UCF's senior class ended their career as Knights on a dismal note. In front of a less-than capacity crowd, the Knights fell 15-0 to a pedestrian UAB squad to end a disappointing 4-8 season.
The down year certainly didn't help any of the seniors' value to the NFL and that was evident when only Joe Burnett was drafted in the 2009 NFL Draft. That doesn't necessarily mean that UCF's 2008 seniors cannot find their niche in the NFL, as three of them have already been picked up by NFL teams.
Sha'reff Rashad, Jason Venson, and Patrick Brown all signed free-agent rookie deals after illustrious careers at UCF, and Johnell Neal is trying to earn a contract after accepting a tryout with the Detroit Lions. All four players will battle it out to continue their dreams of playing in the NFL, but it won't be easy, although is any player performs well during OTAs and minicamp, they could warrant a look on the 53-man roster come the fall, or at the least, a place on the practice squad.
Rashad will head north to New York and will attempt to earn a roster spot with the Giants. Rashad is arguably the most talented Knight this year to not be drafted. He will have some steep competition, but Rashad goes to a team that is notorious for giving players a fair shake, regardless of their draft position. The two starting safeties for the Giants last year, James Butler (SS) and Michael Johnson (FS), were relatively unknown, as one was an undrafted free agent and the other was a seventh-round pick.
Butler is no longer on the roster, although he will likely be replaced by Kenny Phillips, who was the Giants' first-round selection last year. Still, things bode well for Rashad, as there isn't much depth at the position. There are only four safeties currently on the roster, and none have more than four years of experience, so if Rashad performs well, he has a legit shot.
One of the most storied linemen in UCF history, Brown will try to continue his iron-man like work ethic in Carolina. Brown, 6'5", 292 lbs., started every game but one for the Knights during his four-years at UCF. The knock on Brown was that he was a little light and didn't have a mean streak and he must prove doubters wrong this summer. It will be a tough road for Brown, who joins a crowded group of linemen that includes Jeff Otah (first-rounder) and Jordan Gross (first-rounder). There is a lot of depth across the line and although Brown offers versatility, he will have be flawless in order to make the final cut.
Venson, who formed a terrific safety tandem with Rashad for several years at UCF, will go to Cleveland. Venson led UCF in tackles last season and is known for delivering some devastating hits. Venson likely isn't fast enough to play free safety at the next level and will have to bulk up so he can play in the box as a strong safety. Venson might get a spot on the practice squad by pure default, as last year's starter Sean Jones left via free agency and the Brown's haven't selected a safety during the past two drafts.
Fan favorite and a guy that George O'Leary called the toughest pound-for-pound player on the team last year, Johnell Neal, will try to join former teammate in Kevin Smith in Detroit. The Lions had a dreadful four interceptions last year (the lowest ever during a 16 game season) and it will be an open competition at every position. Neal has a motor that never stops and was productive last season, although there seemed to be some lingering effects from gun-shot wounds he suffered last summer. With his constant effort, Neal will need to prove his worth as a special teams player before he battles for a roster spot.
At the end of the day, the 2008 season could be considered a forgettable one for all of the before mentioned players, but these former Knights have a chance to carry on the UCF legacy in the NFL. UCF has become somewhat of a pipeline to the NFL considering it is a non-BCS school and these four players will try to add to an impressive list that included 15 alumni on NFL rosters.
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