Former Fresno State Bulldogs earn a chance at the big leagues

By Dylan Gonzales, Reporter

Several former Fresno State football players will be getting the opportunity to compete for a spot on NFL rosters. 

Only quarterback Jake Haener was drafted. He was selected as the 127th overall pick in the fourth round of the NFL Draft by the New Orleans Saints. 

Four other Bulldogs got signed as undrafted free agents following the draft. Wide receiver Nikko Remigio signed with the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs’. Running back Jordan Mims signed with the Buffalo Bills. Receiver Jalen Moreno-Cropper signed with the Dallas Cowboys. Defensive end David Perales signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers. 

Receiver Zane Pope received an invite to the Chiefs’ rookie minicamp. 

Haener is the highest drafted Bulldog since linebacker Mykal Walker was drafted by the Atlanta Falcons with the 119th pick in 2020. 

With the selection of Haener, the Saints now have two former Fresno State quarterbacks as Haener joins veteran Derek Carr.

After being released by the Las Vegas Raiders on Feb. 14, Carr signed a four-year contract with the Saints and is likely to be their starter for the duration of the contract.

Both Carr and Haener were drafted under Head Coach Dennis Allen. Allen, the current Saints head coach, was the head coach for the Raiders when they drafted Carr in 2014.

Haener will be competing with veteran Jameis Winston for backup quarterback duties. 

Shortly after the draft pick was announced, the Saints posted a video on Twitter of Haener sharing his excitement to join the Saints.

“I can’t wait to team up with quarterback Derek Carr and Jameis Winston, reuniting Fresno State yet again. I’m so excited to be a part of it. I can’t wait to come in and learn from Day 1,” Haener said in the video. 

Haener also grew up a Saints fan and idolized former Saints QB Drew Brees. 

“I loved watching [Drew Brees] play. I’d wear Brees’ jersey, Saints beanies. Having the opportunity to go play in New Orleans is a dream come true,” Haener said.

Going into the draft, Haener was expected to go anywhere from the third to fifth round. Haener was praised for his poise under pressure as well as quick and smart decision making. 

One of the concerns about Haener was his size and arm strength, both of which are below average by NFL standards. However, his high football IQ can mask those weaknesses. 

As long as he is healthy, he has the mental makeup and instincts to be a resourceful NFL backup in the mold of Taylor Heinicke,” Dane Brugler wrote in The Athletic.

Undrafted free agents’s

A lot has to go right for Moreno-Cropper, Mims, Remigio, Perales and Pope to make the 53-man roster on their respective teams. However, all the teams they went to have several players who can mentor them. 

The Cowboys have a very strong group of receivers who can help develop Moreno-Cropper. Veteran Brandin Cooks will be entering his 10th season in the league and has a reputation as a mentor. The other two starting receivers, CeeDee Lamb and Michael Gallup, have both spent their entire careers with the Cowboys and are very familiar with the offensive system.

Bills running back Latavius Murray, 33, is entering his 11th season in the league and could serve as a leader in helping Mims prepare for the NFL. 

Remigio and potentially Pope are joining the defending Super Bowl champions. Even though the Chiefs’ WR core doesn’t have a lot of experience, they have one of the best coaching staffs in the league. Remigio could also be used as a punt returner.

Perales is joining a defense with one of the best players in the NFL in T.J. Watt. Watt has been one of the best pass rushers in the league since 2018. 

The NFL schedules won’t be released until mid-May, but you can expect to see the former Bulldogs on the field in early September.