Earlier this week, fellow The Phinsider writer Hollywood Dolfan wrote a comprehensive and eye-opening article about the likelihood of late-round draft picks and undrafted free agents contributing to an NFL team. While he made it clear that the odds are not in the rookie’s favor, I thought it would be interesting to take the conversation in the opposite direction. Why not? It’s the offseason.
At the end of every NFL draft, the league’s 32 teams are sent scrambling to scoop up the rest of the remaining collegiate talent that went unchosen on draft night. Each team signs anywhere between 10-15 players to come in and take spots on the team’s 90 man roster, which is eventually trimmed down to 53 players by the end of training camp and the preseason.
Due to the fact that many of those 53 spots are filled by returning veterans and the team’s draft picks, undrafted free agents have the hardest time sticking on a roster. For the Dolphins, there are 14 young hopefuls who will attempt to make their mark this summer through OTAs, minicamps, training camp, and eventually the preseason, with each round of roster cuts presenting barriers between being sent home and fulfilling lifelong dreams.
That leaves Dolphins fans wondering, which of those incoming undrafted rookies are worth being excited about? Which one should we follow and root for through the wave of training camp storylines that we will undoubtedly be hearing from around the NFL?
Former Michigan running back De’Veon Smith is the guy to watch.
After watching some of Smith’s tape from Michigan, I came away both impressed as well as wondering why NFL teams neglected to draft him last month. Smith had plenty of runs that made him look like an NFL caliber back. He rushes with decisiveness and power, breaking arm tackles and shaking off defenders. In a way, his style of play is reminiscent of his new teammate, Jay Ajayi. It takes more than one defender to bring him down, and while he may lack breakaway speed or Le’Veon Bell type quickness, he churns out tough yardage after contact, never giving up on a play. There were countless runs in Smith’s highlights in which he turned a two yard gain into ten, seemingly deciding on his own that he wasn’t going down until he crossed either a first down marker or the threshold of the endzone.
Smith’s production is not lacking either. While he was never a true featured back at Michigan, his performance improved in each of his four years. Over his collegiate career, Smith averaged a healthy 4.5 yards per carry, accumulating 846 rushing yards and 10 rushing touchdowns in his senior season. He also contributed in the passing game, looking very fluid coming out of the backfield as a receiver. That could be very important for Smith’s chances of making the roster, as Adam Gase has been known to value receiving capabilities in his running backs.
What may ultimately be the deciding factor in Smith making the roster is the fact that Miami’s running back depth chart is relatively undecided behind breakout star Jay Ajayi. Kenyan Drake and Damien Williams will likely fight for the number two role, but Williams has yet to sign his RFA tender as he’s looking for a bigger payday, meaning his future is uncertain for now. That leaves a spot open, and even if Williams were to sign his tender, both the Patriots and Falcons showed in last season’s Super Bowl that the more dynamic your running back corps, the better. If Miami went into the season boasting Ajayi, Drake, Williams, and a fresh set of young legs in Smith, the Dolphins’ running game would be well set up for success in 2017.
While we know the odds are stacked against him, keep an eye out for Smith as roster spots are solidified and September football rolls closer. You never know which diamond in the rough will surprise us next.