We’re more than half way through the month of August and that means that the NFL preseason is in full swing. Some roster spots have already been decided while others are still being decided. Then there are players who’s spots are secure but they’re just preparing for the long season ahead. And there are plenty of Latinos in the mix as we move closer to September.
The number of Latinos within the league’s rank and file have grown significantly over the last decade. While interest among Hispanic athletes has helped, the league making a better effort to market to Latino fans has also played a huge role. Not to mention the fact that the NFL has had some success with Spanish-language broadcasts. More and more Latinos are thriving in today’s NFL, even within the league office.
Here are the Latinos who are poised to make a difference in 2018….
Green Bay Packers linebacker Blake Martinez–
The 2016 fourth round pick out of Stanford has been impressive since day one. From 69 tackles as a rookie, to 144 tackles last year, Martinez is primed to have an even bigger year in 2018. With fellow linebacker Jake Ryan out for the year with a knee injury, Martinez will called upon to take on a bigger role. Playing in the rough and tumble NFC North division, Martinez has proven time and time again that he can handle the pressure. Linebackers are the strength of Green Bay’s defense and Martinez will be a core part of that this year.
Minnesota Vikings safety Andrew Sendejo–
After going undrafted in 2010, Sendejo literally worked his way up from the bottom to become of one of the league’s primere players. He began in the minor leagues, then worked his way onto NFL practice squads before eventually finding a home with the Minnesota Vikings. Since then he has accumulated 344 career tackles, six interceptions, and 16 career pass deflections. The Vikings made it all the way to the NFC title game last year on the strength of their defense, and they look to make it the promised land this year after upgrading their offense.
New York Giants offensive guard Will Hernandez–
When the “G-Men” used this year’s second round pick to grab the Texas-El Paso standout, he became the first Latino player selected in this year’s draft. The Giants needed an upgrade on their offensive line, and the 2017 Associated Press All-American gives them just that. As a rookie he’ll have to work on his run blocking as he worked in a pass-oriented attack in college, but with his size and ability that shouldn’t be a problem. He’ll also fit in perfectly with The Big Apple as New York has a large Latino population.
Atlanta Falcons running back Ricky Ortiz–
Ortiz is one of the many preseason players hoping to land a roster spot. He spent last year on the Baltimore Ravens practice squad. This year he’s trying to navigate a stacked depth chart at his position for the Falcons. But with his size (6-feet, 236 pounds), and with his speed and agility, he can play both halfback and fullback. He just needs to make enough plays to impress the coaching staff.
San Francisco 49ers offensive guard Chris Gonzalez–
Gonzalez is another player hoping to find his footing in the league. He went undrafted out of San Jose State earlier this year, and the Minnesota Vikings signed him as a rookie free agent. But the Vikings let him go after minicamps, and that’s when the Niners gave him a shot. They gave quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo one of the largest contracts in league history, I’m sure they’ll need a surplus of offensive linemen to keep him upright.
Cleveland Browns kicker Zane Gonzalez–
The Arizona State alum was selected in the seventh round of last year’s draft after becoming one of the most successful kickers in NCAA history in 2016. And as the Browns continue their rebuild Gonzalez did his part by making 15 field goals and 25 extra points. Of those field goals, four of them came between 30 and 39 yards, and four more came from between 40 and 49 yards, and he made both of his attempts from 50 yards or longer. And as the Browns look to finally improve this year, the Browns will need Gonzalez and his golden leg.
Pittsburgh Steelers offensive tackle Alejandro Villanueva–
If you’ve ever wondered why the Steelers offense has been so efficient and successful over the last few seasons, look no further than their offensive line. At 6-foot-9, Villanueva anchors this line which protects Ben Rothlisberger (so he can throw touchdown passes to Antonio Brown), and pave the way for Le’Veon Bell, and keep the Steelers in contention for the NFC North title. Villanueva earned his first Pro Bowl appearance for his efforts last year, he could make it back-to-back trips this year.
Buffalo Bills linebacker Tanner Vallejo–
This 23-year-old was drafted in the seventh round by the Bills last year. And while he appeared in 15 games as a rookie, he only has four tackles to show for it- although did line up on special teams. This year he’s looking to have a breakout season and the Bills are hoping that he’ll do just that.
Miami Dolphins linebacker Kiko Alonso–
With roots in Puerto Rico, Cuba, and Colombia, Alonso is more than just a player to the Dolphins organization. He overcame adversity early in his career to become one of the highest paid Latinos in the league. And now he’s giving back with his many chartable efforts and being involved in the community. He’s one of the best defensive players on the field, and a league ambassador off of it. He’s also carried the Dolphins through some tough times in recent seasons.
New England Patriots wide receiver Braxton Berrios–
His collegiate career with the Miami Hurricanes speaks for itself. Now the 22-year-old sixth round pick hopes to translate that success over to the National Football League. As we all know Tom Brady loves speedy slot receivers, Berrios projects to be just that, and starting your career with the defending AFC Champions isn’t a bad gig.
Indianapolis Colts punter Rigoberto Sanchez–
While the struggles of the 2017 Colts were well documented, Sanchez’s solid rookie season flew under the radar. He averaged 44.8 yards per punt as a rookie last year, 28 of his punts went inside the 20-yard line, and only three of them were touchbacks. Sanchez’s leg was a big assist for a Colts defense that found itself on the field way too much thanks to a struggling Colts offense. But the Colts improved on both sides of the ball heading into this year, making Sanchez even more valuable. Not bad for a undrafted free agent.
Oakland Raiders kicker Eddy Piniero–
The Raiders have had issues with kicking since Sebastian Janikowski departed the franchise. Even though Piniero wasn’t drafted by the Raiders, they hope that he’ll be the team’s next golden leg. He had the golden leg in college, now it’s a matter of being able to convert those clutch kicks at the professional level. But make no mistake about it, Piniero has the ability to be the next successful Latino kicker in the NFL.
Who’s ready for some football?