Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III and teammates participate in stretching exercises during OTAs last month.
When the Washington Redskins report to training camp July 25, five relatively unknown contenders could have a chance of making the final 53-man roster after not being selected in the NFL draft months ago.
While it goes without saying only the very best make it in the NFL, with only 254 college players selected in the draft, hundreds more hope to get a chance to prove the naysayers and doubters wrong.
With a collection of 90 players ranging from returning starters, backups, rookies and free agents gathering in a few weeks, nearly half of those wearing the burgundy and gold in July will not be with the team when the 2013 regular season begins.
The Redskins front office faces a different kind of number crunching than the salary cap juggling they successfully maneuvered through this offseason. The Redskins must reduce their roster to a maximum of 75 players by August 27.
The round of first cuts falls between the third and fourth preseason game, with the final 53-man roster finalized by September 1, per NFL rules.
The Redskins lost one starter, linebacker Lorenzo Alexander, and chose not to offer contracts to nine players from last year's team, according to Spotrac, so the unofficial roster of returning Redskins stands at 43 players, assuming those players make the team.
This is just for argument's sake, so bear with me.
Add the signings of seven rookie draft picks, who I assume will make the final roster, and the Redskins already have 50 on the roster and don't have much space for new faces and talent. I realize none of these players is guaranteed a spot, but there is probably little room left.
College experience, achievements and statistics may be the only way they can be judged, unless you are a scout for the Redskins.
One of the more important criteria I considered in formulating this list was the versatility of these five players. Each of them is not tied into one role on the team. Each has flexibility.
All things considered, with so many players vying for so few available spots on the 53-man final roster, here is look at five dark-horse contenders who have what it takes to make it on the team when the Redskins assemble for Week 1 of the regular season.
Former TCU wide receiver Skye Dawson can also return punts and kickoffs.
Former Texas Christian University's Skye Dawson is listed as a wide receiver, but he showcased his talent predominantly as a return specialist. He signed with the Redskins in late April, adding to an already crowded and competitive wide receiving corps.
Dawson is not your typical NFL wide receiver. He is not tall, standing 5'9", but he has electrifying speed—running the 40-yard dash at TCU's pro day in 4.39 seconds combined with a stupefying 35.5" vertical leap, according to SB Nation.
With that type of first-class speed and leaping ability, Dawson deserves careful consideration for a place on the Redskins roster come Week 1.
In a game for the ages last season, in which TCU lost 56-53 in triple overtime to Big 12 conference rival Texas Tech, Dawson recorded a single-game career-high 10 receptions for 154 yards.
He finished his final season at TCU with 34 receptions for 455 yards and one touchdown—a 13.4 yards-per-catch average. His best year at TCU was 2011 when he accounted for 45 catches for 500 yards and five touchdowns.
But wait. There's more.
On top of his receiving duties, Dawson is a polished speedster when returning punts and kickoffs, someone the Redskins desperately need. During his senior year at TCU, Dawson averaged 9.4 yards per punt return and 22.5 yards per kickoff return.
As a wide receiver, especially on screen passes, Dawson may find one of the last spots on the depth chart. However, he most certainly can help the Redskins as a return specialist—replacing Brandon Banks, who handled the bulk of return duties for the team last season.
I could see Dawson as fifth on the Redskins depth chart as a right-side wide receiver and potential starter on kickoff/punt returns.
Skye Dawson's statistics provided by GoFrogs.com, the official website of TCU athletics.
Undrafted right inside linebacker Jeremy Kimbrough out of Appalachian State is one of at least four players at his position who have a legitimate shot of making the final 53-man roster. All of them are behind right inside linebackers Perry Riley and Roddrick Muckelroy at the No. 1 and No. 2 positions on the depth chart.
Among those competing with Kimbrough are Bryan Kehl, Marvin Burdette and Keenan Robinson.
Kimbrough, a 5'10", 240-pound All-American his last two seasons at Appalachian State, ranked among the top 10 nationally with, according to Draft Insider, 143 tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks and one interception last season.
Recognized by the NCAA's Southern Conference coaches as the Defensive Player of the Year in 2012, Kimbrough was also named a finalist for the Buck Buchanan Award as the nation's best FCS (Division 1-AA) defensive player of the year.
The Redskins could use Kimbrough at the middle linebacker position on special teams while he develops and finds his role on the defensive starting depth chart. The key to his long-term success once on the 53-man roster would be patience, which is of course true with any young player.
One interesting option worth considering with Kimbrough—with his 4.56 speed in the 40-yard dash, several media sites, including NFL.com, mention him as a possible fullback.
His height, weight (he is slightly heavier) and speed (he is slightly faster) in the 40-yard dash are nearly identical to running back Alfred Morris.
Kimbrough has solid potential as a run-stopper given his size and ability, as well as the flexibility to drop back in pass coverage.
With his versatility, the Redskins should find a place for him on the roster.
I could see Kimbrough fourth on the Redskins' depth chart as a right inside linebacker with potential at fullback if the team chose to explore that option.
Utah's Tevita Stevens started in every game since his sophomore season.
If the Redskins are looking for versatility on the offensive line, they may have found more than they bargained for when they offered former University of Utah center Tevita Stevens the opportunity to make the roster.
As an undrafted free agent, Stevens, who began his college football career as an offensive guard then moved to center, is not only gifted on the playing surface but in the classroom as well.
He was recognized for his scholastic achievements during all four years of college. In 2012, Stevens was selected to the Pac-12 All-Academic team with a 3.54 GPA, majoring in Spanish.
During his playing days with Utah, Stevens played in every game, starting all but three in four years. He spent his first two seasons at right guard. In 2010, he did not allow a sack the entire season.
Stevens is accustomed to his role on the offensive line—throwing key blocks, creating holes for the runner and most importantly, protecting the quarterback.
All of these skills, on top of smarts and a combination of humility and respect, are things Stevens displays both on and off the field, as he told Beyond Sports Network after touring Redskins Park during rookie minicamp.
“I’m excited to be a Redskin and to be a part of the whole legacy of the organization. The winning tradition, the success, and the history is amazing,” said Stevens.
Statistics are not something many offensive linemen accrue as players, but the fact Stevens played in every game during college, didn't allow a single sack his sophomore season and made the switch from guard to center shows his value to the Redskins.
I could see Stevens third on the Redskins depth chart at center.
Before joining the Redskins practice squad last year, DE Dominique Hamilton played during the preseason with the Oakland Raiders before he was released.
Defensive end Dominique Hamilton is the only player among the five I have selected to profile as dark horses that has previous NFL experience, albeit minimal. Hamilton was given a chance in the NFL in 2012 by the Oakland Raiders. He was released prior to the start of last season.
The Redskins took notice and offered him a spot on the practice squad in September 2012, and it wasn't until February 2013 that Hamilton was activated from the reserve spot and later offered a chance as an undrafted free agent.
Hamilton played college ball at the University of Missouri as a defensive end/defensive tackle. At 6'5" and 315 pounds, he is menacing to opposing offensive lineman. His long arms, measured at 33", accounted for a significant number of batted or deflected passes while at Missouri.
At his size, Hamilton is not the quickest on his feet, nor does he have the ability to catch a runner once he has passed him. What he does bring to the table is overall size and space, creating a large obstacle to get around or get through.
Hamilton has better luck waiting for the play to get to him rather than pressuring the quarterback in the backfield.
His senior year at Missouri, he started all 13 games and finished the season with 56 tackles, seven tackles for loss and three sacks—enough to earn him recognition as an All-Big 12 honorable mention.
Given his experience with the Redskins practice squad, his familiarity with the defensive system and coaching staff, Hamilton is certainly a dark-horse contender to make the team.
I could see Hamilton third or possibly second on the Redskins depth chart, depending on Carriker's return.
University of Alabama-Birmingham linebacker Marvin Burdette.
Marvin Burdette, the University of Alabama-Birmingham's all-time leader in tackles, takes the final spot on the list of dark horses to make the Redskins 53-man roster, but it was difficult naming him a long shot when considering his success in college.
Small problem: injuries.
At UAB's pro day in March, Burdette injured his quad during his first 40-yard dash for NFL scouts. Two months earlier, in preparation for the Raycom Classic All-Star game, he injured the wrist that he was still nursing at the time of the team's pro day, according to NFL Draft Scout.
Not a good time to suffer an injury as serious as a quad injury, especially when he was showcasing his running ability.
The Redskins more than likely recognize his natural tackling ability. As a potential long-term project, he could be the one to fill the void whenever London Fletcher retires.
The Redskins have several players with little to no NFL experience vying for a spot on the team at the inside linebacker position. What the group lacks in professional experience it makes up for in college experience.
Burdette is no exception.
At the conclusion of his final season at UAB, Burdette finished his college career as the all-time leader in tackles (407), tackles in a season (157 total, 90 solo) and tackles in a game (24). In his senior season, he led the NCAA in tackles with an average of 13.08 stops per game, according to Redskins.com.
Burdette can certainly add the depth and the youth coach Mike Shanahan has stressed he is looking for.
With some time, I am certain Burdette will have an opportunity to continue his collegiate success and be the run-stopper and tackling leader the Redskins always want. I could see Burdette ahead of Kimbrough at the third spot on the Redskins depth chart at right inside linebacker.
With so few spots to fill on the 53-man final roster, all of these long shots mentioned will not only need to outperform the competition at their respective positions, but shine in training camp and leave their mark during preseason games when given the opportunity.