While the NFL career of talented but troubled receiver Da'Rick Rogers has gotten off to a sedated start, writing off a player with so much natural ability this early can be a risky endeavor.
If any team is willing to exercise patience and promote development, especially on the mental side of the game, Rogers can still become a useful and productive player in the NFL. So far, one team has already dismissed that idea.
The Buffalo Bills, a win-starved franchise with a first-year head coach in Doug Marrone, quickly gave up on Rogers, who signed with Buffalo as an undrafted free agent in April.
The decision to release Rogers came ahead of the first round of league-mandated cuts, and according to Jay Skurski of the Buffalo News, the former Tennessee Tech receiver went unclaimed on waivers.
For most undrafted free agents, these two combined events—an early pink slip and the choice of 31 other teams to avoid making a waiver claim—would pave a path straight out of football. Every August is littered with these kind of dream-crushing stories in the NFL.
However, Rogers possesses a trump card that most undrafted free agents don't: obvious and undeniable natural talent.
Standing 6'3" and weighing close to 220 pounds, Rogers has an NFL-ready body with NFL-ready measurables.
At the scouting combine in Indianapolis, he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.52 seconds while also posting top receiver numbers in the vertical leap (39.5 inches), broad jump (132 inches), three-cone drill (6.71 seconds), 20-yard shuttle (4.06 seconds) and 60-yard shuttle (11.31 seconds).
Ahead of Rogers' final collegiate season, which he spent at Tennessee Tech, CBS Sports called him a "virtual Julio Jones clone, exhibiting an exciting combination of size, strength and explosiveness."
His numbers at both Tennessee and Tennessee Tech were certainly impressive.
During his sophomore season, and his last in Knoxville, Rogers tallied an SEC-leading 1,040 receiving yards and nine touchdowns on 67 catches. After being kicked off the Tennessee football team by head coach Derek Dooley for several violations of team rules, Rogers transferred to Tennessee Tech and continued his dominance. Facing second-level college players, Rogers caught 61 passes for 893 yards and 10 scores.
It didn't matter the level of defense or quality of player. Rogers was too big, strong and quick for most defenses to handle.
Despite football talent worthy of a top-60 pick, his basket full of off-the-field concerns was still the driving force behind Rogers not being selected in April's draft.
However, the Bills pounced on adding him to their developing group of receivers, likely at the suggestion of scout Tom Roth.
According to Roth, who spoke with the Bills official site following Rogers' signing as an undrafted free agent, Buffalo's newest receiver had the route running to succeed in the NFL and the body type of a former Bills star.
“He’s the most polished of those three Tennessee receivers in my opinion in terms of route running and all that,” Roth said. “He reminds me physically of Eric Moulds, that body type. That’s what I thought when I saw him."
Roth referenced Cordarrelle Patterson, who was taken in the first round by the Minnesota Vikings, and Justin Hunter, selected in the second by the Tennessee Titans, as the other two receivers who played with Rogers at Tennessee.
The physical comparison to Moulds was also a flattering one, as the former first-round pick spent 10 years with the Bills while racking up over 9,000 receiving yards and 48 touchdowns. Moulds stood 6'2" and weighed 215 pounds.
Yet for all the untapped talent Rogers brought to the table, his lack of mental progression killed his chance of sticking with the Bills.
Rotoworld recently called Rogers a "hundred dollar talent with a 10-cent head," a fitting description given the mental lapses the receiver suffered through at Bills camp.
According to Skurski, Rogers would "sulk" when things on the practice field went wrong, and he became a frequent recipient of tongue-lashings from the coaching staff for not being in the right position or running the wrong route. Little things, such as running back to the huddle following a player instead of walking, hampered his chances of sticking.
As Joe Buscaglia of WGR 550 wrote earlier in camp, Rogers was holding himself back with "moments of weakness in the mental side of the game."
Without consistency or progress in between the ears, Rogers' playing time started to evaporate.
After catching a touchdown over 23 snaps in the preseason opener, he saw a position-low 10 in the second game before not playing a single snap in the third. A few days later, the Bills waived him to help reduce their roster to 75 players.
While the start to his NFL career has certainly been a rocky, up-and-down experience, Rogers simply has too many unteachable abilities for the rest of the 31 NFL teams to completely ignore. At some point, a team will give him a second chance, and in the right environment—one with established veterans at the receiver position and respected, no-nonsense coaches to help develop the mental side—Rogers can make an impact at the NFL level.
Mental development can be a broad-stroke term, but we've seen talented and troubled players grow up in a hurry in the right situations. Maybe the best example recently comes from Cincinnati, where middle linebacker Vontaze Burfict signed as a skilled but untrustworthy college free agent in 2012. He made strides between the ears, embraced his opportunity in a talented linebacking corps and eventually became the starter inside for the Bengals.
Rogers obviously hasn't jumped over any of the hurdles Burfict did last summer. He has a long ways to go before he's anywhere near the same category as the Bengals middle linebacker.
But what plagues the team-less receiver isn't what usually sends young, undrafted players to the curb. Deficiencies in physical talent or an inability to handle the speed and toughness of the NFL game are typical reasons for teams giving up on players.
Rogers' case is different. Only a select few receivers have his combination of size and athleticism. And throughout training camp, he won individual matchups on the Bills' practice field.
He now needs the right team and right teacher to mold the other important parts of his game. With so many teams ready to embrace castoffs and be the team to "fix" a troubled but talented player, it's only a matter of time before Rogers is back in the game somewhere.
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