Courtesy of Yale Athletics
As the 2022 NFL season kicks off on Sept. 8, Yale fans will have the opportunity to watch five Yale football alumni in NFL gameplay.
Tight end JJ Howland ’22, defensive back Rodney Thomas II ’22, offensive lineman Dieter Eiselen ’19, safety-turned-lineback Foyesade Oluokun ’18 and tight end Jaeden Graham ’18 signed with NFL training camps this summer. The five signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Indianapolis Colts, Chicago Bears, Jacksonville Jaguars and Philadelphia Eagles, respectively.
“Since 2017, we’ve had five guys that’re in the NFL,” head coach Tony Reno said. “I think it speaks volumes, not only from us, but from the other seven schools in the league who have players just like that as well.”
Howland, a First Team All-Ivy player for the Bulldogs who received an honorable mention All-Ivy recognition in 2018, signed a free agent contract with Tampa Bay last May.
Last season, Howland finished with 16 catches — including two touchdown receptions — for 238 yards, and in 2018, he had 18 catches for 326 yards in his 10 total games played.
Last April, the Colts selected Thomas, who had First Team Honors last season and is a two-time All-Ivy League player, in the seventh round of the NFL draft. Thomas was drafted as a bit of plug-and-play player, having played both linebacker and safety in his time in New Haven.
“Anywhere I’m asked to play is my best fit,” Thomas said to Colts.com’s Larra Overton. “I’ve developed a nice skillset to be able to contribute to anything I’m asked to do … so I’m ready to get to work and help where I can, help where I’m asked to, for sure.”
On Aug. 31, that versatility and willingness to play anywhere on the field paid off for Thomas, as it was announced that he had made the Colts initial 53-man roster. The former Bulldog is officially listed as a safety and will also likely see lots of time on special teams in his rookie year.
In the 2021 season, Thomas recorded 11 pass breakups as a safety, ranking third in the Ivy League. He also ranked second on the Yale team with 50 tackles.
“The athletic Thomas made a couple of strong open-field tackles in the Colts’ final preseason game and played the most special teams snaps on the team in August too,” JJ Stankevitz said on Colts.com.
Eiselen, a two-time All-Ivy player, is continuing into his second season with the Chicago Bears practice squad.
Graham, who was signed to the Atlanta Falcons, had to miss last season due to an injury. After signing with the Eagles this offseason, Graham suffered another setback when he was placed on Injured Reserve for the entire 2022 season with an undisclosed injury.
Before joining the Jaguars, Oluokun spent four seasons with the Atlanta Falcons. Oluokun played in 17 games last year, where he recorded 192 tackles, one forced fumble, three interceptions, six pass deflections, two sacks and four tackles for loss.
“Kids who like math, everything they see is a puzzle. We learn puzzles. We learn patterns in math,” Oluokun said during his time with the Atlanta Falcons. “That’s why I applied it to football. Every pattern you see out there, it’s the same application of patterns that you see in math.”
During his time at Yale, Oluokun was All-Ivy his senior year and started every single game as a linebacker. He finished the season second on the team in tackles, with 50 total.
Following his breakout 2021 season in which he led the NFL in tackles, Oluokun was offered a three-year deal with the Jaguars worth a guaranteed $28 million. With incentives, the former Eli could max out his deal at around $46 million.
“[With our number of signed players,] find another conference in FCS that has been able to put that many players in such a short time,” Reno said.
Despite the number of accomplished players who have moved on from the Bulldogs, Team 149 is prepared to kick off their season on Sept. 17 at Holy Cross. The Blue and White rank fourth in the 2022 Ivy League Preseason Poll, with 83 points, trailing Harvard, Dartmouth and Princeton.
The Bulldogs will face Howard for Yale’s home opener at the Yale Bowl on Oct. 1 at noon.
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