Immediately after the draft ended on Sunday, the Miami Dolphins made an interesting move by signing Undrafted Free Agent WR Jeff Fuller from Texas A&M. Considering his chemistry and history with now Dolphins’ QB Ryan Tannehill and Offensive Coordinator, Mike Sherman, this appears to be a good move that makes sense. From my research, most fans appear to be in favor of this pick-up as well.
Unfortunately, the chances of any UFA to make a team’s final 53-man roster are slim to none. In most cases, only a few are fortunate enough to make the practice squad, before they are eventually released the following year. Considering the odds are stacked against him, can Fuller earn a spot on the active roster?
The last Dolphin wide receiver to accomplish such a feat was Davone Bess. Immediately following the draft in 2008, the Dolphins scooped up the Rainbow Warrior from the University of Hawaii. At 5’10 and 190 pounds, his scouting report labeled him as being short, lacked NFL speed by running a 4.69 forty at the NFL combine, can’t stretch the field vertically, can’t block, and can’t get off the ball against physical defenders. According to most scouts, his weaknesses outweighed his strengths for becoming an NFL caliber WR.
Going into the 2008 training camp, Bess was competing with nine other receivers: Anthony Armstrong, Greg Camarillo, John Dunlap, Jayson Foster, Ted Ginn Jr., Derek Hagan, David Kircus, Selwyn Lymon, and Ernest Wilford. It didn’t take long before Bess started turning heads in the Davie facility. He had an excellent camp and an impressive pre-season to be one of six receivers to earn a spot on the 53-man roster. From there, the rest is history.
Similar to Bess, Fuller had several weaknesses listed on his scouting report. They were often more negative than positive. Because of his sudden case of butterfingers, below average speed, injury history, difficulty getting off jams, and constantly slowing down before making cuts in his routes, most draft experts didn’t even have Fuller in the top 25 WR list.
Unfortunately for Fuller, his production during his senior year slightly fell from his outstanding junior year performance. He ended with just 70 catches for 878 yards and six touchdowns. He also struggled with several dropped “easy” passes during critical situations of games in his final year. On a positive note, Fuller left Texas A&M as the university’s all-time leader in receptions, yards, and touchdowns as a WR.
Fuller has two huge factors favoring his chances of making this team. First, he has ideal size as a possession receiver at 6’4” and 225 pounds, which allowed him to dominate his competition in college. In fact, Fuller and Roberto Wallace are the two tallest WRs going into training camp. Second, he already has chemistry with Tannehill since they played together for four years at Texas A&M and was his “go-to” receiver. What rookie QB wouldn’t be excited to reunite with a familiar face and old partner-in-crime from his college days? This alone may give him the advantage over the other rookie receivers.
Regardless of size and chemistry, Fuller will be competing against eleven other receivers at the start of training camp: Davone Bess, Brian Hartline, Clyde Gates (drafted last year), Marlon Moore, Roberto Wallace, Chris Hogan, Legedu Naanee, Julius Pruitt, Derek Moye(UFA) and recently drafted B.J. Cunningham and Rishard Matthews.
At most, the Dolphins will keep six receivers on this year’s roster. In my opinion, Bess, Hartline, and Gates are shoo-ins. I put Gates in this category because he has a significant role on this team as our kick returner and was handpicked by Jeff Ireland in the fourth round of last year’s draft. Ireland has way too much pride to give up on one of “his guys” after just one season. So that just leaves room for three more candidates.
Bess was able to defy all odds in 2008 by not only making the 53-man roster, but becoming an every down starter on offense. Like Bess, Fuller will have to hit the ground running, have a flawless training camp, and a productive pre-season. Fortunately for Bess, he only had to compete with nine other receivers. This year, Fuller will have to battle it out against eleven others. Considering three of them alone have actually been drafted in the last two years, his chances of winning a spot on this roster are nominal. In your opinion, can Jeff Fuller beat the odds?