2022 CAA Football

CAA To The NFL: Notables Drafted Or Signed By Pro Teams This Week

CAA To The NFL: Notables Drafted Or Signed By Pro Teams This Week

Villanova's Christian Benford and Elon's Davis Cheek are two players who will get an opportunity to latch on to a roster via the NFL draft or free agency.

May 3, 2022 by Briar Napier
CAA To The NFL: Notables Drafted Or Signed By Pro Teams This Week

Welcome to the big time, fellas. 

The National Football League Draft is always a nervous occasion for potential NFL prospects, but especially for those who molded their careers in the Football Championship Subdivision. Often overlooked in favor of hot-ticket names and eye-popping accolades from players at the Football Bowl Subdivison level, FCS names called at the draft are few and far between (20 of them were called this year), leaving many to hope a team eventually calls to sign them on as an undrafted free agent.

However, that by no means tells the whole story. A plethora of FCS alums — including some from the CAA — have made names for themselves in the NFL, playing their way to All-Pro picks, Super Bowl wins and even Hall of Fame nominations. It’s a long haul to the top, but some of the CAA’s best stars from last season will attempt to climb the mountain to get there.

Here’s a brief look at some of the notable CAA players who managed to find homes with NFL teams over the weekend:

NOTE: List is accurate as of Monday afternoon and could be subject to change.

Christian Benford (CB, Villanova)

Where he’s going: Buffalo Bills (sixth round, 185th overall)

The lowdown: The Colonial’s only player drafted in Las Vegas this past weekend, a Bills secondary that was notoriously torched by Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes in the AFC Divisional round in 

January gets a much-needed boost. Benford has been Villanova’s — and the CAA’s — premier shutdown corner since he exploded onto the scene as the league’s Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2018. He followed that up with back-to-back All-CAA First Team selections in both spring and fall 2021, notching a total of 14 interceptions in 36 career games — including a career-high seven picks in fall 2021. A vital piece of a defense that helped the Wildcats win the Colonial and make it to the FCS quarterfinals, Benford will now test his skill in Buffalo against seasoned pros (in All-Pro Tre’Davious White) and hot prospects (in first-round pick Kaiir Elam) at corner. But ask ‘Nova fans about Benford’s value, and it’s probably priceless. 

Davis Cheek (QB, Elon)

Where he’s going: Carolina Panthers (undrafted free agent)

The lowdown: The quarterback position was a disaster for Carolina in 2021, with the Panthers getting so thin at options under center that the team brought in a 32-year-old Cam Newton hoping for a solution. Perhaps Cheek could be of assistance. Third-round selection Matt Corral, a second team All-SEC selection last year at Ole Miss, will get plenty attention as a rookie signal-caller. But Carolina stayed in-state in also picking up Cheek, a Second Team All-CAA pick and Walter Payton Award Finalist who threw for over 8,500 yards and 50 touchdowns in his stellar four years with the Phoenix. Making the team is the first hurdle Cheek needs to clear, but with the Panthers,it might be easier than other places with  Sam Darnold, Corral and P.J. Walker  currently listed as the top three gunslingers on the depth chart. After all, veteran quarterback Joe Flacco went from the CAA to a Super Bowl win, so the transition isn’t unheard of.

Forrest Rhyne (LB, Villanova)

Where he’s going: Indianapolis Colts (undrafted free agent)

The lowdown: The reigning CAA Defensive Player of the Year was a tank in the middle of the field for the WIldcats, being named a finalist for the Buck Buchanan Award as the FCS’ most outstanding defensive player of the season in the process. His high production (152 total tackles a year ago) and ability to get to the quarterback (11.5 career sacks) could make him a fit in a Colts defense that should be one of the league’s best next season — and one that’s anchored by another FCS alum at linebacker, All-Pro Darius Leonard (South Carolina State). But with Rhyne being the key piece of one of the top defensive units at the FCS level last season, the experience is already there for him to lead the charge on a linebacking corps. Saying he’ll reach Leonard’s level may be a bit premature, but a promising skillset makes it easy to see why Indianapolis fell in love with the Waynesboro, Pennsylvania native.

Andrew Trainer (OT, William & Mary)

Where he’s going: Los Angeles Chargers (undrafted free agent)

The lowdown: An All-American and All-CAA First Team pick as the anchor of an o-line that set the table for the Tribe to average over 200 rushing yards per game for the league’s best running attack , Trainer certainly has NFL-ready size at a gigantic 6-foot-7 and 320 pounds. The left tackle will now get a chance to show off those attributes at the professional level after the Chargers inked him to a post-draft deal. He’ll likely need to switch positions on the line for significant playing time, however, as L.A.’s left tackle slot is currently occupied by All-Pro and second-year stud Rashawn Slater. But Trainer’s skill in pass protection, as well — William & Mary only allowed around a sack per game last season — could make him a valuable depth piece down the line. Other Tribe alumni, such as DeVonte Dedmon and DeAndre Houston-Carson, have proven there to be a place for former William & Mary stars in the NFL.