From Davone Bess to Dan Carpenter to Damien Williams to Chris McCain, the Dolphins have done admirable work unearthing undrafted gems over the past six seasons.
There’s a decent chance an overlooked player or two will defy the odds and make the roster this season as well, and it seems most likely to be at linebacker — the position coach Joe Philbin mentioned when asked which undrafted players impressed him this offseason.
A look at the rookie free agents competing for jobs as the Dolphins approach the start of training camp July 30:
▪ The four linebackers: The Dolphins had draft-able grades on all four rookies they signed — Penn State’s Mike Hull, Cincinnati’s Jeff Luc, Utah State’s Zach Vigil and Marshall’s Neville Hewitt. Vigil impressed in the offseason program and has a realistic chance to stick. But Hull is the most heralded of the group.
He led the Big Ten in tackles (134), and Penn State coach James Franklin said it was a “travesty” that he wasn’t drafted.
Hull always seems to be around the ball, Dolphins linebackers coach Mark Duffner said.
“I honestly think if Mike can get in the right system and stay healthy, he’ll play eight to 10 years in the NFL,” Franklin said on his offseason speaking tour, via The Morning Call in Allentown, Pennsylvania.
“He’s way too productive. I think college coaches and NFL coaches get way too caught up in measurables like height, weight and size. Mike’s a guy who, when you see him, he’s not going to jump out at you.
“But if you turn on the tape and watch how productive he is and see what kind of leader he is, he’s invaluable.”
Hull, who is 232 pounds and listed at 6-0, said his size probably worked against him in the eyes of NFL executives.
“I believe in my heart I can play at this level,” he said.
Of the four rookie linebackers, it wouldn’t be surprising if one or two make the final 53-man roster.
“We were very lucky to get all four,” said Duffner, who cultivated relationships with all four before the draft.
Vigil made several good plays in pass coverage during the team’s offseason program. Luc, once a five-star recruit out of high school who transferred from FSU to Cincinnati, “has physicality, really good movement skills,” Duffner said.
▪ Tim Semisch: The 6-8 tight end from Northern Illinois was the only undrafted player signed among the 20-plus tryout players who auditioned during the Dolphins’ rookie minicamp.
He caught only 10 passes for 100 yards and three touchdowns in three seasons at Northern Illinois, playing mostly as a backup, but displayed good hands and impressive receiving skills in May and June practices.
If he shows enough during the preseason, he could end up on the practice squad or perhaps even compete for the No. 3 tight end job, which has no clear front-runner.
Semisch said he never had a chance to show his receiving skills much in college because “we had good success on the ground. … And we had five different offensive coordinators” during his college career.
“You see the length, you see the catching radius,” Dolphins general manager Dennis Hickey said. “Smooth athlete. Tim caught our eye with some of his work on special teams. We really like what he brought.”
▪ Andrew Franks: The rookie kicker from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York, remains an underdog in his competition against Caleb Sturgis, who hopes to return from a quadriceps injury by training camp.
Franks was inconsistent with field goals in minicamp but “his leg has some juice to it,” Philbin said.
Franks made only 37 of 56 field goals at RPI but kicked three field goals of 50 yards or more last season. And 58 percent of his kickoffs went for touchbacks at RPI, above the NFL average.
▪ Christion Jones, Alabama: The three undrafted rookie receivers — Jones, Kansas’ Nigel King and Maine’s Damarr Aultman — are all long-shots for the 53-man roster, but Jones might have the best chance because of his return skills.
Jones returned two punts and two kickoffs for touchdowns at Alabama and probably needs a couple of big returns in the preseason to give the Dolphins strong reason to consider keeping him on the 53-man roster.
The Dolphins’ top four receivers are set with DeVante Parker, Jarvis Landry, Kenny Stills and Greg Jennings, and Rishard Matthews is the front-runner for the fifth job.
But a job could open if there’s a long-term injury; Parker is expected back from foot surgery by the regular-season opener. The Dolphins could start the season with six receivers if Parker has a setback.
The three rookies are competing with veterans LaRon Byrd, Tommy Streeter, Tyler McDonald and Michael Preston.
▪ Linemen: All seven are major long-shots to make the top 53, but a couple could end up on the practice squad. On defense, that group includes Georgia defensive end Ray Drew, Bowling Green defensive end Kendall Montgomery and UCLA defensive tackle Ellis McCarthy.
On offense, Southern California’s Aundrey Walker, Oklahoma’s Dionte Savage, Arizona’s Mickey Baucus and Illinois State’s Michael Liedtke are competing.