The circumstances may not fit exactly, but the lesson fits like your favorite pair of jeans. As the Miami Dolphins finish off their round of cuts and waiver claims in order to set the 53-man roster for the 2013 NFL season, Cameron Wake serves as a tale of both caution and hope.
Wake came out of Penn State looking to be drafted in the 2005 NFL draft after an underwhelming and disappointing career in the college ranks. Though he was an impressive athlete who set the NFL combine record for highest vertical jump, he went undrafted. The New York Giants signed him and invited him to participate in minicamps and offseason training activities. He was cut before he even made it to training camp.
The players I will discuss in this piece made it quite a bit further than Wake did back in 2005. Five of these players made it all the way to final cuts before being dealt the kind of blow that Wake was forced to overcome en route to becoming one of the NFL's most dominant players. For them, Wake serves as a tale of hope.
On the other hand, team executives must look at Cameron Wake as a source of caution, knowing that they may well have cut five of the next Cameron Wakes in favor of five players whose careers are destined to fizzle into obscurity.
With that in mind, let's take a look at the five biggest surprises and snubs from the Dolphins' final cuts.
Wide receiver Chad Bumphis created a lot of stir early in training camp when he led all receivers in yardage during the team's intra-squad scrimmage and followed that up by leading all receivers in production during the team's Hall of Fame game.
He drew the public praise of several coaches, as well as onlookers. He became the early favorite to become the team's fifth wide receiver.
Shortly after that strong Hall of Fame game showing, the coaches showed just how much worth their public praise held. According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), over the next three preseason games Bumphis received a total of 14 pass snaps worth of playing time. It is hardly any wonder that the managed to produce only two catches for 26 yards during such limited opportunities.
He received more playing time against the New Orleans Saints in the final preseason game, a total of 17 pass snaps, but one could argue the damage to his chances of making the team was already done.
In terms of yards per pass snap, again using data from Pro Football Focus, Bumphis was the team's most efficient receiver of the preseason. He was also near the top in terms of other measures such as yards per attempt, average yards after catch, etc. He led all receivers in missed tackles created. Aside from corner DeAndre Presley and return specialist Marcus Thigpen, he was the only other player to receive work as a punt returner.
All of this should have been enough for him to make it to the Dolphins roster, but in the end it was not.
Despite being selected by the Dolphins during the 2013 NFL draft, very few people expected Don Jones to make the Dolphins' 53-man roster.
Throughout training camp and preseason, he failed to stand out above other players on the roster. He was continually listed on the bottom of released depth charts, and the team often showed that the listing was not meaningless by virtue of when and how they rotated him into the preseason games.
According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), in 106 snaps this preseason, he tallied only four total tackles, while missing two tackles. Even after he initially made the 53-man roster, most people believed he would be among the first cut in favor of players claimed off waivers. This did not end up being the case, as Jones persisted on the roster this past Sunday.
In a way, Marvin McNutt's being snubbed by the Dolphins is an even bigger surprise than fellow receiver Chad Bumphis being snubbed.
Word got through to the fans early that both Bumphis and fellow receiver Brian Tyms had been cut by the team, and so many assumed McNutt had won the fifth receiver job with his standout four-catch, 99-yard, one-touchdown performance against the New Orleans Saints in the final preseason game.
However, word got out later that McNutt had also been cut, and that the Dolphins were keeping only four wide receivers on the roster.
Chad Bumphis may have been the Dolphins' most efficient wide receiver on a yards-per-pass-snap basis, but McNutt was the team's most efficient receiver in yards per catch, yards per attempt and average yards after catch.
The fact that neither receiver made the final roster is baffling, especially given McNutt's previous experience with wide receivers coach Ken O'Keefe back when O'Keefe was Mcnutt's offensive coordinator at Iowa.
The next biggest surprise to actually make it to the final 53-man roster after corner Don Jones was fellow corner R.J. Stanford.
Stanford was initially brought to the Dolphins during the 2012 season. The team was so depth-stricken at the position that he actually received a fair amount of playing time that season, particularly after fellow corner Nolan Carroll got flagged for four penalties against the Buffalo Bills late in the season.
However, Stanford's overall performance in 2012 was not impressive, nor did he perform well during the 2013 preseason. This makes his continuance on the Dolphins' final roster a mystery.
A.J. Francis was not a well-known or well-followed addition to the Dolphins roster when he was originally signed as an undrafted free agent following the 2013 NFL draft. This made it all the more impressive that he managed to catch so many fans' eyes during the 2013 preseason.
Francis is a big 6'5", 310-pound defensive tackle. He seemed to fit in with the defense well as a potential replacement for departed free-agent Tony McDaniel. Both players were tall and strong. Both players were built more for the nose than for a 3-technique position, yet both players were capable of penetrating the pocket and influencing the throw with their large frame.
During the preseason, I vacillated between predicting that defensive tackle Vaughn Martin would make the final roster and acknowledging that his chances were getting slimmer.
The Dolphins grabbed Martin in free agency and gave him a contract worth roughly about $2 million per year. This is both blessing and curse. The amount of money shows what kind of talent the team thought it might be paying for, yet similarly it places a lot of pressure on the player to perform to expectations in order to justify a salary that is far higher than those of his teammates at the position that are fighting for the same roster spot.
Based on the way Vaughn Martin was initially used in the preseason games, I believed him to be safe on the roster. However, the fact of the matter is he struggled in all of the team's first four preseason games. This made me reconsider my position that he was likely to make the roster. Then, Martin had by far his finest game of the preseason in the final preseason game against the New Orleans Saints.
I believe this ultimately resulted in the team keeping him.
Sticking with the defensive tackle position, I was very shocked to find that the Dolphins had cut their former seventh-round pick from the 2012 NFL draft Kheeston Randall.
Randall played a little bit as a rookie, and I thought he acquitted himself well, given his experience level. I tend to be harsh in grading players that perform poorly on the field, but I was never tempted to speak of Randall harshly in that way.
By the preseason of 2013, he looked much improved over what he was during the 2012 season. His gap control was steadier. He was consistently able to get his hips into the gap and control the spacing between himself and the offensive lineman.
Like A.J. Francis, I find it difficult to imagine the reason behind letting go of Kheeston Randall.
Though most people were not utterly shocked that safety Jimmy Wilson persisted on the team's final roster after cuts, I was among the minority who did not see why he should have been kept.
Wilson has had a little bit of a rough time since being drafted by the Dolphins in 2011. He has moved between safety and corner constantly. However, at some point we may be forced to acknowledge that the reason he gets passed between units so often is because he is not ultimately a fit on either unit.
Either way, his performance this preseason was generally very poor. According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), he had four missed tackles this preseason, compared to five total tackles. I saw several coverage miscues from Wilson, including a deserved personal foul penalty against the Jaguars.
In the end, it is not so much that I am surprised Jimmy Wilson is still on the roster, but rather that the Dolphins safety depth is so poor that Jimmy Wilson may still legitimately be among the top four at the position.
Fullback Evan Rodriguez may have thought himself safe after surviving the initial wave of cuts that came with the NFL's deadline for contracting rosters from 75 men to 53 men. He was wrong. Rodriguez was cut a day later when the team claimed fullback Tyler Clutts off waivers from the Texans.
Snubbing Rodriguez in favor of Clutts ultimately did not make much sense to me. Rodriguez was not a very special lead blocker; however, there are not many of those out there at the position. What Rodriguez had going for him is the fact that he is so smooth and fluid in transitioning from catch to run after the catch.
It is a nice twist of irony that Rodriguez once replaced Tyler Clutts in Chicago, and now Tyler Clutts has replaced Rodriguez in Miami.
Fullback Tyler Clutts was claimed by the Dolphins off waivers from the Houston Texans. To make room for him, the team jettisoned fullback Evan Rodriguez.
This move surprised me for a number of reasons. Clutts is a former defensive end. As you can imagine, his offensive capabilities when it comes to catching passes or running the football are extremely limited by his background. He is, for the most part, just a lead blocker.
It surprises me that the Dolphins appreciate a player that lacks versatility. The team lacks valid options for short-yardage situations. Therefore, if fullback Evan Rodriguez were to be replaced, I would have expected his replacement to have the versatility to carry the football in short-yardage situations. This is not the case with Clutts.