Undrafted Free Agents Have Found Success With Dolphins

Posted May 3, 2013

Miami has found Hall-of-Fame and Pro Bowl talent after the draft.


Later today a new crop of undrafted rookies will join the nine players drafted by the Miami Dolphins last week at Doctor’s Hospital Training Facility in Davie for the first day of a three-day rookie minicamp.

Hope springs eternal for all 32 NFL franchises right after the draft because those players selected come with predetermined expectations. But each year one or more undrafted free agents signed to contracts end up outperforming their drafted brethren in training camp.

The Dolphins have managed to find the kind of success in that realm that makes other teams jealous, and General Manager Jeff Ireland has kept it up since being hired in 2008. He has a proud tradition to uphold going back to the earliest days of the franchise when former Head Coach Don Shula, a Hall-of-Famer with the most wins by a head coach in NFL history, started plugging in previously unknown players.

Kicker Dan Carpenter and wide receiver Davone Bess, who was traded to the Cleveland Browns last week, were the first of Ireland’s finds to exceed their potential as rookies by not only making the final 53-man roster but by becoming regular contributors. They were integral to the team’s memorable 11-5 season, AFC East division crown and first playoff berth since 2001.

Bess finished in the top five among rookie receivers in receptions with 54 and receiving yards with 554 and his reception total was the second highest in NFL history behind only Wayne Chrebet for an undrafted wide receiver. In five seasons he caught 321 passes for 3,447 yards and 12 touchdowns and again his reception total was second only to Wes Welker during that span for an undrafted wide receiver.

Meanwhile, Carpenter had beat out veteran kicker Jay Feely for the starting job and his streak of 14 consecutive field goals was the most in franchise history by a rookie kicker and tied Ali Hahi-Sheik (1983) for the most all-time by a rookie kicker in the league. He holds the franchise record for the longest field goal (60 yards on December 5th, 2010 against Cleveland) and has three of the longest kicks in team history, while also twice going 5-for-5 in a single game.

Ireland has followed up that success by placing two undrafted free agents on the 53-man roster in each of the past three seasons, including last year’s biggest surprise in offensive guard/center Josh Samuda from the University of Massachusetts. When the 2012 NFL Draft concluded, Samuda remained unsigned and was invited to the rookie mini-camp as a tryout player, partially because he was a local having played at Hollywood Hills High School.

All Samuda did was grind his way through the ensuing OTAs, minicamp and training camp without giving the coaching staff the hint of a reason to cut him loose. He stuck on the roster as the backup center behind 2011 first-round pick Mike Pouncey and got into the November 4th, 2012 game at Indianapolis for a couple of snaps after Pouncey hurt his knee near the end of the third quarter.

“It’s been a long trip, being where I was at and not having really any looks from any other teams,” said Samuda, who was active for all 16 regular-season games. “So just to be able to come in and work for the coaches and show them that I had some talent and could play here really paid off. I’m just grateful that I’m fortunate and there are a lot of people that would love to be in my shoes.”

Defensive end Derrick Shelby out of Utah was the other undrafted free agent to make last year’s roster and he worked his way into the regular defensive line rotation for all 16 games. The 6-foot-2, 270-pounder entered the game with fellow rookie and seventh-round pick Kheeston Randall on sub packages to relieve Jared Odrick and Cameron Wake.

Both undrafted free agents from 2011 – quarterback Pat Devlin and linebacker Jonathan Freeny – kept their roster spots for two seasons. Freeny registered 14 tackles (9 solo) in 14 games last season and Devlin performed well enough in the preseason to solidify the No. 3 spot behind Ryan Tannehill and Matt Moore.

Back in 2010, Ireland inked wide receiver Marlon Moore and safety Jonathan Amaya to undrafted free agent contracts and Moore started two of 13 games last season for Miami. He caught six passes for 137 yards and 12 passes for 244 yards over three seasons, while Amaya was a solid special teams player as a rookie in 2010 and again last season. He was traded to the New Orleans Saints in 2011 in the deal that brought running back Reggie Bush to the Dolphins and starred on special teams for them.

Those fans adept at Dolphins history will of course remember the story of special teams maven Larry Izzo. Undrafted out of Houston in 1996, Izzo first came to notoriety based on a sound byte that circulated during the preseason of his rookie year, where then-Dolphins coach Jimmy Johnson told the squad that only two players were guaranteed to make the team: one was Dan Marino and the other the then-unknown Izzo. Izzo spent most of his time in Miami on special teams, and was rewarded with his first trip to the Pro Bowl in 2000.

But you can’t forget defensive lineman Manny Fernandez, signed as a rookie back in 1968 and a key member of the No Name Defense on the 1972 Undefeated Team. His 17 tackles in Super Bowl VII against the Washington Redskins could easily have earned him Super Bowl MVP honors in Miami’s 14-7 win.

A pair of Hall of Famers who joined the NFL as undrafted free agents spent the best years of their careers in Miami. Center Jim Langer played middle linebacker at South Dakota State University, where in 1969 he was Honorable Mention All-America. Langer was signed by the Cleveland Browns as a free agent in 1970, but was cut during training camp. Langer signed as a free agent with the Dolphins where he would go on to anchor the team’s offensive line for 10 seasons and earn six trips to the Pro Bowl and be inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1987.

Guard Larry Little went unselected in the 1967 Draft out of Bethune-Cookman. He signed as a free agent with the San Diego Chargers and was traded to the Dolphins prior to the 1969 season, when he was named an AFL All-Star. Little was a key contributor to the success of the Dolphins’ punishing running attack of the early and mid-1970s and earned five trips to the Pro Bowl and a spot in Canton in 1993.

Other undrafted free agents over the years that made the roster and had a significant impact on the field include guard Mark Dixon, tackle Wayne Moore, wide receiver Oronde Gadsden, Pro Bowl defensive ends Cameron Wake and Adewale Ogunleye, running back Bernie Parmalee and Pro Bowl kicker Olindo Mare.
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