From Brett "The Beard" Keisel and Eric Weddle on the defensive side of the ball to John Beck and Chris Cooley on offense, plenty of players with Utah ties are poised to have an impact on their NFL teams this year. Here's our list of locals to watch now that the lockout is over.
These former Pro Bowlers will have a big impact on the Panthers. The Panthers, however, who finished 2-14 last season, will have little impact in the NFL.
For the former University of Utah and Timpanogos High star, 2011 needs to be a breakout year. He's played in just 20 games for the Ravens after being drafted in the second round of the 2009 draft. Injuries have slowed him, but the talent is definitely there.
The beard is back (well, at least a trimmed one). The former Cougar will contribute to one of the toughest defenses in the league and will continue to grow one the longest beards in sports — this side of San Francisco.
"It's well-groomed, but this is the baby beard," Keisel was quoted in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "The beard's coming back. ... I bet it will get as long as last year, hopefully. Hopefully we'll be playing ball in February."
Bradley, a Highland High graduate, had his share of injuries during his four years in Philadelphia — he missed all of 2009 and part of 2010. But he gets a fresh start in Arizona, and head coach Ken Whisenhunt is high on him.
"I think when Stewart's playing, he's one of the top linebackers in the game. He's had a couple injuries here and there," Whisenhunt said. "The opportunity there for a big-time playmaker at that position is something we thought we had a need for. And we thought we got a very good player. ... His coverage ability, some of the things he can do in space, gives us another weapon that we can use in different capacities."
The Utah State standout will be one of just two holdovers on offense from last season — Santana Moss is the other. Don't worry, I'm sure Captain Chaos has a plan. Don't be surprised if Beck-to-Cooley touchdowns become a common occurrence.
The very talented former Ute is looking to elevate himself to the elite NFL cornerback level. The Miami Herald's Barry Jackson says Smith was targeted only 44 times out of 661 snaps in 2010, the second lowest percentage in the NFL, trailing only Philadelphia's Nnamdi Asomugha. That's especially impressive because Miami's other cornerback, Vontae Davis, was targeted the 10th-lowest rate (72 in 1,025).
The Pro Bowl left tackle and former Utah State star leads a Bucs offensive line that was ranked No. 10 in NFL.com's offensive line rankings.
Collie, the former BYU star, was statistically one of the best receivers in the NFL last season, catching 58 passes — eight were touchdowns — for 649 yards in just nine games. But concussions ended his season and have clouded the future of his once-promising career. Collie is trying to put that all behind him. "I don't like to dwell on it too much just because it can affect your play going across the middle and catching another ball," Collie said on KHTK, via SportsRadioInterviews.com. "You don't want things like that popping up in the back of your mind. So I try to ignore any thought I do have of it. I don't want to watch it. People want to show me or want to ask how I felt during that time. I just kind of brush it aside because it is one of those things that it is in the past and it's unfortunate. I was unlucky, but I'm just looking forward to this next season and getting on with it."
Stop me if you've heard this one before: This is Smith's final chance to prove he's an NFL quarterback. Well this year it REALLY is true. Despite not being able to re-sign with the 49ers until last week, the former No. 1 pick out of Utah ran Camp Smith, working out with other locked out Niners during the summer. He looks like the No. 1 option for head coach Jim Harbaugh, but hard-throwing rookie Colin Kaepernick will push him.
After four seasons and three teams, it finally looks like the BYU standout will get a chance to lead an NFL offense in 2011. He hasn't been named the starter yet, says the Washington Post, but it's clear that he tops the current depth chart.
"John's done a good job in his first day of practice. I wouldn't put him in the Pro Bowl yet," Mike Shanahan told the Post, "but he's close.
"That's a joke," the coach quickly added, well aware of the attention that's been showered on the team's former third-stringer in recent weeks.
The two-time Pro Bowler is looking to get even better after losing 20 pounds during the offseason. The former Highland High star had 65 tackles — a ton for a defensive lineman — and a career-high 5 1/2 sacks in 2010. He told the Associated Press this week that he doesn't mind getting the one-year franchise tag, but he wants a long-term contract with more money: "That's what I am really trying to shoot for."
The former Utah do-everything star had 72 tackles as part of the NFL’s stingiest defense, in terms of yards allowed. He got handsomely rewarded for his work, signing a five-year, $40 million deal last week. With him getting along very well with fellow starting safety Bob Sanders, offenses that try to attack the Chargers downfield will do so at their own peril.