Thursday, January 12, 2012

Dolphins sign CFL players Khalif Mitchell, Marcus Thigpen

UPDATE (1/20): Reports of Mitchell signing with the Dolphins turned out to be incorrect. The Dolphins did offer Mitchell a contract that included a $97,000 signing bonus, but Mitchell declined and instead opted to re-join the BC Lions. You can read more about this situation here, which includes Mitchell quoted comparing the NFL to slave trade and prostitution.

The Miami Dolphins have signed a CFL player in all four offseasons since general manager Jeff Ireland has been part of the team's front office, and that trend has continued into 2012 as reports from the Great White North have the Dolphins signing nose tackle Khalif Mitchell and running back Marcus Thigpen.

A Jan. 7 article from the Vancouver Sun had the initial report on Mitchell, along with an interesting story about how the defensive lineman has parted ways with his long-time agent since working out for NFL teams in December. The Thigpen signing has been confirmed by various outlets including TSN, and already lists Thigpen on the roster which means the signing likely took place Wednesday.

Regular readers of this here site might recognize these names, as both Mitchell and Thigpen worked out for the Dolphins in mid-December. CFL rules prevented the players from being signed by NFL teams until the new year.

The signings five the Dolphins 51 players on their 80-man offseason roster, which does not include the team's 17 unsigned free agents. The team has already re-signed seven players, including six practice-squad members, this offseason.

Khalif Mitchell

The 6-foot-4, 316-pound Mitchell contributed 15 tackles as a true freshman at North Carolina in 2005 before transferring to East Carolina and sitting out the following season per NCAA regulations.

Mitchell made an immediate impact for the Pirates in 2007, earning an All-Conference USA honorable mention with 19 tackles (5.5 for a loss) and two sacks. As a senior in 2008, Mitchell appeared in seven tackles and totaled 16 sacks (three for a loss) and a sack.

Undrafted in 2009, Mitchell signed with the San Francisco 49ers as a rookie free agent and spent most of his rookie season on the team's practice squad. He attended training camp with the Niners in 2010 but was once again waived during final cuts.

Shortly after his release, Mitchell joined the BC Lions of the CFL and went on to appear in eight games, totaling six tackles. He experienced a breakout season in 2011, recording 33 tackles and six sacks (third on the team) while helping the Lions win the 99th Grey Cup.

Marcus Thigpen

Thigpen attended Indiana University, where he played football and ran track. For the Hoosiers' football team, he left he school ranked second all-time in return yardage and also became the first player in team history with over 1,000 rushing yards (1,621), receiving yards (1,028) and kickoff return yards (2,009).

After going undrafted in the 2009 NFL Draft, Thigpen (5-9, 190) signed with the Philadelphia Eagles as a free agent but was waived on Aug. 4. He spent part of the preseason with the Denver Broncos but was again waived.

From there, Thigpen headed north and signed to the practice roster of the CFL's Saskatchewan Roughriders. He attended training camp with the Roughriders in 2010 but was released and moved on to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.

As a rookie for the Tiger-Cats, Thigpen returned the season's opening kickoff for a touchdown and totaled 234 rushing yards and two scores and 20 catches for 234 yards and and a touchdown on the season. He was the team's nominee for the league's most outstanding rookie after ranking second in the CFL with 1,722 combined return yards.

In 2011, Thigpen rushed for 82 yards and a touchdown, caught 28 passes for 382 yards and two touchdowns, and served as the Tiger-Cats' primary returner with 1,522 combined return yards (with one touchdown) to rank fourth in the CFL.


One thing I like about the Dolphins is that they explore all avenues when it comes to adding talent. I don't have the numbers, but I do know Mitchell is the ninth CFL player signed by the team in less than five years and I expect that's at or near the top of the league. While many of them don't work out and the Cameron Wakes of the world are few, it's always good to take chances and mine for diamonds in the rough.

I almost don't know how to analyze the Mitchell signing, because it appears the Dolphins could be on the verge of naming Jeff Fisher head coach and giving him control over personnel, which would almost certainly mean a shift to the 4-3 scheme.Mitchell profiles primarily as an interior lineman either way and in the Dolphins' current 3-4 he fits in squarely at nose tackle with the potential to play end as well.

As things stand, the Dolphins only have Mitchell and practice-squadder Isaako Aaitui at nose tackle, so if the season began today, Randy Starks or Tony McDaniel would be penciled in there. Free agent Paul Soliai will be costly to re-sign but should be a priority if the Dolphins stick with the 3-4.

Mitchell is a talented player and is almost certainly better than Aaitui. However, without knowing what scheme the Dolphins are going to run it's difficult to project how deep the tackle position is going to be and thus Mitchell's chances for making the roster. I'd consider him a long shot for now but he does possess the talent to make it.

Thigpen is hard to peg as well, but for a different reason. He has been listed as a running back at both Indiana and in the CFL, but he wore No. 13 with the Eagles, lacks bulk to be an NFL rusher, and has always totaled more receptions than carries with the Tiger-Cats.

That being the case, my guess is that Thigpen will primarily be a return specialist and gunner with the Dolphins while working as a slot receiver and maybe seeing a little time in the backfield.

The Dolphins are already eight-deep at receiver before Thigpen's signing, so he too is a long shot to make the final roster. He has good speed and solid hands, but the Dolphins aren't going to keep a pure returner on the roster so he'd really need to separate himself to stick around.

As always, check out the updated projected depth chart reflecting these transactions here.

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