What’s one thing Wes Welker, James Harrison, Antonio Gates, and even Jim Langer and Larry Little all have in common? They all came into the league as undrafted free agents, anonymous bodies at training camp. They all left the league as household names.
Each year a handful of UDFA’s get the chance to crack the final 53-man roster of each team thanks to injuries or other issues with veteran players. This year more than most, these undrafted underdogs will have a chance to stick on rosters. Thanks to COVID-19 related opt-outs and the likely presence of occasional positive cases throughout the season, rookies, in general, will play a larger percentage of each team’s snaps. The New England Patriots, for example, have already seen six players decide to take the season off due to health concerns with the virus, thus opening the door for a half-dozen new additions on the team.
The Miami Dolphins have had success in recent years with signing UDFA’s who have gone on to be contributors during their time with the club. Just last year, Nik Needham and Preston Williams went undrafted out of UTEP and Colorado State but made noise and turned themselves into near-locks for the Dolphins’ 2020 roster. A repeat of last year’s success with the UDFA class may not be likely, but the team is young enough as a whole for one or two of these rookies to stick. With training camp on the horizon, let’s take a look at this year’s signings by position and see who might be able to follow in Needham’s and Williams’s footsteps.
Buy a Tua Jersey and get it shipped within 2 days!! https://t.co/iPVeJuq1ge
— DolphinsTalk.com (@DolphinsTalk) July 30, 2020
Matt Cole, WR, McKendree University — Named the Great Lakes Valley Conference Special Teams Player of the Year in 2019, Cole also broke the school record for kick return yards in a season with 708 in 2018. He finished his career with 1,832 all-purpose yards and an impressive 14 touchdowns. As a senior he caught 43 passes for 939 yards (a fantastic 21.8 yards per catch), again breaking school records in receiving yards and touchdown receptions and earning first-team All-GLVC honors. With the Dolphins having depth at receiver, Cole will likely have to make noise as a returner to make the team.
Kirk Merritt, WR, Arkansas State — After brief stints at Oregon, Texas A&M, and then East Mississippi Community College (the school featured in Netflix’s “Last Chance U”), Merritt finished his collegiate career on a high note at Arkansas State. During his final two seasons, he racked up 1,811 yards on 153 catches with an impressive 19 touchdowns. Even as an UDFA, Merritt was “one of the most athletic and explosive receivers” in the 2020 draft, according to NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein. With 4.33 speed and an impressive body of work athletically, Merritt is an intriguing prospect but may get lost in the numbers game with the Dolphins at the receiver position. He’ll have to turn heads at camp like Preston Williams did last year to stick, but is a good practice squad candidate.
Bryce Sterk, TE, Montana State — Sterk played defensive end in college and was damn good at it, but the Dolphins have signed him as a tight end given his size and athletic versatility. He moves well for a man standing at 6-4, 266 pounds, as evidenced by his impressive 20 tackles for loss and FCS-leading 15 sacks as a senior. He played TE in high school so hopefully, those skills transfer, as he’ll now have to compete with the newly-acquired Adam Shaheen for a backup tight end spot. My guess is that he’s stashed on the practice squad and given more time to develop.
Jonathan Hubbard, OT, Northwestern State — A three-year starter with 32 games and 26 starts under his belt, Hubbard is another big body weighing in at 310 pounds with a 6-5 frame. His movement skills are impressive, and he has a good build for an outside spot on the offensive line. He’ll join an O-line room full of new faces, and could absolutely stick as a backup option given the uncertainty behind this year’s projected starters especially at the LT spot, or wherever Austin Jackson ends up.
Nick Kaltmayer, OT, Kansas State — Kaltmayer is even bigger than Hubbard and is a massive human being by any metric, standing at 6-8 and weighing 311 pounds. He played in all 38 games of his three-year college career in Kansas, and last year earned honorable mention All-Big 12 honors. Of all the position groups, the offensive line may present the most opportunities for an UDFA to surprise and make the roster, so Kaltmayer or Hubbard could possibly stick as depth pieces or find their way onto the practice squad.
Donell Stanley, C, South Carolina — A three-year starter at South Carolina, Stanley drew favorable reviews and generated some buzz from those in the loop with the Dolphins once the team wrapped up its UDFA signings. He’s played all three interior spots on the offensive line, was a team captain in 2019 and won several team awards for that side of the ball. With a stronger, more physical build than Keaton Sutherland that coach Flores may like, my money is on Stanley making the team as the backup center or at least claiming a practice squad spot.
— DolphinsTalk.com (@DolphinsTalk) July 31, 2020
Benito Jones, DT, Mississippi — Of all the names on this list, Jones has been the most popular pick thus far to make the 53-man roster. Even as a nose tackle with a typical build for the position (6-1, 316 pounds), he finished 11th in program history at Mississippi with 10.5 career sacks. He also earned second-team All-SEC honors as a senior in 2019 with 10 tackles for loss, and his 30 tackles in total were the most in the conference by a nose tackle. A former five-star recruit, Jones “possesses average power at the point of attack but can be really disruptive when he’s actively attacking the gaps,” according to Lance Zierlein. The Dolphins are largely influx in the trenches as of now, so Jones has as good of odds as any other UDFA to stick.
Tyshun Render, DE, Middle Tennessee State — Render started 12 games in 2019 and piled up an impressive stat line with a career-high 49 tackles, 3.5 sacks, an interception, five pass breakups, two fumble recoveries, and two forced fumbles. His numbers reflect a solid ability to be around the ball and make plays. Despite his stats and really cool name, Render will face an uphill climb to make the roster given the Dolphins’ current options at the edge spot and new additions of Emmanuel Ogbah, Shaq Lawson, and Jason Strowbridge and Curtis Weaver in the draft.
Kylan Johnson, LB, Pitt — After racking up 83 tackles in 33 games and nine starts at Florida, Johnson transferred to Pittsburgh for his final year of college ball and finished the year with 54 tackles, 6.5 sacks, and two forced fumbles after starting all 13 games. A member of the honorable mention All-ACC list last year, his best bet will be to break in on special teams given the Dolphins’ additions at linebacker this offseason.
Javaris Davis, CB, Auburn — Davis was initially signed by the Kansas City Chiefs following the 2020 Draft, but was just recently released and claimed by Miami. While the Dolphins defensive back room is young and features some big names, Davis has the unique advantage of having played with one of this year’s first-round picks, Noah Igbinoghene. Davis is an athlete who ran a speedy 4.39 in his 40 and must have caught the eye of Dolphins management after GM Chris Grier, HC Brian Flores, and DC Josh Boyer were all present at the Tiger’ early pro day. He has a slight build and will have to beat out the other young backup DB’s already on the roster from last year, but with his athleticism, there’s a chance Davis manages to stick in some capacity.
My top five most likely to stick/make the practice squad: Stanley, Jones, Kaltmayer, Sterk, and Davis
BE SURE TO FOLLOW US ON FACEBOOK: CLICK HERE
BE SURE TO FOLLOW US ON TWITTER: CLICK HERE
BE SURE TO FOLLOW US ON INSTAGRAM: CLICK HERE