NFL scouts and general managers get paid a lot of money to find the best talent available from the collegiate ranks. However, every year there are surprise rookies who went undrafted and are able to make an impact around the league.
Last year, for example, Miami had success with undrafted rookie Sam Brenner, who was overlooked by every NFL team last April but was a valuable role player for the Dolphins. Brenner played in seven games, including four starts, for Miami after last year’s bullying scandal tore apart its offensive line. This year Brenner is in the running to be a Week 1 starter at center in place of the injured Mike Pouncey.
So who could be this year’s undrafted rookie surprise for Miami? Here are three under-the-radar rookies to watch:
1. Tyler Larsen
Thoughts: Opportunity is knocking for Larsen. A week ago, Larsen would be considered a long shot to make the 53-man roster or a prime candidate for the practice squad as an undrafted rookie. However, Pouncey’s significant hip injury and subsequent surgery has opened the door for Larsen to push for a roster spot and maybe even compete for a starting job. Pouncey is expected to miss anywhere between 2-6 games this upcoming season. Brenner and veteran backup Nate Garner are the in-house favorites to start. But Larsen is one of the true centers on the roster, which certainly helps his standing to make the team.
Position: Running back
Thoughts: On paper, the Dolphins are pretty much set at running back. Incumbent starter Lamar Miller and 2014 free-agent signing Knowshon Moreno are locks, and Daniel Thomas has been a stalwart on Miami’s roster the past three seasons. Even 2013 draft pick Mike Gillislee saw a little playing time last season. That makes it very hard for an undrafted rookie such as Williams to make his mark. But the former Oklahoma product has done well in limited opportunities. Williams showed some quickness and explosiveness during offseason practices. He also looks like a good fit for Miami for new offensive coordinator Bill Lazor’s scheme. Miami’s running back field is crowded, but Williams has a chance.
Position: Defensive end
Thoughts: Smith flashed big time on the final day of mandatory minicamp, when he recorded two would-be sacks in Miami’s team scrimmage. That kind of performance in a game-like situation is exactly how an undrafted rookie gets noticed. Unfortunately for Smith, defensive end is probably the deepest position on Miami’s roster. Smith will have a hard time making the 53-man roster over the likes of Pro Bowler Cameron Wake, 2013 sack leader Olivier Vernon, former No. 3 overall pick Dion Jordan and valuable backup Derrick Shelby. But the practice squad is not out of the question for Smith if he continues to progress.