The Miami Dolphins have had success with undrafted free agents recently. Nick Needham, Preston Williams and Robert Jones all made the 53-man roster and started at least one game.
If the early part of training camp is any indication, Braylon Sanders has a legitimate chance to be the next UDFA success story.
“He has great body control,” wide receivers coach Wes Welker said Wednesday. “He has great hands. He has speed. He’s doing a lot of great things there. He is progressing just like Eric (Ezukanma). It’s never easy coming in as a rookie, especially in this offense. We need to keep staying on these guys. they do everything right, understanding what it’s like to be a professional. We are very pleased with both of them.”
Sanders had the stats to be drafted. In 2021, he recorded 24 catches, 549 yards and four touchdowns and had back-to-back seasons averaging over 20 yards per catch.
Going undrafted didn’t faze Sanders, and he turned it into motivation.
“It just added to the chip that’s on my shoulder now,” Sanders said. “I just have to come out here and keep competing and keep playing.”
Why Sanders chose the Dolphins
When Sanders went undrafted, the first team to contact him was Miami, specifically Welker. The two developed a good relationship that began during NFL 2022.
Sanders and Welker have something in common besides their NFL positions: They both went undrafted.
“Wes, he wasn’t drafted either, so just looking at his experience and all the things he’s done as a coach and his career, I just thought that was the perfect guy to learn from,” Sanders said.
Welker’s coaching methods are already helping Sanders adapt to Miami’s offense. Sanders said Welker asked the rookie receivers to chart the game the night before practice and it had a positive impact.
“It helped a lot,” Sanders said. “I’m just going over the script the night before you come here and you’re going full speed ahead; it helps you a lot because you hear the gibberish, you know exactly what he’s talking about, so you’re in the right position when it’s time to play.”
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Sanders also mentioned that Welker will compile videos — a skill he said he improved working with Mike McDaniel — for the receivers to watch and sometimes include his own highlights.
“Just some of the plays are similar to us,” Sanders said. “Wes used to run during the day, so he will show his own highlights. It’s going to be funny just watching a little guy like him just open up and play in the league.”
Sanders adapted to a different scheme
The biggest change for Sanders compared to playing in Lane Kiffin’s offense at Mississippi was his blocking assignments. The Rebels ran the spread and didn’t ask their receivers to block often.
Miami’s scheme uses much more condensed formations, forcing the receivers to be important parts of the run game.
“It’s going well,” Sanders said of the lockout. “Physical condition and willingness to block when my number is called.”
One thing that hasn’t changed about Sanders is his ability to win as a downfield receiver. McDaniel and the Dolphins’ new offensive coaching staff clearly yearn for big threats at receiver.
Sanders is the prototypical deep-threat receiver, which is likely his best chance to make the Dolphins’ roster or remain on the team’s practice squad.
Sanders’ 22.9 yards per catch led the SEC last season. He finished ahead of Lions first-round pick Jameson Williams and Titans first-round pick Treylon Burks.
Another familiar element between Miami’s training camp and his time in Mississippi was the personality of his head coach.
“I’d say they’re kind of similar,” Sanders said when asked to compare McDaniel and Kiffin. “They both like to have fun. They have personality, so good coaches to be around.”
At the end of the day, Sanders knows Miami’s front office is crowded with the likes of Tyreek Hill, Jaylen Waddle, Cedric Wilson Jr. and Ezukanma, but he’s doing his best to stand out from the crowd.
“I just do whatever helps the team win,” Sanders said. “If it’s practice squad or 53, it doesn’t matter to me.”