This is the first installment of "Eye on the Undrafted," a preseason series focused on undrafted free agents, their progress working through Falcons training camp and their odds of making the 53-man roster or the practice squad. We'll get started at the receiver position and focus on Arizona product Stanley Berryhill.
Making the roster as an undrafted free agent can be tough. It usually involves defying odds to snag a spot on the 53-man roster or even the practice squad, a feat accomplished with talent, upside and a stellar training camp. The margin for error is also smaller than for heralded prospects, which can ramp up pressure to perform during each practice day.
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- Training camp storylines: Line of scrimmage; Edge rush, Quarterbacks
That doesn't bother Stanley Berryhill III. The shifty receiver is used to all that. He was a walk-on at the University of Arizona and earned a scholarship after more a year's worth of hard work, talent, production and proving himself every day.
He's working to repeat that sequence to secure a spot in the pros. He has done this once before. He can surely do it again, using a live-in-the-present mindset that benefitted him in college.
"It's literally same thing," Berryhill said after Saturday's practice. "I've been going through this for a long time. I wasn't heavily recruited in high school. I was slept on a little bit in college and then, when I finally got the opportunity, my name rose up. That's the same thing I'm trying to do here, to make the most of the opportunity I have in front of me now."
Berryhill's off to a solid start, making a few nice plays a day in the early portions of camp. That includes some real highlights in the red zone and a touchdown catch in one-on-ones where he juked his defender on a double move, caught the ball in stride and scored.
He'll have to keep it going in preseason games and the joint practices coming up to earn the right to stick around. There's stiff competition, with Drake London, Bryan Edwards, Olamide Zaccheaus and Auden Tate seemingly set for the roster. There will be a battle between veterans and undrafted rookies for one, maybe two spots. Berryhill's right in the mix. So is fellow undrafted player Jared Bernhardt.
Despite those facts, Berryhill is only focused on getting better each day.
His own experience will help guide him through the summer. So will the inspiration provided by someone in his position group. Zaccheaus was an undrafted player who fought and scrapped to earn a roster spot out of training camp, was a valuable special teams contributor and eventually assumed a more prominent offensive role.
"I do look at 'OZ' a lot and try to copy his mannerisms, because we do play the same position, and because he's a smaller guy who came from the situation I'm in now.
"…He came in worked hard and got what he deserved. Hopefully I can do something similar to that and, when my name's called, just be ready. Whether it's being a gunner on special teams or on kickoff coverage or on offense, I'm set on making the most of my opportunity."
Berryhill saw real opportunity with the Falcons, who treated him well during the pre-draft process. He had options after not being selected in the NFL Draft, with several teams vying to sign the All-Pac-12 selection, who had 83 catches for 744 yards as a senior, in college free agency. as a free agent. He chose Atlanta as the spot to further his career.
"They were the most transparent team I talked to throughout the process," Berryhill said. "Most of the teams that called me on draft day, I hadn't talked to very much. But I came here on a Top 30 visit and met with [receivers coach T.J. Yates and offensive coordinator Dave Ragone].
"They were so genuine, and the team stuck to the plan they told me would happen in the draft and right after. That goes a long way with trust and finding the right opportunity. They stuck to their word, and I trusted them and I feel like I have the chance to contribute in any way I can."
Berryhill doesn't look at this as a chance to prove people wrong. He has another, more positive, motivating factor at play while battling for a spot on the roster or the practice squad.
"I used to think about proving people wrong, but now I think about proving myself and the people who believe in me right," Berryhill said. "That's my whole thing, to come out here with a smile and work as hard as I can."