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Cougars in the NFL: Keeping track of former Washington State players trying to lock down 53-man roster spots

While former Washington State record-setting quarterback Luke Falk, left, tries to carve out a role with Tennessee, another former Cougar, Deone Bucannon, seems a lock to make the Arizona Cardinals roster at linebacker, where he’s started the past four seasons. (File / AP)

A host of former Washington State football players, including Luke Falk, River Cracraft and Frankie Luvu, are trying to make NFL rosters for the the first time this fall. Another wave of ex-Cougars, including Xavier Cooper, Vince Mayle and Joe Dahl, are multi-year pros who are spending the month of August trying to hold off hungry rookies like Falk, Cracraft and Luvu.

Twelve former WSU players are currently in NFL training camps. We take a look at all 12 and handicap their chances of making the cut come Sept. 1.

Deone Bucannon, Arizona Cardinals

Update: After hyperextending his knee a few weeks ago near the start of training camp, the fifth-year linebacker is expected to return to practice this week and could make his preseason debut on Saturday at Dallas.

53-man chances: Lock. Bucannon’s started in each of four NFL seasons and he’s expected to take on more of a leadership role with the Cardinals this season.

Luke Falk, Tennessee Titans

Update: The Pac-12 record-setter has played well in two preseason games, throwing a touchdown in the waning minutes of his NFL debut – on fourth down no less. In minimal playing time, Falk has completed 18 of 31 passes for 169 yards, one TD and most importantly, no interceptions.

53-man chances: Questionable. Does Tennessee want to keep two quarterbacks or three? If it’s the former, the Titans will retain Marcus Mariota and Blaine Gabbert and drop Falk. If it’s the latter, they’ll hold onto him. Remember, Tennessee did invest a sixth-round draft pick in the former WSU QB.

Cole Madison, Green Bay Packers

Update: Madison’s situation continues to be perplexing and growing more worrisome. The former WSU right tackle still hasn’t reported to Green Bay training camp and Packers general manager Brian Gutenkunst has said they don’t expect him “anytime soon.” On the bright side, Madison’s agent has indicated he will play for the club at some point.

53-man chances: Probable. Green Bay has shown commitment to its fifth-round pick and been patient with Madison as he continues to deal with the personal matter that’s kept him from joining the Packers. Green Bay wouldn’t need to spend a 53-man roster spot on Madison to keep his rights, either.

Frankie Luvu, New York Jets

Update: Colt McCoy’s ears may still be ringing from the powerful blow Luvu delivered to the Washington quarterback in a preseason game last week. Luvu blew up McCoy and subsequently blew up Twitter, but he was also flagged for two personal foul penalties in the game, roughing the passer and violating the new helmet rule, which certainly doesn’t help his case.

53-man chances: Probable. Luvu played mostly with the second team in the preseason game against the Redskins, but he’s spent loads of time with the No. 1 defense during camp and many seem to think he’ll stick with the Jets in his first pro season.

Shalom Luani, Oakland Raiders

Update: Luani played in 16 games last season and started in one for the Raiders, making 18 total tackles and defending two passes. He’s made five tackles in two preseason games against Los Angeles and Detroit, and had a highlight takedown on Rams running back John Kelley in the most recent preseason contest.

53-man chances: Unlikely. It’s evident Luani has the skill set to play in the NFL, but perhaps not in Oakland this season. The vast majority of 53-man roster projections have omitted the former Cougar safety, but he still has time left to prove himself.

Daniel Ekuale, Cleveland Browns

Update: A calf injury sustained in late July on the first day of preseason training camp has precluded Ekuale from practicing with Cleveland or appearing in any of the Browns’ preseason games. But it’s probably been a memorable experience for Ekuale nonetheless, with HBO “Hard Knocks” cameras roaming around practice capturing every moment of Browns camp.

53-man chances: Unlikely. It would’ve been an uphill climb for Ekuale either way, but an injury setback of course doesn’t bode well for a free agent who needed every opportunity to prove himself – and now may not get any.

Hercules Mata’afa, Minnesota Vikings

Update: More of a reminder than an update: Mata’afa tore his ACL during Minnesota’s OTA camp in June and will spend the entirety of his rookie season on injured reserve.

53-man chances: Mata’afa, who went undrafted, will earn the rookie minimum salary this season and vie for a true roster spot when he’s healthy next season.

Vince Mayle, Baltimore Ravens

Update: Mayle enters his fifth NFL season and will hope to complete a third full season with the Ravens in 2018-19. He’s made three catches for a total of 12 yards in two preseason games and continues to demonstrate his value as a special teams contributor. Ravens coach John Harbaugh was quoted Saturday as saying “Vince Mayle has had a tremendous camp.”

53-man chances: Questionable. Depending where you look, Mayle is either considered a roster lock because of what he provides to special teams or an easy omission because that’s about all he can contribute to this Baltimore team.

Joe Dahl, Detroit Lions

Update: The Spokane native and University High graduate spent a chunk of his second pro season on injured reserve and therefore only played in six games, although he started three of those. And because of an undisclosed injury, he was also limited in the spring OTAs. Dahl finally appears to be on the mend, however, and he’s played in both preseason games, starting in one.

53-man chances: Probable. Dahl is a third-year pro and capable of playing every position on the O-line at this point. There’s extreme value in that and even if he’s not starting, his versatility will come in handy if the Lions’ front five sustains any injuries.

Xavier Cooper, New York Jets

Update: After stints with the Cleveland Browns and San Francisco 49ers, Cooper found a new home with the Jets midway through the 2017 season and re-signed with them in March. In eight games, he recorded 10 tackles and 1.5 sacks, filling in admirably for Muhammad Wilkerson.

53-man chances: Questionable. Even though his 2017 audition went well and even though he’s played well this training camp, Cooper is still a bubble roster guy by many accounts.

River Cracraft, Denver Broncos

Update: There may not be another former Cougar that WSU fans would like to see on a roster more than Cracraft, who’s experienced his fair share of misery on a football field, suffering a season-ending injury his senior year in Pullman and then another just days after signing with the Broncos last season. Cracraft has been a standout for the Broncos during training camp and when he played in Denver’s preseason opener against the Vikings, it had been 637 days since his last football game.

53-man chances: Questionable. The Broncos typically keep six wide receivers and Cracraft is right on the fence. He and Isaiah McKenzie are thought to be competing for the last WR spot and McKenzie, despite some previous punt return issues, helped himself out in a big way when he took a punt back for a touchdown against Minnesota. But Cracraft is an adept punt returner, as well, and is the more sure-handed receiver.

Destiny Vaeao, Philadelphia Eagles

Update: Vaeao spent part of his second NFL season on the injured reserve with a broken wrist, suffered in the season opener, and wasn’t active for the Eagles’ playoff games or the Super Bowl victory over New England. But a healthy Vaeao will be much more than merely an active player in 2018 and some seem to think he could start at defensive tackle in the season opener.

53-man chances: Probable. Vaeao hasn’t recorded any stats through two preseason games, but the fact that he’s shown up at the top of most depth charts leads us to believe he’s a near-lock to make the roster.

Looking for work

Marquess Wilson – The former Cougar receiver was cut by the Philadelphia Eagles on July 24.

John Fullington – Waived by the New Orleans Saints because of an injury, Fullington it seems could return to the club when he recovers.

Dom Williams – Williams got a Super Bowl ring from the Eagles, but they parted ways with the receiver earlier this month.

Kache Palacio – The Seahawks moved the linebacker around plenty last season, re-signing him, then waiving him, then signing him to the practice squad, promoting him to the active roster, waiving him again and re-signing him to the practice squad once again.