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It really is hard to believe. Five of the most talented players on this year’s Dolphins team went undrafted. A sixth serves an important role on special teams. Think about that. In this high-tech age of scouting, where teams search relentlessly to uncover every available prospect, how can so many top-tier NFL players fall through the proverbial crack?
You look around the league and you see stars like Arian Foster, Victor Cruz, Wes Welker, James Harrison and Antonio Gates. None of them were drafted. You look right here with the Dolphins and you’ve got the best pass rusher on the team, the two starting cornerbacks, the best linebacker and a reliable starting tackle all not worth a seventh-round pick when they entered the pros. Hard to fathom.
Five starters. More than 20 percent of the starting lineup undrafted. You know what this tells me? It tells me the scouts can’t measure heart. It tells me that size and 40 times and vertical leaps only tell part of the story. It tells that the smallest of schools can still produce the biggest of stars. It tells me there is always room for the underdog.
Underdogs like Cameron Wake, Brent Grimes, Dimitri Patterson, Donnell Ellerbe and Tyson Clabo, not to mention long-snapper John Denney, who against Atlanta will break the team record for most consecutive games played.
Think of what Wake, Grimes, Patterson, Ellerbe and Tyson mean to this team. How can players this good go undrafted? Each of the five have their own story to tell about perseverance, about overcoming the odds, about proving people wrong.
• Cameron Wake: He was your typical ‘tweener. Too small to play defensive end, too big to play outside linebacker. Went to work as a mortgage broker, the signed to play in Canada where he put together some impressive sack numbers that got the interest of Dolphins General Manager Jeff Ireland.
And look at him now. Wake, in my humble opinion, has elevated his game this season to top three status among pass rushers. What couldn’t those NFL scouts see? They couldn’t gauge the motor, the drive, the work ethic or the tenacity. Wonder what round Wake would be drafted in today? A sure-thing first-rounder.
• Brent Grimes intercepted 27 passes during his career at tiny Shippensburg College. I don’t care how small the school is, are you telling me nobody noticed 27 interceptions?
The problem with Grimes was really very simple. He was too small. The media guide says he’s 5-10, but that may be stretching it. He simply did not fit the prototype NFL scouts were looking for. Again, could they measure heart? Could they see how badly Grimes wanted this? Did they bother to notice that he can jump over a car?
“I kept that chip on my shoulder a long time,” Grimes told me during training camp.
So after playing in Europe, after working his way up practice squads, Grimes finally got his chance and today he is undeniably one of the elite corners in the league. Earned a spot to the Pro Bowl in 2010. Has already made the Dolphins secondary much improved. Wonder what round Grimes would be drafted in today? Probably a second-round pick.
• Dimitri Patterson, like Grimes, went to a small school (Tuskegee) and just didn’t get noticed. Not being invited to the combine sealed his fate. “A lot of great corners came out my year,” Patterson said. “I guess there just wasn’t room for me.”
Now in his seventh season, there is plenty of room for Patterson now. He has a nice contract, a comfortable spot in the starting lineup and some advice for other players who aren’t drafted. “Don’t let go of your dream,” he said.
Wonder what round Patterson would be drafted today? He smiled. “I’ve got to believe I’d be a top 15 pick.”
• Dannell Ellerbe burns deep inside. Wasn’t supposed to be good enough to make his high school team. Started way down the depth chart at Georgia. The phone never rang during the NFL draft.
“It has been this way with me forever,” Ellerbe said. “Nobody ever thought I was good enough. They thought I was too small or couldn’t run well enough. I have spent my life trying to prove people wrong.”
Ellerbe figures if he were a few inches taller things would be different. The measureable just shouted he didn’t have the right DNA. So he kept working. And stayed angry. Before too long, he became one of the best players on a talent-rich Baltimore defense. The Dolphins signed him to a big contract this offseason and today he is one of the leaders of this defense. Wouldn’t be surprised if he made the Pro Bowl.
Wonder what round Ellerbe would be drafted in today? Probably late first round or early second.
• Tyson Clabo’s story is tough to figure out. Why, he had the size (6-6, 315), was a three-year starter at Wake Forest and there were no injury concerns. But nobody called. Nobody seemed to care.
“I guess I wasn’t very good when I came into this league,” he said. “Maybe it was my hands. They were horrible back then.”
Today Clabo is in his eighth NFL season and first with the Dolphins as their starting right tackle. “The draft is so hard to predict,” he said. “Look at all the guys that get drafted and don’t pan out.”
Wonder what round Clabo would be drafted in today? “I’ve got to believe I could sneak in as a seventh round pick,” he said with a grin. “Then again, who really knows?”
On Thursday, AC in the AM takes a look at what we now know about the Dolphins
The opinions, analysis and/or speculation expressed by The Finsiders Blog represent those of individual writers, and unless quoted or clearly labeled as such, do not represent the opinions, policies or desires of the Miami Dolphins organization, front office, coaches and executives. Writers' views are formulated independently from any inside information and/or conversation with Dolphins officials, including the coaches and scouts, unless otherwise noted.