When cornerback Kader Kohou and safety Verone McKinley III started last week at Detroit, it confirmed a notion that had been brewing for the previous few weeks: the Dolphins’ undrafted rookies are better than the rookie draftees and have made a bigger contribution.
Take that any way you want.
The bottom line is it’s a nod toward those undrafted players, the guys who have the toughest path of any players to rookie success. These are the guys who get the fewest repetitions in practice, rarely get the benefit of the doubt when they make mistakes, and are the first ones on the chopping block when cuts are made.
But when you hit on them, coach Mike McDaniel said, “You get lots of great results from guys that have chips on their shoulder.”
Aside from starting Kohou and McKinley at Detroit, the Dolphins played wide receiver Braylon Sanders, an undrafted rookie who made his NFL debut a week after defensive linemen Ben Stille, another undrafted rookie, made his NFL debut against Pittsburgh.
Look for both Kohou and McKinley to be key contributors Sunday at Chicago whether or not they start.
The Dolphins’ 2022 draft class of linebacker Channing Tindall (third round, Georgia), wide receiver Erik Ezukanma (fourth round pick, Texas Tech), linebacker Cameron Goode (seventh round, California) and quarterback Skylar Thompson (seventh round, Kansas State) is still around, and they’re there for a reason.
“Drafted or undrafted, I feel they brought guys in because they felt like they could help them win in some way, shape or form,” Kohou said.
Tindall, who has two tackles, is a special teams contributor who was inactive once. Ezkuanma has been inactive for all eight games. Goode is on the practice squad, and Thompson played one game in relief (New York Jets) and made one start (Minnesota). He’s 26 for 46 for 255 yards, no touchdowns and one interception with a 63.2 passer rating.
Kohou, out of Texas A&M Commerce, has made four starts. Sam Madison, the Dolphins cornerbacks coach/pass game coordinator and a pretty darn good cornerback back in his playing days, called Kohou a “hard-nosed, tough little young corner.”
McKinley, who played college football at Oregon where he teamed with Dolphins safety Jevon Holland, has been elevated from the practice squad three times and made one start. Last week he started the game down in the box with Holland deep, but ended deep with Holland down in the box.
“The key point in all of it is to progress players as we’re going along, get other players a little bit more multiple as we’re going along,” Boyer said, “and then each week, you just choose what you feel is the best way for you to win that week.”
Sanders, out of Mississippi, had two receptions against Detroit, losing a fumble on his first.
Stille, out of Nebraska, played in a reserved role against Pittsburgh.
The process is the same for all of them regardless of whether they play offense or defense.
They initially turn heads in their few practice opportunities, then it continues in preseason games.
“Then you definitely see how they handle themselves off the field and all their preparation that goes into it,” defensive coordinator Josh Boyer said, “and then really, it’s like all of us — it’s a production business and comes down to when you get opportunities, can you produce?”
Kohou has played the biggest role among the undrafted rookies, basically filling the hole left by cornerback Byron Jones, who has yet to play this season after having Achilles surgery in March.
Kohou is seventh on the team with 27 tackles, including three tackles for losses, and an interception. He also has two passes defended.
McKinley is filling the hole left by safety Brandon Jones, who sustained a knee injury against Pittsburgh. He has two tackles.
Stille played nine snaps against the Steelers largely because defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah was inactive with a back injury. Stille has two tackles.
Sanders played 14 snaps last week because wide receiver River Cracraft didn’t play. Sanders ended with two receptions for 17 yards.
The rookie draft class has half a season to make a bigger contribution.
Ideally, every draftee but Thompson will do something meaningful during the second half of the season (if Thompson plays it likely means the Dolphins have quarterback issues — again.)
If that doesn’t happen for the draftees, at least the Dolphins will still know they got a good contribution from rookies this year, albeit undrafted rookies.