NFL Hilltoppers look to capitalize on preseason opportunities

WKU wide receiver Taywan Taylor (2) tries escape a tackle by Marshall University safety Kendall Gant (14) during the Hilltoppers’ 60-6 win over Marshall on Saturday, Nov. 26th, 2016 at Joan C. Edwards Stadium in Huntington, WV. Evan Boggs / HERALD

Alec Jessie

As the end of the preseason approaches, former WKU football stars in the NFL are battling for roster spots and starting positions.

There are currently 13 former Hilltoppers in the league, most notably Taywan Taylor, George Fant, Forrest Lamp and Jack Doyle.

Taylor, a wide receiver for the Tennessee Titans, has excelled in the preseason with 113 receiving yards and two touchdowns on six catches. Even NBA superstar LeBron James took notice on Taylor’s performance by commenting on one of Taylor’s Instagram posts. In the Titans’ second preseason game against the Buccaneers, Taylor caught four passes for 95 yards and scored twice.

Taylor has run with the Titans’ first-team offense all of camp and figures to be the Titans’ top slot receiver during the 2018 season.

After having his entire 2017 wiped out due to an ACL tear, Lamp is healthy again and competing for a starting guard spot for the Los Angeles Chargers.

The Chargers are taking it slow with Lamp. He began training camp on the physically unable to perform list and has yet to suit up this preseason. Head coach Anthony Lynn has stated that he intends to give Lamp plenty of snaps in the final preseason game, and that Lamp will compete for a Week 1 starting spot, according to Eric Williams of ESPN.

Fant is in a unique battle of his own. The Seahawks moved him from left tackle to right tackle, and he will compete with former 2016 first-round pick Germain Ifedi. Ifedi is currently running with the Seahawks’ first-team offense and is the favorite to start Week 1.

Doyle, a 6-year veteran tight end, looks to continue his success with the Indianapolis Colts. Last season Doyle lead the team in receptions and was second in receiving yards. He will have some competition this season. The Colts signed tight end Eric Ebron to a two-year, $15 million deal in the offseason. Due to the lack of wide receiver depth, the Colts figure to run a bunch of two-tight end sets, where Doyle will likely again rack up targets. A healthy Andrew Luck can only help Doyle’s 2018 outlook.

Former WKU tight end Tyler Higbee is looking to separate himself in an improving Rams’ offense. Higbee’s main competition at the tight end position is Gerald Everett. Higbee could have a leg up on Everett entering the regular season as Higbee has been in better health. Everett has missed the entire preseason due to shoulder problems.

Rams starting quarterback Jared Goff would like to get Higbee more involved this year, according to Cameron DaSilva of USA Today. Through his first two seasons, Higbee has caught 36 passes for 380 yards and two touchdowns.

Former WKU star quarterback Mike White is currently battling for a roster spot on the Dallas Cowboys. He’s been competing with Cooper Rush for the backup position to starting quarterback Dak Prescott.

White impressed in Week 3 of the preseason, completing 17-of-22 passes for 157 yards, giving him a passer rating of 77.3.

Linebacker Joel Iyiegbuniwe is also fighting for a roster spot with the Chicago Bears after being picked in the fourth round of the draft this offseason. Patrick Finley of the Chicago Sun-Times projected the Bears roster cuts and had Iyiegbuniwe making the final 53. Iyiegbuniwe will look to have an impact on special teams early and back up the inside linebackers.

Tight end Deon Yelder is battling for a reserve spot with the New Orleans Saints. Deuce Windham of SB Nation projected Yelder to miss the 53-man cut, but said he’d shown “flashes” in camp and in the preseason.

Quarterback Tyler Ferguson signed a reserve/future contract with the Titans in January. He was an undrafted free agent coming out of WKU in 2017, and played for the Titans in the preseason, but spent the majority of the season with Tennessee’s practice squad.

Sports reporter Alec Jessie can be reached at 270-745-6291 and [email protected] Follow Alec on Twitter at @Alec_Jessie.