When you’re 6-foot-7 as a child it’s fairly common to have folks mention, if not praise your size, especially in the sports world.
But for offensive linemen, height isn’t everything. A player’s reach and arm length often determines their level of proficiency because of the job requirements.
That’s why there are instances where a prospect’s arm length penalizes him in the draft process. That was likely the case for Kellen Diesch, who was projected by quite a few draft analysts as an early third-day pick in the draft, but ended up as one of the 14 undrafted rookies signed by the Miami Dolphins on Friday.
“I kind of knew it in high school,” Diesch said when asked during this weekend’s rookie camp about his arm length, which measures 32 1/4 inches, which is in the eighth percentile for offensive tackles. “I’d have my mom measure my arms . . . I’m 6-foot-7 so it kind of makes up for it.”
At least that’s what the Dolphins are hoping for after giving the former Arizona State standout a $20,000 signing bonus and $140,000 of his rookie contract guaranteed to ensure he picked the Dolphins over other teams pursuing him as an undrafted free agent.
Diesch played left tackle during rookie camp and acknowledges that he’s probably too tall to play guard. But he does have the necessary athleticism (he ran a 4.89 in the 40-yard dash) and strength (24 reps of 225 at his Pro Day) to succeed in Miami’s wide-zone running scheme.
“I don’t know what people look for in draft rooms,” Diesch said. “I’m 24 years old. I kind of know what’s going on. I’m just excited to be here.”
It’s dangerous to overlook undrafted players because history proves NFL teams routinely miss on evaluating players.
Two undrafted players — pass rusher Cameron Wake and cornerback Brent Grimes — were the best performers on the Dolphins roster, so to assume all undrafted players will be roster filler is unfair.
Since the Dolphins only had four draft picks last month, the door is wide open for rookies like Diesch, Ole Miss receiver Braylon Sanders, South Carolina tailback ZaQuandre White and offensive linemen Blaise Andries and Ty Clary to earn a spot on Miami’s 53-man roster.
The Dolphins have a strong history of finding and developing undrafted rookies like Davone Bess, A.J. Francis, Chris McCain, Neville Hewitt, Robert Wallace, Marlon Moore and Patrick Laird.
Cornerback Trill Williams and offensive lineman Robert Jones made the team last year as undrafted rookies. Miami made a significant financial commitment to Jones, guaranteeing him $100,000 of his $660,000 rookie salary to land the Middle Tennessee State offensive guard.
He ended up starting the season finale, but is viewed as a developmental project.
Williams, who Miami poached off the waiver wire after the Saints cut him before training camp, impressed Miami’s coaches with his size, athleticism and physicality. The former Syracuse standout played four defensive snaps in one game last year.
History says one of these undrafted rookies will make the Dolphins’ 53-man roster because that has been the case every season since 2008, when Bess, an undrafted receiver from Hawaii, was a member of Tony Sparano’s team.
Bess started six games as a rookie and served as Miami’s slot receiver for five seasons, catching 321 passes for 3,447 yards and scoring 12 touchdowns during his tenure with the Dolphins.
Nik Needham and Preston Williams, two undrafted players who made the team as undrafted rookies in 2019, had better rookie seasons than Miami’s draft picks that year.
Needham didn’t make Miami’s initial 53-man roster. He began his Dolphins tenure on the practice squad and was called up a month into the season, and subsequently started 22 of 45 games he played in the past three years.
The Dolphins recently picked up Needham’s option as a restricted free agent, agreeing to play him $3.98 million this season.
Needham’s success as an undrafted player undoubtedly will motivate the Dolphins’ undrafted players.
“To be in these colors, to be in this locker room after growing up right down the street, I’m blessed for it,” said linebacker Deandre Johnson, a Miami Southridge product who transferred to the University of Miami last season. “It’s an opportunity I’m thankful for and something I’m striving to make a reality.”