Every year, regardless of whether your favorite football team is run by Bill Polian, Ryan Grigson, or Joe Beerman, the final 53-man roster usually gets filled with somewhere between three and five undrafted rookies. This doesn't count the practice squad, which is littered with them. The first rookie minicamp gives us crazy-obsessive football types an initial glimpse into who might survive the final roster cuts.
Two years ago, we heard great things about Michigan State WR Blair White after the Colts held their minicamp. During that 2010 season, not only did he find a spot on the 53-man roster, but he caught 36 balls for 355 yards and 5 TDs. Not to shabby!
This year, two more WRs caught the eye of the folks who attended the three day Colts rookie camp. One of them was Andrew Luck's old buddy from Stanford.
Back to rookie UFA WR Jabin Sambrono. He is one of a couple UFAs who looked good during the rookie mini-camp. I liked WR Griff Whalen.— Tom James (@TribStarTJames) May 6, 2012
Sambrano was impressive during the three-day rookie mini-camp, especially Saturdat and Sunday. He made two very nice fingertip grabs for TDs— Tom James (@TribStarTJames) May 6, 2012
From Reggie Hayes of the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel:
Whalen, the undrafted [WR from Stanford], has made some nice catches in his early audition. He has a shot.
Sambrano is a 5'11, 178 lbs rookie from Montana who runs a 4.50 40. He caught 36 balls for 632 yards and 10 TDs last season for the Grizzlies, and he was Andrew Luck's favorite target during rookie minicamp, snatching a pair of touchdowns. While not reading too much into this, at a time when drafted receivers like LaVon Brazill (6th round) and T.Y. Hilton (3rd round) are supposed to be working on their timing with Luck, what does it tell you that Luck isn't getting them the ball? Instead, he's zeroing in on some supposed nobody from Montana.
In Hilton's defense, he is nursing a calf injury that significantly reduced his speed at the minicamp; so much so that Pagano was asked why Hilton looked so slow during the walkthroughs.
In the case of Whalen, it makes total sense why Luck is getting him the ball. Both are best friends. Both know each other. Both have great timing and anticipation. Whalen is a lot like Sambrano: 5'11, 187 pounds, 4.57 40 time. He caught 80 balls for 1,058 yards and 5 TDs during his four years at Stanford, with a majority of his stats coming his final year there.
The consensus was that Griffin was signed as a UFA just to make Luck happy or to ease his transition into the pros. Maybe everyone was wrong. Maybe this kid can play.
The ultimate equalizer for UFAs is whether or not they can contribute on special teams. Sambrano has a ton of experience returning punts while Whalen does not. This would give the early edge to Sambrano to making the team. With the Colts likely to run a two tight end offense, this means they could keep as many as five TEs (including long snapper Justin Snow) and a fullback (Chris Gronkowski). This limits the number of open spots at WR. You have to figure that Reggie Wayne, Austin Collie, LaVon Brazill, and T.Y. Hilton are locks unless there is an injury. This leaves only one potential spot open, and that is contingent on Donnie Avery (signed as a free agent) playing like dog meat during preseason.
Bottom line is things do not look promising for both Sambrano and Whalen in terms of the 53-man roster. However, both could land on the practice squad if they continue to impress.