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Draft recap: Future for the selected

Junior receiver Demarcus Ayers had a great afternoon for UH, recording 161 yards on eight catches and a touchdown with two spectacular catches. | Justin Tijerina/The Cougar

Wide receiver Demarcus Ayers rounded out the group of three Cougars drafted in the NFL Draft. | File photo/The Cougar

Seven former Cougars football players have been given the opportunity to compete in the National Football League. Whether they were drafted or signed as an undrafted free agent afterward, these men will need to battle in order to secure a spot on their respective team’s roster.

In this two-part series, we will examine how each player’s situation shakes out on the basis of draft position, college performance and team depth. Part one will focus on the three players who were selected in the draft last weekend.

William Jackson III was picked with the 24th pick of the first round by the Cincinnati Bengals. As a first round pick, he is essentially guaranteed a roster spot, and Jackson is projected to receive a contract worth roughly $9.7 million with a $5 million signing bonus.

Jackson was a standout on the Cougars’ defense and could be found making plays on the ball. The 6-foot-2 cornerback recorded five interceptions and returned two of the picks for touchdowns. In addition to his interceptions, Jackson led the nation with 23 passes defensed and made 43 tackles.

Once in Bengals camp, Jackson will join a defense that is already loaded with talent. Joining veterans such as Adam “Pacman” Jones and Dre Kirkpatrick will give Jackson plenty of competition, which should make him a better player in the long run. With highly regarded cornerbacks already on the team, Jackson may not see as much playing time as he would like, but an illustrious career should still be in the works for the former Cougar cornerback.

Linebacker Elandon Roberts was selected by the New England Patriots with the 39th pick in the sixth round of the draft. Roberts is a run-stopping linebacker who led the nation in solo tackles with 88, but tallied 142 total tackles. Roberts was also able to force two fumbles and grab an interception in his 2015 season with the Cougars.

Roberts’s style of play will mesh well with that of the Patriots. Head Coach Bill Belichick has routinely proven that he can take players that no one has heard of and turn them into stars.  The Patriots have solid linebackers in Dont’a Hightower and Jonathan Freeny, but lack real talent and depth behind the starters. Roberts has a real chance to make the team, but will likely take a few seasons to find any significant playing time.

Demarcus Ayers was scrutinized by NFL scouts after leaving UH with a year of eligibility remaining, especially after he had a below-average performance at the NFL combine. Ayers faced criticism because he is listed at 5-foot-9, which is seen as undersized in the NFL, and many scouts believe he benefited from the offensive scheme that the Cougars used last season.

Despite these flags, Ayers was selected with the eighth pick of the seventh round by the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Ayers, who was the Cougars’ best receiver last season, led the team with 98 receptions and 1,222 yards for the year.

Ayers joins a team who finished third overall in passing offense and has one of the best slot receivers in the NFL in Antonio Brown. Brown was also labeled as undersized and can be a valuable mentor to Ayers should he make the team.

The former Cougar wide receiver has an opportunity to advance because the Steelers’s other stud receiver, Martavis Bryant, is facing a one-year suspension. It is likely that Ayers will make the roster, but will be limited to punt and kickoff return duties.

On Wednesday, we will take a look at the Cougar players who were not selected in the draft but still have a shot to make an NFL roster come next fall.

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