You’d be excused if you have never heard of, let alone can recognize, Marken Michel. Sony Michel’s brother was an undrafted free agent from UMass in 2016 who got cut from Vikings camp and spent the next three years in Canada. He’s a 5’11” wide receiver. He wears #80, which was last seen looking weird on Jordan Matthews, and before that was given to such luminaries as Markus Wheaton, Adam Zaruba, and Ronald Johnson. He shouldn’t stick out. He should be just another warm body for late round pick developmental players to get some reps against.
And yet this week, he got noticed. Carson Wentz hit him on a deep pass, and Markel juked Andrew Sendejo, and heads were turned. Dave Fipp says he’s in the running to earn a spot as a punt returner. Several places wrote about him. Teammates raved about him. He went from nobody to somebody, which is the most you can do in minicamp.
But that’s the thing, it’s minicamp. The pads aren’t on, veterans know better than to max out and risk injury, and drills like 7 on 7 have their limits. This isn’t real football, and it’s not meant to be. The odds are Marken Michel fades back into obscurity in July and August. Every year there are guys who make a bit of a name for themselves in OTA and minicamp, and every training camp they recede back to being bottom of the roster players. It’s just the way things go.
Michel fits many of the criteria to be a minicamp star. One does not need to meet all of them, but the more the better.
The New Face: First or second year in the league. Not in professional football, but in the NFL. Preferably, first year on the team.
The Unheralded: Undrafted or very late round. Like the Na Brown Award, a high or medium profile player is too notable to qualify.
The Overlooked: Small school player or someone buried on a depth chart at a top tier school.
The Darkhorse: Plays a position that the team is already deep at, or plays a position where the depth chart is completely up for grabs. The more or less we expect, the better.
Mr. Popular: The player earns high praise from teammates, coaches, or front office staff.
The (Supposedly) Reinvented: The player is brought in to potentially fill a particular role but stands out for doing things that fill a different role. For example a short yardage type running back impresses as a pass catcher, or a run stuffing defender looks good in pass rush drills.
Throughout the years, we’ve seen these guys come and go. It’s just part of football. Sometimes they actually turn out to be something, but usually not. These are not to be confused with the training camp star. A small sampling:
Chip Kelly’s Flotsam and Jetsam
Chip Kelly’s minicamps were full of these kind of players. His first summer really stood out, as Kelly had everyone spending time on every level of the depth chart, which is a decent way to send a “nothing is given, everything is earned” message for a new regime. But most of these guys had no business getting the reps they were. The most notable were the quarterbacks. Dennis Dixon got some time with the 1s, and there were some who were writing that he had a shot to be the starter. More popular was the notion that Matt Barkley was the steal of the draft and that he would quickly take over the starting job. Others include Michael Bamiro, Ifeanyi Momah, Chris McCoy, Jordan Poyer, and fan/BGN favorite GJ Kinne; and in subsequent years Henry Josey, Carey Spear, Denzel Rice, and Chris Pantale.
Michel isn’t even the first CFL player to be a minicamp guy under Doug Pederson. In 2016 the Eagles signed Grymes, one of the best cornerbacks in the CFL. It was a worthwhile gamble: the CFL is a passing league and the team had plenty of need for a youngish corner (he was 25). But most gambles don’t work, that’s why they’re gambles.
Booker might be the ultimate minicamp guy. He made headlines in May, and most notably Dave Spadaro spent a summer talking him up as the next big thing. Booker was well thought of, having been a 3rd round pick in 2007 and then traded in 2008 for a 4th, but he became near legendary in the summer. Then training camp came and it was easy to see why he was dealt after a year.