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BYU Alums in the NFL: Preseason Primer

The NFL’s full slate of preseason games kick off this weekend. Several former BYU Cougars will get a chance to display their skills and compete for roster spots.

NFL: New York Jets Training Camp Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Football season is quickly approaching. This could be one of the most highly anticipated NFL seasons in recent memory for BYU fans. For starters, two teams have the possibility of deploying former BYU signal callers as their starting quarterbacks this fall. A host of other former Cougars are battling to make a 53-man roster.

The preseason slate is set to begin in its fullness this coming weekend, starting Thursday with two games. Normally, the average football fan is not entirely invested in preseason games. Typically, fringe roster players or future practice squad members are taking the majority of the snaps while the stars of the league hold tablets and wear headsets on the sidelines- things not usually made for compelling TV. However, this year, there are several former BYU stars who are fighting for their NFL careers and preseason games produce an important opportunity for them to shine and impress their coaches.

Here is a look at some BYU alums and where they find themselves heading into the NFL’s preseason, along with their uniform number listed on the team’s roster.

Disclaimer- this does not include obvious starters in the NFL, who typically get very few snaps in the preseason, such as Fred Warner and Jamaal Williams.

The Quarterbacks

Zach Wilson, New York Jets (No. 2)

Let’s not bury the lede here. Wilson became the highest NFL Draft pick in BYU history when New York selected him second overall this past April. Expectations are rightfully high for the rookie signal caller, especially in a market like New York, where expectations are always high, realistic or not.

The Jets face off against their New York counterparts, the Giants, this Saturday at 7:30 PM EDT at MetLife Stadium. Many locals lost their minds after Wilson struggled through their team scrimmage last weekend. This will be a chance for Wilson to silence critics and prove he should undoubtedly be the starting quarterback in New York. Not that there is any stiff competition at this point.

Taysom Hill, New Orleans Saints (No. 7)

Unlike Wilson, Hill is in the middle of a fierce quarterback battle. With the departure of future Hall of Famer Drew Brees, it’s down to Hill or former Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston in New Orleans.

Hill is certainly not guaranteed the starting job. Winston started for five seasons while in Tampa Bay, earning a Pro Bowl nod in his rookie year. Head coach Sean Payton has a tough decision ahead. That decision may become a bit clearer after New Orleans’ first preseason game, against the Ravens this Saturday at 7:00 pm EDT. It’s likely both Hill and Winston get significant snaps.

Other 2021 draft picks

Brady Christensen, OT, Carolina Panthers (No. 70)

Zach Wilson’s protector was a coveted asset heading into the draft. He now joins a young and hungry Carolina team. He is currently listed as the third string left tackle, but that certainly can change quickly after preseason games get under way. The Panthers take on the Colts on Sunday at 1:00 pm EDT.

Khyiris Tonga, DT, Chicago Bears (No. 95)

One of the anchors of the 2020 BYU defense will strive to make waves in Chicago. Tonga is currently listed as the fourth nose tackle on the roster. He will likely get a lot of looks in the preseason games given his position on the depth chart. The seventh-round pick’s first opportunity comes against the Dolphins at 1:00 pm EDT on Sunday.

Chris Wilcox, DB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (No. 29)

Wilcox will look to stick with the defending Super Bowl champions this fall. He is currently listed as a third-string corner in Tampa. What could separate him is his ability to make plays on special teams. He will need to be a willing tackler on kickoff and punt teams to earn a spot. The Bucs kick off their preseason against the Bengals on Saturday at 7:30 pm EDT.

Dax Milne, WR, Washington Football Team (No. 84)

After the draft, no one assumed Milne would be competing for a starting spot on the receiving corps, instead of just a roster spot. Yet he has impressed early in camp in D.C.

The WFT is one of the earlier games of the week as they face off against the New England Patriots this Thursday at 7:30 pm EDT. Milne has a golden opportunity to seize a big receiver role in this offense. No one aside from Terry McLaurin and Curtis Samuel have an assured spot on the roster among pass-catchers. With a strong preseason, Milne could go from seventh-round pick to catching passes on Sundays in D.C.

Other roster hopefuls

Micah Simon, WR, Carolina Panthers (No. 81)

Simon signed a free agent deal with Carolina following BYU’s Pro Day in the spring. He joins former BYU teammate Brady Christensen in Carolina. Cougar fans last saw Simon during the 2019 season, when he racked up 616 yards and two touchdowns. The Panthers currently have 12 receivers listed on the roster, so Simon has his work cut out for him if he wants to make the team.

Aleva Hifo, WR, Arizona Cardinals (No. 84)

Like Simon, Hifo last played in 2019 for the Cougars and went undrafted following the pandemic-riddled 2020 offseason. Now he will get a fair shot with a dynamic NFC West team. The Cardinals have plenty of weapons for rising star Kyler Murray at quarterback. Hifo’s speed and playmaking ability should come in handy. He will be given a chance early against Cowboys on Friday at 10:00 pm EDT.

A host of other former BYU Cougars could get snaps in an NFL preseason game this week.