Senior Bowl director assesses Dolphins’ rookie additions


Mississippi wide receiver Braylon Sanders (13) looks upfield as he takes a 68-yard pass into the end zone for a touchdown during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Arkansas, Saturday, Oct. 9, 2021, in Oxford, Miss. Mississippi won 52-51.


As we head into a Dolphins minicamp this week, Senior Bowl executive director Jim Nagy, a former NFL scout, assessed the key rookies added by the team at quarterback, wide receiver and running back.

His feedback in a phone conversation:

▪ Kansas State quarterback Skylar Thompson, the second of the Dolphins’ two seventh-round picks:

“We liked him. Going back a couple years, we were watching him quite a bit. Met him at the Manning camp. Really liked him. I thought his age [24] would force him to go undrafted.

“Good athlete, gritty kid, he plays the position well. He processes well, makes good decisions. It has been a durability thing and an age thing with him.

“We had good grades on Skylar the last couple years. You’re drafting a guy you anticipate competing for in undrafted free agency, so by picking him in the seventh round [you avoid needing to compete with other teams to sign him]. He is a good quarterback.”

Thompson has impressed the Dolphins during the team’s offseason program, so much so that Miami recently cut former Arizona Cardinals quarterback Chris Streveler.

Thompson had shoulder surgery in October 2020, ending his season. Nagy said he looked good in that Manning Camp last offseason.

In a radio interview before last season, Nagy said that “he’s a big, put together guy. He showed me a scar from his surgery. His arm was live. Has got power behind his arm. He threw it with good velocity. The arm is good enough.

“There is so much to like about his game – the competitiveness, the toughness, the pocket feel. The thing that hurts him a little bit is the stats; those aren’t going to jump off the page. He plays in a pro style system so he doesn’t have those gaudy 40 touchdown numbers, but what he does have is experience in a pro style system that’s proven. There’s a lot on his plate [pre-snap], all the motions and shifting. He’s running an NFL system.”

▪ Nagy on Mississippi receiver Braylon Sanders, signed after the draft: “He can run, fast kid. Transitioning away from the Ole Miss offense is a challenge for all those guys in terms of route tree and route running.

“He’s a good athlete. We would not have invited him [to the Senior Bowl] if we didn’t think he was draftable player. He was a late add for us [for the Senior Bowl].

“Maybe some of the durability stuff [is a concern] but he has big play ability and can really run. He was well liked in that program.”

He averaged 21.1 yards on 69 college receptions but missed time with assorted injuries.

▪ Idaho State wide receiver Tanner Conner, signed after the draft and subsequently moved by the Dolphins to tight end:

“He fell right below the cut line for us [as far as Senior Bowl invites]. We saw him play live this past fall. Of the 120 guys we brought [to the Senior Bowl], we saw 118 live.

“We went to Portland and saw him play at Portland State. We knew he would be fast. He was a 10.5 100 meter guy out of high school. You’ve got a guy in the 6-3 range, upper 220s to low 230s and running that well. He didn’t get a Combine invite, which surprised me.

“That 10.5 he ran for the track team [in the 100]; you can see on tape he can accelerate off the line of scrimmage for a big guy.

“He’s a little bit of a tweener. Is he a big physical wide-out or is he more an H back, tight end? If he’s more of a pass catching tight end, then there’s development needed and you’re asking him to do something he never has had to do.”

The Dolphins will try the 6-3, 226-pound Conner at tight end.

One area to improve? “He can clean up some of the catching stuff. But he certainly can run,” Nagy said. “Big guy that can run. You’re trying to hit on traits with undrafted free agents. I thought that was a great get for Miami. I thought he would be drafted.”

▪ South Carolina running back ZaQuandre White, signed after the draft: “He got hurt in the middle of the [Senior Bowl week of practices], which hurt because backs can help themselves in the game.”

White was a linebacker for a year at FSU, transferred to Iowa Western Community College and then averaged 6.2 yards on 104 carries in two years at South Carolina.

“I know some teams that had as high as fourth round grades on him before the pre draft process,” Nagy said. “Late bloomer as a running back. History on defense. He didn’t test quite as well as you thought he might [in Pro Day measurables]. There was word he might be one of the top testing running backs. He tested well but not quite to that level.

“You put on the tape and he has explosiveness. He can put his foot in the ground and there’s a noticeable burst when he plants his foot. He’s got physicality that projects well on special teams. You feel good about that with ZaQuandre – physicality and explosiveness on contact and a background on defense tackling people that should help on special teams.

“Nice get for Miami. He has make-it talent.”

Nagy did not evaluate Texas Tech receiver Erik Ezukanma, the Dolphins’ fourth-round pick, because he was an underclassman not eligible for the Senior Bowl.

We’ll have Nagy’s feedback on some of Miami’s other rookie additions in a piece tomorrow.

This story was originally published May 30, 2022 1:50 PM.

Barry Jackson has written for the Miami Herald since 1986 and has written the Florida Sports Buzz column since 2002.

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