UCLA Football: Bruins in the NFL – Rookies Roundup

Oct 9, 2016; Green Bay, WI, USA; Green Bay Packers defender Kenny Clark celebrates after recovering a fumble by the New York Giants in the second quarter at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Dan Powers/The Post-Crescent via USA TODAY Sports

As the NFL regular season comes to an end, Go Joe Bruin provides you a roundup of how the UCLA Football rookies fared this year.

Eight total UCLA Football players were drafted in the 2016 NFL Draft. Over the following months, these players battled hard for roster spots with their respective teams.

Now with the NFL’s regular season over, here’s a roundup of how the UCLA rookies fared in the League in this season.

Did any of these Bruins make an impact? Let us check it out…

DT Kenny Clark – Green Bay Packers

DT Kenny Clark was drafted in the first round by the Green Bay Packers in a move few saw coming. Not because Clark didn’t have the talent, but because many expected Myles Jack to be the first Bruin to be taken off the board.

Clark played in all 16 games with the Packers, although he only started 2 games earlier in the season. He recorded a total 21 tackles, including 13 solo.

Since the Packers made the playoffs this year, Clark will see his first post-season action this Sunday when Green Bay will play the New York Giants (FOX at 1:40 PM PT).

OLB Myles Jack – Jacksonville Jaguars

Myles Jack’s selection was more controversial than the rookie probably had hoped for. Slated to go in the top 5, Jack made an announcement about his knee that made teams weary of picking the Bruin linebacker.

After going undrafted in the first round, Jack circulated a video on social media showing him dunking a basketball. The video was clearly intended to send the message to teams that he was in top shape. His move certainly worked for the Jacksonville Jaguars, who ended up selecting Jack early in the second round.

Jack played in all 16 games with the Jags, starting in 10 of them. He recorded 24 total tackles, including 18 solo, a 0.5 sack, and 2 passes defended. Given Jack’s athletic ability, his numbers, at first glance, don’t seem so impressive. However, this is probably due to the fact that even though the rookie had started 10 games this season, he wasn’t on the field all that much.

UCLA Football fans will have to wait until next season to see more of Jack as the rookie’s team did not make it to the playoffs this year.

Oct 3, 2016; Minneapolis, MN, USA; New York Giants running back Paul Perkins (28) carries the ball during the fourth quarter against the Minnesota Vikings at U.S. Bank Stadium. The Vikings defeated the Giants 24-10. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

OG Caleb Benenoch – Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Offensive Guard Caleb Benenoch was drafted in the fifth round by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Unlike some of the other UCLA Football players who were drafted this year, Benenoch saw very little playing time. He played in 5 games this season, and started in 1 in Week 10 against the Chicago Bears.

Although Benenoch may not have seen much playing time this year, he has plenty of talent to develop in years to come. Also, the Bucs are a relatively young team that will continue to call on players like Benenoch to build a franchise around quarterback Jameis Winston.

RB Paul Perkins – New York Giants

It took all the way until pick 149 (fifth round) before UCLA running back Paul Perkins was drafted by the New York Giants. Outrageous, if you ask me, that this back wasn’t selected earlier in the draft.

Perkins started the season as the Giants’ fourth running back on the depth chart. In fact, Perkins did not see any action until Week 3. It only took all season for the Giants coaching staff to see what the entire UCLA Football community already knew: Perkins was the best running back on the Giants’ roster.

Throughout the season, Perkins’ number of snaps increased, and the rookie RB was named the starter in the Giants’ last game of the season against the Washington Redskins. In his first start with the team, Perkins rushed for 102 yards, making him the first Giants back to record a 100-yard game this season.

Although Perkins rushed for a total of 456 yards, averaging 4.1 yards per run, the rookie never made it to the end zone. This is partially because every time Perkins got the Giants close to the end zone, he was benched.

The good news is that Perkins will have at least one more chance to score his first NFL touchdown this year when the Giants face the Green Bay Packers (FOX at 1:40 PM PT).

WR Jordan Payton – Cleveland Browns

The all-time leader in receptions for UCLA Football, Jordan Payton, was drafted by the Cleveland Browns in the fifth round. To say that Payton’s season was a disappointment would be an understatement.

Payton only saw action in four games, and he only recorded 1 reception against the New York Jets in Week 8 for a meager three yards. To be fair to Payton did play for a team that only won one game in the entire regular season.

But what truly blemished Payton’s season was the fact that he was suspended without pay in early December for violating the NFL policy on performance-enhancing substances. Payton was eligible to return to the team on January 2, 2017.

We can only hope that the young wide receiver will move past this incident and return next season ready for a breakthrough year.

Dec 11, 2016; Nashville, TN, USA; Tennessee Titans defensive back Damion Stafford (24) and linebacker Aaron Wallace (52) recover a fumble in the fourth quarter to beat the Denver Broncos at Nissan Stadium. The Titans won 13-10. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

OLB Aaron Wallace – Tennessee Titans

Linebacker Aaron Wallace was drafted by the Tennessee Titans in the seventh round. Prior to leaving the UCLA Football team, Wallace recorded his best season leading the team in tackles for loss and sacks.

With the Titans, the rookie appeared in 10 games. He recorded 14 tackles, including 11 solo, and 1 sack in Week 14 against the Denver Broncos. Although Wallace’s rookie year has come to an end since the Titans did not make the playoffs, Wallace showed enough promise that he could have a strong second year.

TE Thomas Duarte – Miami Dolphins

There are times when it makes sense for a player to declare for the NFL Draft early and times when it definitely doesn’t. UCLA wide receiver Thomas Duarte decided to forego his last year with the Bruins to go pro.

In 2015, Duarte was UCLA QB Josh Rosen’s go-to guy, and given what we saw in the 2016 UCLA Football season, Duarte would have been the number one target again. However, with Rosen’s injury, it’s hard to tell if Duarte would have had a productive season.

Still, he would have gotten more playing time than he did with the Miami Dolphins, the team that drafted him in the seventh round. Duarte was originally signed on to the practice squad. In Week 9 when a roster spot opened up, Duarte saw the opportunity to show he belonged in the NFL. Unfortunately, the rookie only saw limited action in that week, and he wasn’t even targeted for a catch.

The Dolphins will play Pittsburgh this Sunday (CBS at 10:05 AM PT), which could provide an opportunity for Duarte to see some action before his rookie season comes to an end. But I wouldn’t hold my breath at this point.

WR Devin Fuller – Atlanta Falcons

Wide receiver Devin Fuller was the last UCLA player to be selected in the 2016 NFL Draft. The Atlanta Falcons took Fuller with the 238th pick.

Fuller displayed some promise during the preseason with the Falcons. In Atlanta’s preseason game against the Cleveland Browns, Fuller had 4 receptions for 49 yards, and 1 touchdown.

Unfortunately for the rookie, he injured his shoulder before the regular season started. As a result, the Falcons placed Fuller on injury reserve for the rest of 2016.

We can only hope that comes next year, Fuller can build on what he showed on the preseason.

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