Falcons sign UDFA and former Tewaaraton winner Jared Bernhardt

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The Falcons’ 2022 draft class clearly indicates the new regime has a type. Terry Fontenot and Arthur Smith want football guys — those who live to play the game. Drake London, Atlanta’s first round pick, emulates that mindset; Troy Anderson, the former cattle rancher and second round pick, made an impact at Montana State as a quarterback, running back, and linebacker. Fontenot and Smith are trying to instill a culture of competition and accountability — players eager to be in Atlanta that will do anything for the team with the ultimate goal of winning.

Well, it isn’t just the drafted prospects that echo that mentality. The Falcons acquired an undrafted free agent whose story could give rise to a cultish following. Jared Bernhardt is a former quarterback that led Ferris St. to a DII national title, passing for 1,322 yards, 11 touchdowns, five interceptions and rushing for 1,421 yards and 26 touchdowns. The Bulldogs went 14-0 and defeated Valdosta State, 58-17, in the title game. However, his most impressive feats came on a different field.

Bernhardt was a star option quarterback in high school but turned down several DI scholarships to play lacrosse at Maryland. Considered by many to be one of the best players in program history, Bernhardt departed as the Terps’ career leader in both points and goals, was a member of the 2017 national championship team, was a two-time finalist for the Tewaaraton Award — given annually to college lacrosse’s best player, similar to the Heisman Trophy — and won the award after his 2021 campaign. He finished that season leading the nation in goals (71) and points (99) on his way to the NCAA Finals.

Though Bernhardt likely projects as a wide receiver and special teams contributor, this wouldn’t be the first time a former lacrosse player made an impact on an NFL roster. Chris Hogan famously made the leap and caught on with the Patriots, where he played receiver and special teams on his way to two Super Bowls in three seasons. If you watched New England from 2016-18, you know Hogan played lacrosse at Penn State before football at Monmouth; TV announcers gushed over Hogan’s lacrosse career.

Bernhardt could have a similar career. Though he’ll likely just be battling for a roster spot, he is clearly an elite athlete and possesses many skills that translate to the football field. As an attackman, he had the ability to facilitate and score, which requires the speed and agility to get past defenders as well as the vision to feed the ball to his teammates — both attributes needed in football as well. Plenty of former collegiate quarterbacks have made a position switch at the next level and had a successful career; Julian Edelman most famously did it with the Patriots.

Bernhardt is a prototypical Bill Belichick UDFA, so I’m surprised he didn’t wind up in New England. Falcons fans should be interested to see what he can do during training camp because he seems like the type of player that could come out of the summer winning over the fan base in the process of making the final 53-man roster, even if it is because of his value in the third phase of the game.

Photographer: Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire

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