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How UTEP Football alumni has fared in the NFL

Courtesy of UTEP
After the 2020 draft concluded Kahani Smith was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Denver Broncos.

   The 2020 NFL Draft has concluded and although there was not a member of the University of Texas at El Paso football program taken that does not mean their respective journey ends. Prior to this year’s draft, one Miner alumni was selected in the 2017 draft and other in the 2018 draft, and after the 2019 draft concluded two Miners signed as undrafted free agents. 

After the 2020 draft concluded Kahani Smith was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Denver Broncos. 

 The University of Texas at El Paso’s football program currently has seven alumni playing in the National Football League, which is quite a feat considering the program’s subpar cumulative record of 64the last four seasons 

Of the seven UTEP alumni in the NFL, two players were selected in the NFL Draft with Aaron Jones taken in the fifth round by the Green Bay Packers in the 2017 draft as the 182 overall pick, and Will Hernandez taken by the New York Giants in the 2018 draft in the second round as the 34 overall pick.  

Stating that Jones has fared well in the NFL is an understatement as the El Paso, Texas product and the all-time rushing leader in UTEP program history co-led the league in rushing touchdowns this past season and was a major factor in leading the Packers to the NFC Championship game.  

Jones’s 1,084 yards during the 2019-2020 season was 12th best in the NFL and he was named NFC Offensive player of the week twiceIn his three years in the league Jones has rushed for 2,260 yards and 28 touchdowns, while earning 702 receiving yards and four receiving touchdowns. 

teammate that was a constant component for Jones’s success at UTEP was Hernandez as the 6-foot2, 335 pounder led the way on the offensive line for the Miners. The second guard taken in the 2018 draft now leads the way for another immensely talented running back in 2018 NFL Rookie of the Year Saquon Barkley. 

 Hernandez created a ton of gaps on the field for Barkley to maneuver through with his brute strength and exceptional footwork as Barkley rushed for 1,307 yards which was second best in the league. 

2018 All-Rookie Team selection, Hernandez’s future looks bright and he has proven he is durable thus far as he has started and played in all 32 games through his two seasons in the NFL. 

The remaining Miner alumni took another path into the league by signing as undrafted free agents in Cedrick Lang, Nick Usher, Nik Needham, Eric Tomlinson and Roy-Robertson Harris. Going undrafted is not a nail in the coffin of an athlete’s career as some may perceive considering the hype and festivities surrounding the annual draft.  

Seventeen undrafted players are enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame as opposed to 14 number one overall picks 

A standout undrafted free agent thus far has been Miami Dolphin cornerback Nik Needham and he has displayed a tenacity to climb the ranks as a budding star. Needham was promoted to the active roster a day before the team’s week five matchup versus the Washington Redskins and he made his debut against them starting at cornerback.  

In week nine against the New York Jets, Needham earned a team-high tackles and recorded one sack in the Dolphins 26-18 win. 

Needham was able to use his solid football IQ and exceptional speed to end his rookie season with 54 tackles, a sack, and two interceptions. The all-time pass breakup leader in UTEP program history  also ended up leading the Dolphins in pass breakups with 11.  

“You can never be fast enough, and I know that’s a big key that they look for in the NFL and I still learn more about the game of football as well,” Needham said.  

Another standout Miner alumni defensive player that signed as an undrafted free agent is defensive end Roy Robertson-Harris who has been a part of the Chicago Bears for four seasons. Robertson-Harris has recorded 65 tackles and seven and a half sacks and played every game during the 2018-2019 season. 

At UTEP Robertson-Harris recorded 134 tackles, eight and a half sacks, and three forced fumbles. 

Heading into the 2015 NFL draft former Miner Eric Tomlinson was ranked as the 20th best tight end prospect but ended up signing as an undrafted free agent with the Philadelphia Eagles. Tomlinson has bounced around the league as he has been a part of six different organizations. Tomlinson’s best season in the NFL came during the 2017-2018 season in which he tallied eight receptions, 121 receiving yards and one touchdown.  

Tomlinson signed with the New York Giants on March 30, 2020. He was previously claimed off waivers by the Giants on September 1, 2019 but was later waived on September 24. 

After completing a Miner career that included a 2015 All-Conference-USA honorable mention selection, Nick Usher entered the 2015 NFL Draft. After going undrafted Usher was signed by the Seattle Seahawks as an undrafted free agent in May of 2017. 

After being waived by the Seahawks and New England Patriots, Usher then went on to play in the Candian Football League 

In his two seasons with the Edmonton Eskimos Usher played in 24 games and recorded 43 tackles. Usher also tallied seven sacks and four forced fumbles during his time in the CFL. 

Usher signed with the Las Vegas Raiders in January 2020. 

Cedrick Lang played four years on the UTEP men’s basketball team in which he played in 130 games and is first in school history in field goal percentage before using his fifth year of eligibility to play on the Miner football team. 

In his only season with the team he played in all 12 games and recorded 11 receptions, 72 receiving yards and one receiving touchdown. 

Lang signed on May 6, 2016 with the New York Giants as an undrafted free agent but has been plagued with injury problems throughout his NFL career being placed on the injured reserve list multiple times and signing with five teams 

Lang recently signed in December 2019 with the Indianapolis Colts  

The road to the NFL is by no means an easy avenue, but having seven players in the league that have played at UTEP can serve as an inspiration for current players in the program and young athletes in the Sun City moving forward 

Isaiah Ramirez may be reached at [email protected] 

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About the Contributor
Isaiah Ramirez
Isaiah Ramirez is a senior multimedia journalism major at the University of Texas at El Paso. Isaiah has worked for the university’s paper The Prospector since Spring 2018 and has held the position as a sports editor and is currently a reporter at the publication. During the fall semesters he also works as an on-air reporter for Football Friday Nights a weekly radio show showcasing local football games broadcasted by 600 ESPN El Paso. He covers local news as well as local and UTEP sporting events such as football, men’s and women’s basketball, and has covered the annual Hyundai Sun Bowl game and two-time NBA champion Danny Green’s basketball camp here in the Sun City.
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How UTEP Football alumni has fared in the NFL