The Miami Dolphins may have quietly found their top rookie impact player without even using a draft pick on him. Defensive end Derrick Shelby joined the Dolphins as an undrafted free agent out of the University of Utah, and he's already become one of the big stories of training camp - even if you haven't heard of him.
In the 2012 NFL Draft, Miami selected a player who is guarantteed to start (right tackle Jonthan Martin), one who is fighting for a starting position (quarterback Ryan Tannehill), and three who should be developed into impact players (defensive end Olivier Vernon, tight end Michael Egnew, and running back Lamar Miller). But it's the undrafted Shelby who is turning heads the most right now.
"I liked Julius Peppers," Shelby recently told the Miami Herald about his favorite player as he grew up. "But, as you grow up, you see you don't have the same gifts as those guys. You've just got to find your own way, and that's what I did."
Shelby is performing so well in camp, he went into last week's preseason game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as Cameron Wake's primary backup. Once he was put in the game, Shelby racked up two tackles, one for a loss.
Shelby could be in line to start this week, if the team decides to rest Wake following his car accident earlier this week.
Shelby went to Utah as a defensive tackle, where he was thrust into the starting position as a true freshman. He only wighed 250-pounds at that point, and the doubts about his ability to perform were obvious.
"I'm pretty sure I was a surprise," Shelby explained about his freshman campaign. "Nobody thouht somebody 250 [pounds] could play defensive tackle. I think that helps me today, just being undersizes and things like that. I've already experienced that, and I know what leverage to take in order to beat the blocks off the bigger guys."
Utah would finish 13-0 that season. By his senior year, Shelby was an All-PAC12 defensive end, but, as he puts it, was never the guy on the Utes' roster. "I've never been a star in my life," Shelby said according to the Herald. "I've just been a guy who goes out and does is job, and that's fine with me."
Friday night against the Carolina Panthers, Shelby could take a big step toward securing his position on the 53-man roster. If he does get a chance to compete against the Panther's top offensive line, and he is able to hold his own, the Dolphins may have found the acorn for which general manager Jeff Ireland is always searching.
But, the fact that he could be the starter over third round pick Vernon should make Shelby feel a little more comfortable with his role on the team.
On his Twitter account, Shelby still has a picture of him with Utah. He describes himself as "Recent University of Utah Graduate," finishing his description with "Chasing the Dream!" When the Herald asked him about chasing the dream and what it will say if he makes the Dolphins roster, Shelby responded, "If I end up making the team it will be 'Dream Fulfilled." I've just go tto stay in that dream as long as I can."
If Shelby continues to play like he has been, he may be living that dream for a long, long time with the Dolphins.