The buzz on the Dolphins’ most impressive undrafted rookie, and Welker’s key phone call

David Santiago/

Braylon Sanders was waiting out the final day of April’s NFL Draft when a familiar name called his cellphone: Dolphins receivers coach Wes Welker.

The two had met at the NFL Combine, when Welker took a liking to Sanders’ combination of size (6-1) and speed.

And on that final day of the draft, “he was the first person to hit me up [after] the draft,” Sanders said Wednesday.

Other teams subsequently expressed interest, but “I felt this was the place for me to be,” Sanders said. “Wes was undrafted as well. Looking at his background and coaching wise and his career, I thought that was the perfect person for me to learn from.”

On a team that has produced several undrafted rookie success stories — including Davone Bess and Nik Needham — Sanders so far has made the biggest impression among this year’s dozen postdraft Dolphins rookie signings.

He has made several receptions for long gains, including catches of 30 and 40 yards on Tuesday.

“He has great body control,” 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 [fourth-round rookie] 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. We’re very happy with both those guys.”

Before each practice, Welker has the two rookie receivers diagram each play of the practice script so that they can visualize it beforehand.

That “helps a lot,” Sanders said.

The spread offense that Sanders played in for Lane Kiffin at Mississippi was much different.

“In college, I didn’t have to block much,” he said. “Now I have to be dirty a little bit.”

As Senior Bowl executive director Jim Nagy said after the draft: “Transitioning away from the Ole Miss offense is a challenge for all those guys in terms of route tree and route running.”

He averaged 21.1 yards on 69 college receptions — with 10 TDs — through five seasons, including 24 for 546 (22.9 average) and four touchdowns as a senior. But he missed some time in college with hamstring injuries, which worked against him in the draft process.

He said he wasn’t angry about not getting drafted. “Just added to the chip on my shoulder now,” he said.

His strengths?

“Catching ability and speed,” Sanders said. “Beating my man down field and making the play when the ball is thrown my way.”

He especially likes watching Raiders Pro Bowl receiver Davante Adams, the former Packers star: “We are about the same height and same weight. I like his releases and how he manipulates defenders on the route.”

He said it “doesn’t matter to me” if he makes the 53-man roster or practice squad, though a spot on the 53 is the obvious goal for any rookie. He’s competing with Trent Sherfield (who looks like one of the favorites), River Cracraft, Lynn Bowden Jr., Preston Williams, Mohamed Sanu and others for spots No. 5 and 6.

He said Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel and Kiffin are “kind of similar. Both guys like to have fun, have a personality to them.”

Incidentally, he has never met the NFL’s most famous receiver Braylon: Braylon Edwards, a 2007 Pro Bowler who played on five teams after being drafted third overall out of Michigan in 2005. “I watched him a little bit when he was with the Jets. He’s a great receiver.”


Preston Williams had a quiet practice, one day after saying he wasn’t getting the touches he deserves.

“It is a very tough deal,” Welker said. “There are limited reps. There are 11 [wide receivers]. And only one guy can get the ball on each play. I understand his frustrations. Preston has shown he’s a good player in this league. He’s doing some good things out there and he will get [opportunities]. He’s had a few. He’s done well in 1-on-1” drills.

Welker said he agreed with a reporter who mentioned that Bowden wasn’t getting many touches and said he would try to change that Wednesday. But a pass thrown to Bowden on Wednesday was well defended and fell incomplete.

Offensive line coach Matt Applebaum said Connor Williams has been “kicking [butt]” in his move from guard to center — a transition that began in the spring.

“You’re talking about a pro,” Applebaum said. “He’s already had a nice career at left guard at Dallas. He came in and accepted a new challenge without even blinking.

“He handles everything we’re asking at that position at a pretty damn high level. Are there things he needs to get better at? Sure, like every player. You see a couple snaps off; it shows up mostly on the runs. Stuff we have to get better at and he will. The guy’s a grinder.”

With Michael Dieter out indefinitely with a foot injury, Applebaum said the Dolphins have cross-trained guard Adam Pankey at center. Cole Banwart, a second-year player from Iowa, is the only other center on the roster.

“Adam’s got a skill set and mentality; he’s a bright guy and has quickness and suddenness that you like at that position, particularly in our scheme,” Applebaum said. “He’s doing a pretty good job at it.”

Tight end Durham Smythe, on his good friend Mike Gesicki’s contract situation, with the Dolphins having opted to give him the $10.8 million franchise tag instead of a long-term deal: “If he can show that he can produce in one offense last year, another offense this year and be productive overall as a tight end, the price is just going up. So that’s what I tell him every day.”