Miami Dolphins undrafted free agent recap: An optimistic view

James Blackman
James Blackman / Abbie Parr/GettyImages

The 2023 NFL draft has come and gone, and the Miami Dolphins have moved on to one of my favorite parts of the year. That is the time immediately after the draft when teams sign undrafted rookie free agents.

Ever since I’ve had internet access this has been the two-day period when I voraciously pull every shred of information about every player the Dolphins sign. I imagine which ones might be the next Nik Needham, Devone Bess, Kader Kohou or even better, the next Cameron Wake.

Every year, I take a pencil and paper and write down the players’ names, height, weight, college and 40 time (if I can get it). I try, by reading every bit of information I can find, to determine which players will make the team and which ones will have a significant impact for the Dolphins.

I can tell you honestly that I have been able to predict the success of every undrafted free agent that has made the team, and each one that has made a significant impact. My success in predicting the players who make the team isn’t because I’m psychic.

My ability comes from the fact that I am an eternal optimist and I predict that nearly every player the Dolphins sign will be a huge success in the NFL. Take for example, Kader Kohou. From the moment I learned of his signing, I was truly convinced that he would be a significant contributor to the team.

With that in mind, I give you my 2023 predictions as to which undrafted free agents will make the team and which players will be significant contributors to this year’s Dolphins team.

I’ll begin with the player that I think is the safest bet to make the team this year, Brandon Pili. Pili is a run stuffing nose tackle from USC. I’m confident that Pili will make the Dolphins roster this year largely because he has little to no competition for the backup nose tackle position.

If he bombs in training camp or earlier however, the Dolphins can always go out and sign a free agent to take his job. The Dolphins seem to think that Pili has a good shot to make the team as they gave him $100,00 guaranteed. (Per the Miami Herald)

Despite the plethora of defensive backs on this year’s Dolphins roster, I have a feeling that Ethan Bonner, a cornerback out of Stanford, (who can also play safety) has a good chance of making the team. My confidence in Bonner has a great deal to do with his 4.39 second time in the 40 yard dash (per Sports Illustrated). That is the kind of speed that should translate to an excellent gunner in special teams. And while I have not yet seen Bonner’s 2023 salary I am certain that it is far less than the $3,155,000 that Over The Cap says that Keion Crossen is scheduled to make this year.

By the way, none of Crossen’s pay is guaranteed. That lack of a guarantee gives the Dolphins more than two million reasons to keep Bonner as a special teams ace. Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald reported that Bonner received $80,000 in guaranteed money to sign with the Dolphins.

Another player who piques my curiosity is Zeke Vandenberg. Zeke is an edge defender from Illinois State who had 14 sacks last season. Interestingly, of the 19 undrafted free agents signed, Vandenberg was the only one for whom I couldn’t find at least an estimated 40-yard dash time.

Despite this lack of information, I read enough positives about Zeke that I believe he has a legitimate shot at making the practice squad and eventually seeing some action with the Dolphins, probably on special teams.

Another edge defender who may well manage to make his way onto the practice squad and eventually be a contributor is Garrett Nelson out of Nebraska. What intrigued me about Nelson was his rumored 4.60 speed in the 40-yard dash (Per Husker247).

I say rumored because I could find no credible sources that acknowledged that speed. At the Nebraska pro day, he ran a 4.80 second forty ( Nevertheless, if he truly has that kind of speed as an edge defender, his chances of making the team increase tremendously.

I have a strong belief that the Dolphins are likely to keep 2 to 3 offensive linemen on the practice squad. That bodes well for Alama Uluave (San Diego State), Jarrett Horst (Michigan State), DJ Scaife (Miami) and Alex Jensen (South Dakota) as they will likely compete with 7th round draft pick Ryan Hayes for one of those practice squad jobs.

As the season goes on, the Dolphins tend to grab offensive linemen who are released by other teams but it seems that most years the initial practice squad has offensive linemen who were in the Dolphins camp. Based on the $65,000 in guaranteed money that he received (per the Miami Herald) Uluave appears to have the inside track.

As I look at the rest of the players that the Dolphins signed as undrafted free agents, I see other players who could surprise and grab a roster spot or a practice squad job. Punter Michael Turk (Oklahoma) has a tremendous leg and could win the job. Chris Brooks (BYU) is a big back who could weigh as much as 235 lbs. and runs a respectable 4.55 in the forty.

Aubrey Miller - LB

Aubrey Miller (Jackson State) faces an uphill battle to claim a middle linebacker spot due to a perceived lack of speed. However, if he shows more speed than expected in camp, he may grab a spot.

Mitchell Agude

Mitchell Agude (Miami) has overcome much in his life and may well overcome the odds and claim a roster spot.

Chris Coleman - Daewood Davis - WRs

Wide receivers Chris Coleman (Cal Poly Tech) and Daewood Davis (Western Kentucky) face the challenge of a very deep and talented receiver room. However, they both have decent speed and could surprise just like Braylon Sanders did last year.

Julian Hill - Tight End

Tight end Julian Hill (Campbell) has a great opportunity as the Dolphins’ tight end room is not as deep as some of the other position rooms. Defensive linemen Randy Charlton (Mississippi State) and Anthony Montalvo (UCF) could be on the squad if the Dolphins decide to keep more defensive linemen than they have for the last few years.

For the 3rd year in a row the Dolphins added a rookie safety from the University of Oregon. This year’s Oregon rookie is Bennett Williams. The Dolphins’ secondary depth makes it a long shot for him to make this year’s team, but he is talented enough that they reportedly gave him $25,000 in guaranteed money as part of his signing (Per the Miami Herald)

James Blackman - QB

The final player, James Blackman (Arkansas State), is one of the more interesting undrafted rookie free agents on this year’s squad. Blackman spent 4 years playing at Florida State and then played 2 years at Arkansas State. During his collegiate career, he threw for over 9,200 yards, completed 61.4% of his passes and threw 65 touchdowns versus 33 interceptions. In 2022, Blackman threw 14 touchdowns with only 3 interceptions. All stats courtesy of

The challenge for Blackman is somehow beating out Mike White or Skylar Thompson as the 3rd string QB. As we saw last year, it can be a very important job in the NFL and sometimes they may even start playoff games. Even if Blackman ends up being the 4th string QB he is only an injury away from running the scout team. I’ll be watching.