[Vandal] Vandals On The Cusp

robiegruss at aol.com robiegruss at aol.com
Fri Aug 7 10:26:25 PDT 2020

>From The Lewiston TribuneLewiston, IdahoFriday, August 7, 2020
Vandals On The Cusp
By Colton Clark
{Second of a two-part series on the prospects of former University of Idaho football players in the NFL}
While four Vandal graduates have established their roles as veterans in NFL locker rooms, two younger ones — linebacker Kaden Elliss and wide receiver Jeff Cotton — are striving to solidify roster spots, and carve out roles.
New Orleans and its fan base certainly found out quickly how big of a steal they got in Elliss, the affable but imposing linebacker.
The former edge-rushing Vandal phenom — who got reps at about a dozen different positions as a four-year Idaho starter from 2015-18 — was taken 244th overall, in the seventh round.
Several draft analysts, on the other hand, graded him as possessing talent rivaling that of a fourth-rounder. Although they hadn’t been around to see his weekly superiority in the Sun Belt and Big Sky, they took note at his two pro days, when Elliss effortlessly tossed blocking sleds aside, and registered workout numbers on par with — and sometimes better than — NFL Combine participants.
Elliss, who had not been invited to the combine, posted a 60-yard-shuttle time faster than each of its entrants, and his mark in the three-cone drill surpassed all but one.
He’s still a youngster, but it seems Elliss is cemented on the Saints’ roster, despite his missing all but three games last season with an ACL injury sustained while in punt coverage against Seattle in Week 3.
“Obviously the first step is to get back on the field, then after that, I’ll see where they wanna use me,” Elliss told the Tribune this spring. “I’ll play wherever they need me — inside, outside. We’ll see how I grow, and where I get locked in as the career goes on.”
Elliss made enough waves during New Orleans’ 2019 camp, preseason, and its first three games to solidify a roster spot. The Saints loved his work ethic and versatility, employing him at outside and inside linebacker, and on the majority of special-teams downs. He became a fan favorite for his charm, and after a video went semi-viral of him naming the myriad positions he played at Idaho.
In the 2019 preseason, the smooth-moving 6-foot-3, 240-pounder was one of New Orleans’ three most-played defenders, and often filled in as a starter. He led the Saints with 23 total tackles.
His first stop of the regular season prevented a touchdown, when he dragged down a free-running Los Angeles Rams punt returner on Sept. 15.
“I was happy to be able to come in, still use my quickness and strength to my advantage, and to get to learn from an awesome linebacker group,” he said. “They got me ready through camp, showed me the best you can do is yell, have fun. You might make a few mistakes, but bounce back and keep at it.”
The noted nice guy and first in the string of Idaho football family members — including current players Christian and Noah, his brothers, and defensive line coach Luther, his father and a former longtime NFL D-lineman — has regained his health, and is predicted by national media to vie for a special-teams role, though Vandal enthusiasts might view that assumption as too conservative.
Elliss was a two-time All-Sun Belt defender and a first-team All-Big Sky selection as an NFL prototype in the lower levels of Division I football.
Recently, he and his wife, former Idaho basketball player Brooke (nee Reilly), welcomed their first child, Te.
“The last year has been a fun ride,” he said. “I’m super thankful, blessed to be here with the Saints. It’s such a great, successful organization, and they take care of us.”
The All-American, record-breaking Idaho receiver will have to prove himself, but he’s done so before.
Cotton, whom many FCS football experts placed among the most talented players in the subdivision, went undrafted in the spring — an admittedly frustrating experience. Not long after, his phone rang. It was his agent, who informed him the Los Angeles Chargers were offering him a cracked door to the NFL, which he intends to storm through.
“That’s gonna motivate me for as long as I play,” Cotton said after reaching a free-agent deal with L.A.
The 6-foot-2, 205-pounder has spent the last five years climbing the football ladder. He became an honorable mention junior college All-American at Pima (Ariz.) Community College after being underrecruited out of high school in Tucson, Ariz., then did himself one better — developing into an elite FCS receiver, a third-team AP All-American who many argued was the best in the Big Sky.
Cotton led the FCS with 8.8 receptions per game for 5-7 Idaho last year, placing second nationally with 114.1 yards per contest. He missed two full games with injuries, but topped the league with 88 catches. Cotton broke Idaho’s single-game reception record with 18 catches against Northern Arizona, and ended his campaign with 1,141 yards. He compiled 1,797 yards and 14 scores across two Idaho seasons.
Cotton said the Chargers told him they liked his speed during pre-draft evaluations — he said he ran a 4.39-second 40-yard dash during a makeshift pro day in March at Missoula, Mont.
The Chargers’ rookies arrived at camp in late July. Cotton must work his way up the depth chart in a crowded receiving room, which includes three 2020 draftees. Coach Paul Petrino predicted in the spring that Cotton is a good enough blocker and special-teams commodity to perhaps earn a spot on the roster that way.
“I’ve been telling everyone, ‘It just feels so good, knowing everything I’ve been through, everything my family’s been through,’” he said. “It’s amazing to get the opportunity to play at the highest level.”
NOTE — Former Vandal defensive back Chris Edwards (2014-15) was cut by the San Francisco 49ers on Tuesday.
Edwards — a 6-2, 215-pound safety from Southfield, Mich. — had been playing in the Canadian Football League since 2017, after being released by the Oakland Raiders in the preseason. He appeared in 35 games in two years with the Edmonton Football Team, recording 62 tackles and three interceptions. As a British Columbia Lion in 2019, he had 50 stops, a sack and a pick before being released by the team to try his hand at the NFL.
Clark may be reached at cclark at lmtribune.com, on Twitter @ClarkTrib or by phone at (208) 848-2260.
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