Cut-down day around the NFL forced a number of notable names onto the street as all 32 teams whittled their rosters to 53 players. But this week wasn't solely about guys losing jobs; it was about others earning them. And some players were especially inspiring while doing so, either by defying the odds or boasting a unique backstory. In celebration of these players entering the 2021 season as official 53-man roster members, here's a look at five of this summer's best underdogs:
You don't usually draft a kicker or punter if you're not fairly positive they're going to win a starting job right away, but there are few punters like Harvin, who played his senior season at Georgia Tech just under 285 pounds and will now become the first Black punter to play in the NFL since Marquette King in 2018. The rookie got down to 255 this summer, then beat out Jordan Berry -- a six-year Steelers vet who set a team record for net punting average in 2019 -- to enter this year as part of a remade special teams trio.
A second-round pick of the Seahawks in 2017, the defensive tackle has endured plenty of controversy. After an ATV accident prior to his rookie training camp that left him badly injured, McDowell was arrested multiple times over the course of two years and later sentenced to 11 months in jail for DUI and fighting with police. The Seahawks then sued McDowell for failing to repay his bonus money. Given a last chance at redemption by Browns general manager Andrew Berry this May, he parlayed essentially a veteran-minimum one-year deal into a spot on one of the AFC's top D-lines, set to open 2021 alongside the likes of Myles Garrett, Jadeveon Clowney and Malik Jackson. More than that, he's apparently fit right into the community and locker room with a supportive infrastructure in Cleveland.
Years after Jim Harbaugh famously had a slumber party to recruit him to Michigan, the rookie kicker got zero calls during the 2021 NFL Draft and zero more in the days afterward. So, Nordin literally went on LinkedIn to search for jobs and even considered going into the military. Then the Patriots added him as their only undrafted rookie of the offseason, a rarity, and he's kept alive a 17-plus-year streak of a UDFA making the club's final roster. He beat out 13-year vet Nick Folk — who had a career-high field-goal percentage in 2020 — to become the first rookie to open the year as the Pats' kicker since Stephen Gostkowski in 2006.
The Buffalo product was a local prospect for Washington, starring as a high schooler in Laurel, Maryland, only about 30 minutes from FedExField. But he was never supposed to make it to the NFL. A former two-star recruit now listed at 5-foot-8 and 195 pounds (but more like 5-foot-7, a la minuscule backs Tarik Cohen and Darren Sproles), Patterson did nothing but emerge as maybe the star of the preseason with nearly 200 yards from scrimmage in three games. Beating out former Buccaneers starter Peyton Barber, who started two games for Washington in 2020, he enters his rookie campaign set to serve as a top reliever for Antonio Gibson.
Maybe Washington's new nickname should be the Underdogs. Reyes, 25, had a week of high school football practice under his belt until 2020. Born in Chile, he starred for his country's national basketball team before playing hoops at four different colleges from 2014-2018. After 10 weeks of his first real football training at IMG Academy, Reyes tested at Florida's Pro Day this spring as part of the NFL's International Pathway Program, then proceeded to ink a three-year deal with Washington and emerge as the team's best blocking tight end. Just like that, he became the NFL's first Chilean-born player, set to back up Logan Thomas and John Bates for a potential playoff contender.
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