The Miami Dolphins have had success with undrafted free agents recently. Nik Needham, Preston Williams and Robert Jones all made the 53-man roster and have 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 out there. He's progressing just like Erik (Ezukanma) is. It's never easy as a rookie coming in, especially in this offense. We've got to keep on staying on those guys. they're doing everything right, understanding what it is to be a pro. we're very happy with both those guys."
Sanders had the stats to get drafted. In 2021, he recorded 24 catches, 549 yards and four touchdowns and had back-to-back seasons averaging more than 20 yards per catch.
Going undrafted didn’t faze Sanders, and he’s turning it into motivation.
“It just added to the chip that’s on my shoulder now,” Sanders said. “I’ve just got to come out here and keep competing and making plays.”
Why Sanders Picked The Dolphins
When Sanders did go undrafted, the first team to contact him was Miami, specifically Welker. The two have formed a good relationship that began during the 2022 NFL combine.
Sanders and Welker have something in common besides their NFL positions: They both went undrafted.
“Wes, he was undrafted as well, so just looking at his background and all the things he’s been doing coaching-wise and his career, I just thought that was the perfect person for me to learn from,” Sanders said.
Welker’s coaching methods already are helping Sanders adapt to Miami’s offense. Sanders said Welker asked the rookie receivers to diagram plays the night before practice, and it’s having a positive impact.
“It helped a lot,” Sanders said. “Just going over the script the night before you come out here and do it at full speed; it helps you a lot because you hear the verbiage, you know exactly what he’s talking about so you’re in the right position when it’s time to play.”
Sanders also mentioned that Welker will compile video clips — a skill he said he improved by 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 back in the day, so he’ll show his own highlights. It’ll be funny just watching a little guy like him just getting open and making plays in the league.”
Sanders Adapting to a Different Scheme
The biggest change for Sanders compared to playing in Lane Kiffin's offense at Mississippi has been his blocking assignments. The Rebels ran the spread and didn’t ask their receivers to block often.
Miami’s scheme uses way more condensed formations, forcing the receivers to be important parts of the running game.
“Going good,” Sanders said about blocking. “Physicality and just being ready to make the block when my number is called.”
One thing that hasn’t changed for Sanders is his ability to win as a downfield receiver. McDaniel and the new Dolphins offensive coaching staff clearly covet big-play threats at receiver.
Sanders is the prototype deep-threat receiver, which likely is his best shot at making the Dolphins roster or sticking 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 at Mississippi is the personality of his head coach.
“I’d say they’re kind of similar,” Sanders said when asked to compare McDaniel and Kiffin. “Both guys like to have fun. Got a personality to them, so good coaches to be around.”
At the end of the day, Sanders knows Miami’s receiver room is crowded with the likes of Tyreek Hill, Jaylen Waddle, Cedrick Wilson Jr. and Ezukanma, but he’s doing anything he can to stand out from the crowd.
“I’m just doing whatever helps the team win,” Sanders said. “If that’s practice squad or the 53, it doesn’t matter to me.”