy Leaguer, Brown defensive end Richard Jarvis, on their preseason roster.
Unsurprisingly, Oluokun has made the most headlines in training camp out of the Yale contingent. From his athleticism and special team play to his potential role as Atlanta’s third linebacker, the former second-team All-Ivy player has made his mark in his first taste of NFL action.
“I’m really excited about Foye Oluokun,” Quinn said earlier in the summer during an interview with football commentator Steve Smith. “He’s got speed and power. He’s a really versatile guy. He’s got the run and hit factor. I’m anxious to see what he can do for us.”
Oluokun even earned a preseason start in the Falcons’ second warm-up game of the season. While the level of preseason competition is a far cry from regular season play, the five-year Yale product seems to be in line for a roster spot and notable playing time in the regular season. Thus far through three preseason games, Oluokun has recorded five tackles in limited action.
Oluokun did suffer a minor ankle injury on special teams in the Falcons’ preseason game on Saturday night against the Jaguars. While his ankle was retaped and he returned to action later in the game, the injury caused him to miss practice on Monday and Tuesday this week. Though a long-term injury would threaten his roster chances, an appearance in the Falcons’ final preseason game on Thursday would alleviate any concern.
For Oplinger and Graham, the chances of making the regular season roster are much more nebulous. With limited media coverage of the less-heralded duo, it is hard to say where the two land on the depth charts at their respective positions.
Oplinger played in Arizona’s first preseason game and recorded a single tackle but did not log another in the Cardinals’ two most recent games. Likewise, Graham has one catch for 11 yards in three preseason games.
While both Graham and Oplinger were omitted from ESPN’s latest 53-man roster projections for their respective squads, there is still time for the Yale graduates to make an impression. And even if neither makes the initial 53-man roster, both Graham and Oplinger could find an NFL home later on — with their current team or any of the other 31 clubs — after roster cuts, when teams scramble to fill their 10-man practice squads. From there, a promotion to the 53-man roster at some point in the season could be within reach.
Despite their differing circumstances, Oluokun has faced the same difficulties adjusting to NFL life as have Oplinger and Graham. Luckily, he and Graham have been able to share the experience.
“The ‘making football a full-time thing’ is definitely the thing to get adjusted to when you arrive,” Oluokun said. “But when you get settled, I think this could be the best job I could ask for. … It’s cool seeing a familiar face in the locker room and chatting it up [with Graham] from time to time.”
As a conference, the Ivy League had a record high of 28 former players compete in NFL training camps this preseason.
Won Jung | firstname.lastname@example.org