Two former Palouse quarterbacks who spent time in the same locker room last season in Jacksonville have found new NFL homes.
Gardner Minshew, the former graduate transfer who finished his career at Washington State and Jake Luton, a one-time Idaho backup who found success at Oregon State, have both moved on from the Jaguars, who prepare to begin a new regime under first-year coach Urban Meyer and No. 1 draft pick Trevor Lawrence.
Minshew, now a Philadelphia Eagle, and Luton, the newest practice squad quarterback for the Seattle Seahawks, aren’t the only NFL players with Palouse/Eastern Washington ties who’ve found new situations in the offseason. Below, we take a look at the ex-WSU, Idaho and Eastern Washington standouts who recently made 53-man rosters or NFL practice squads, as well as those looking to get back into the league as free agents.
Gardner Minshew, QB, Philadelphia Eagles: Though Minshew wasn’t traded by the Jaguars until late August, his run in Jacksonville unofficially ended on April 29, the day the franchise drafted Lawrence. Minshew played 23 games in Jacksonville over two seasons, but it’s unclear when his next NFL snaps will come. The former Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year is currently listed as Philadelphia’s third-string QB behind starter Jalen Hurts and backup Joe Flacco.
Andre Dillard, LT, Philadelphia Eagles: Minshew’s move to Philadelphia reunites with him the man who protected his blind side during WSU’s storied 2018 football season. But Minshew and Dillard may not be teammates for long. The left tackle sat out last season with a bicep injury and has dealt with a knee injury in preseason camp. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, teams have reached out to the Eagles regarding Dillard’s availability.
Jalen Thompson, S, Arizona Cardinals: Drafted two years ago in the NFL’s Supplemental Draft, Thompson was never in danger of losing his spot on the 53-man roster even after suffering an ankle injury that kept him out of 11 games last season. He returns in 2021 to team up with former Apple Cup rival and fifth-year pro Budda Baker in Arizona’a secondary.
Frankie Luvu, LB, Carolina Panthers: In 40 career NFL games, the former WSU “Rush” linebacker has registered 48 tackles, nine tackles-for-loss and five sacks. Luvu was productive in Carolina’s three preseason games, recording one sack, two TFL, six tackles and one pass defended, and is listed as a backup rush outside linebacker on the team’s depth chart.
Dezmon Patmon, WR, Indianapolis Colts: The Colts appear to have a loaded receivers room in 2021, so Patmon snagging one of the final 53-man roster spots demonstrates the growth the big outside receiver has made since being drafted in 2020. A big preseason didn’t hurt Patmon’s case, either. In three games, he caught 11 passes for 173 yards, leading the Colts in yards in two of those games.
River Cracraft, WR, San Francisco 49ers: The former WSU slot was released by San Francisco but retained on the practice squad. In his first season with the 49ers, he was activated to the 53-man roster due to a slew of WR injuries, catching six passes for 41 yards.
Easop Winston Jr., WR, New Orleans Saints: One year after being waived by the Los Angeles Rams, who took Winston Jr. on as an undrafted free agent, the former WSU “Z” receiver got another crack the NFL. Winston Jr., who arguably made the catch of preseason camp for New Orleans, didn’t make the 53-man roster but was signed to the practice squad.
Daniel Ekuale, DT, New England Patriots: Ekuale has bounced around quite a bit since his first NFL season in 2018. After a two-year stint in Cleveland and a one-year stint in Jacksonville, he joins New England as a member of the practice squad.
Kaden Elliss, LB, New Orleans Saints: Three years after he was the Saints’ last pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, Elliss has outperformed expectations in every regard especially after recovering from a knee injury that diminished his playing time in 2019. Elliss not only remains a roster lock, but is a projected starter at SAM linebacker after playing all 15 games last season.
Jake Luton, QB, Seattle Seahawks: Playing for his hometown team probably seemed like a long shot when Luton was at Marysville Pilchuck running the run-heavy Wing-T offense while holding just one college offer, from Idaho. Now, the well-journeyed QB who spent time at Ventura College and Oregon State before being drafted by Jacksonville will play less than an hour from home, alongside Russell Wilson, Bobby Wagner and other players he grew up watching.
Benson Mayowa, DE, Seattle Seahawks: Mayowa is now eight years removed from entering the NFL as an undrafted free agent and coming off arguably his most impressive statistical season. In 2020, the former Vandal defensive started in a career-high nine games, recording six sacks, three passes defended, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery.
Jesse Davis, OG, Miami Dolphins: At 29 years old, Davis is the longest-tenured offensive lineman on Miami’s roster and was appointed as one of the team’s captains in 2020. He’s shown versatility as an NFL O-lineman and though he started in 15 games last season, Davis never started more than six at the same position, making six starts at right guard, five at right tackle and four at left tackle.
Elijhaa Penny, RB, New York Giants: Unlike many NFL teams, the Giants opted to carry two fullbacks on their 53-man roster, bringing back Penny after the former Idaho running back rushed six times for 53 yards – an average of 8.5 yards per carry. For his career, Penny has rushed 59 times for 203 yards with two touchdowns.
Jeff Cotton, WR, Jacksonville Jaguars: The former Idaho receiver didn’t have much of an impact in Jacksonville’s first preseason game, but he was superb in the final two, earning a practice squad spot after catching seven passes for 106 yards and a touchdown against the New Orleans Saints and Dallas Cowboys.
Cooper Kupp, WR, Los Angeles Rams: One year after crossing the 1,000-yard barrier, Kupp nearly made it there again in 2020, catching 92 passes for 974 yards and three touchdowns. There’s a good chance Kupp will play a more prominent role in Los Angeles’ passing game, especially if Matthew Stafford can offer the team more consistency and production from the QB position.
Kendrick Bourne, WR, New England Patriots: The offseason came with a change of scenery for the former EWU receiver, who was signed by the Patriots to a three-year, $22.5 million deal after spending his first four NFL seasons with San Francisco. According to a projected depth chart released by the team, Bourne is a second-string receiver behind Jakobi Meyers.
Samson Ebukam, LB, San Francisco 49ers: Ebukam’s run with the Rams ended, but the former EWU linebacker didn’t go far. After four years in Los Angeles, Ebukam will stay in the NFC West and projects as a second-string rush end behind 49ers standout Nick Bosa. In 64 games with the Rams, he totaled 139 tackles with 14 sacks, six passes defended and six forced fumbles.
Taiwan Jones, RB, Buffalo Bills: The veteran running back/return specialist comes back for his 11th NFL season after appearing in 13 games last season. Though Jones didn’t log a carry last season, he made a key fumble recovery on a punt return in Buffalo’s 38-24 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC Championship game.
Nsimba Webster, WR, Chicago Bears: It’s unclear what type of role Webster will play for Chicago’s offense after moving to the NFC North in the offseason, but he should be involved in special teams situations after finishing fourth in the NFL last year with his 41 kick and punt returns. Those 41 returns went for a total of 532 yards.
Free agents to keep an eye on: Anthony Gordon, QB (WSU); Hercules Mata’afa, DE (WSU); Oscar Draguicevich III, P (WSU); Joe Dahl, OL (WSU/University High); Christian Elliss, LB (Idaho); Jake Rodgers, OT (EWU); Evan Weaver, LB (Gonzaga Prep); Brett Rypien, QB (Shadle Park).