Monday, February 13, 2012

Report: Dolphins to sign CFL running back Jerome Messam

UPDATE (2/15): The Miami Dolphins officially announced the signing of Jerome Messam via twitter on Wednesday, February 15.



As has become standard operating procedure for the Miami Dolphins during the Jeff Ireland regime, the team is expected to sign yet another CFL player to its offseason roster.

Reports Sunday indicated the Dolphins are attempting to sign Edmonton Eskimos running back Jerome Messam, and a tweet by Eskimos radio analyst Dave Campbell says Messam's representatives "expect a contract to be signed with the Dolphins within the next 24 hours."

The 26-year-old Messam would give the Dolphins 51 players on their offseason roster, excluding the 17 free agents with contracts that will expire on March 13. He is also the second running back the Dolphins have plucked from the CFL this year, joining former Hamilton Tiger-Cats scat back/returner Marcus Thigpen, who was inked a month ago.

The Dolphins have consistently shown interest in players from our neighbor to the north. In addition to signing Messam and Thigpen this offseason, the team also expressed interest in guard Jovan Olafioye and nose tackle Khalif Mitchell. Olafioye worked out for more than half the teams in the NFL and signed with the Rams last week, but was released and returned to Canada when he failed a physical. The Dolphins offered Mitchell a $97,000 signing bonus in January, but he declined and opted to return to the BC Lions.

Messam becomes the 10th former CFL player signed by the Dolphins' organization since Ireland arrived in 2008 as the franchise continues to look for diamonds in the rough. However, only one of those players—Pro Bowl pass rusher Cameron Wake, who was signed in 2009—has ever played in the regular season with the Dolphins.


Background

A Toronto native, Messam was a standout running back at North Dakota State College of Science in 2005-06. He rushing for 993 yards and 16 touchdowns as a junior at Graceland (Iowa) University in 2007, but subsequently missed the 2008 season after tearing an ACL in spring camp with the New York Giants (participation allowed by the NAIA.) As a senior in 2009, Messam racked up 1,075 yards and 12 touchdowns on the ground to earn all-conference honors.

After going undrafted, Messam was signed as a free agent by the CFL's BC Lions. Working primarily as a backup running back and special-teams player as a rookie, Messam totaled 92 yards and two touchdowns rushing, 57 yards receiving, and eight special-teams tackles.

Messam was acquired by the Edmonton Eskimos in exchange for a 2013 fifth-round pick prior to what would become his breakout season. In 18 games, Messam led the team and ranked third in the CFL with 1,057 rushing yards and six touchdowns, becoming the first Canadian since 2000 to top the 1,000-yard mark. The recipient of the CFL's Most Outstanding Canadian Award, Messam was a also added 248 yards receiving and CFL All-Star. He suffered a torn meniscus near the end of the season and a torn calf muscle during his rehab, but has since recovered.

Off the field, Messam has encountered a handful of issues that raise concerns about character and maturity. Although he stayed out of trouble in 2010, he was involved in an altercation at an Ontario nightclub and broke the jaw of a Lions teammate in a locker-room brawl.


Analysis

A powerful north-to-south runner, Messam is a semi-truck of a running back at 6-foot-3 and 245 pounds. He's not going to cause anyone to mistake him for Barry Sanders with his moves, but he certainly runs with power and can hit the hole hard. (That's what she said?)

That being said, it's important to not get too excited about the Messam signing. He's clearly got some ability, but the NFL is an entirely different beast and there's really no telling how he'll fare during his time in the States. Reggie Bush is entrenched as the Dolphins' starting tail back, and I highly doubt Messam has comparable talent to 2010 second-rounder Daniel Thomas. As someone suggested on twitter yesterday, the signing might be used to light a fire under Thomas, but Messam remains a long shot to make the team.

As of now, Messam is an intriguing prospect that proves backfield depth with free agent Steve Slaton unlikely to return and Lex Hilliard (a restricted free agent) lacking much ability. Though he will primarily focus on special teams, it's not out of the realm of possibility that Messam competes with Hilliard for a fullback/short-yardage back job, as Joe Philbin's Packers often carried a ridiculous three fullbacks on the roster at one time.

You also have to worry about the character concerns attached to Messam. It seems he has a bit of a temper that has gotten him into trouble in the past, so he's certainly not going to last long in the NFL as an unproven player that doesn't have his head on straight and he didn't even receive a signing bonus from the Dolphins. I'm not one to say a guy can't change or mature, but there's no question Messam brings some baggage with him to Miami and he's not going to have a long leash off the field.

The Dolphins haven't had much luck north of the border aside from Cam Wake, but I commend them for consistently utilizing other leagues to build their offseason rosters and see if they can hit on an unknown player. A good organization turns over every rock it can find, and Messam is certainly a rock worth turning over.


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