Mike Hull has potential to be Dolphins’ next undrafted gem

Former Penn State Nittany Lions linebacker Mike Hull captured the Big Ten Linebacker of the Year award and was a projected fifth-round pick before a knee injury caused his draft stock to plummet.

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Not long after the Miami Dolphins had made their final selection in the fifth round of the 2015 NFL Draft, months of scouting and researched boiled down to a prayer for linebacker coach Mark Duffner.

The team had run out of picks, but Penn State linebacker Mike Hull was still on the board.

"We kept the candle lit in the church hoping he wouldn’t get drafted," Duffner told MiamiDolphins.com.  

"Every time I looked at Penn State tapes, Mike Hull was in the picture. We talk about liking productive players here. He is a productive player."

Luckily for Duffner and the Dolphins, Hull managed to slip through the cracks and signed with Miami as an undrafted free agent on May 2.

When reviewing Hull’s collegiate career, it’s easy to see why the Dolphins quietly coveted the Canonsburg, Pennsylvania, native.

At 6-foot-0, 237 pounds, the 23 year old was the heart of the Nittany Lions defense in 2014, recording 140 tackles with two sacks and an interception. He captured the Big Ten Linebacker of the Year award and was projected to be a fifth-round pick before concerns over a knee injury he suffered in 2013 caused his draft stock to plummet

The injury, which caused Hull to miss two games as a junior, didn’t limit him during the 2014 season, but a knee scope did keep him out of the Senior Bowl and was a red flag for many NFL teams.

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At Miami’s annual rookie camp earlier this month, however, Hull didn’t lament his draft-day slide and instead professed his joy in landing with the Dolphins.

"I’ve been dreaming about this since was I was six years old growing up in Pittsburgh," Hull told MiamiDolphins.com reporter Andy Cohen. "This is where I want to be. This is what I want to do. Every player travels a different road to get here. What matters now is that I make the most of this chance, that I prove I belong."

Over the course of the two-day camp, Hull was by far the most polished of Miami’s quartet of undrafted linebackers that also included Utah State’s Zach Vigil, Marshall’s Neville Hewitt and Cincinnati’s Jeff Luc. His energy and athleticism were on full display during team drills and a stellar interception on the final day of camp was enough to leave a lasting impression on the coaching staff.

"I like the group that we brought in. They seem to be guys that are real serious, they’re football guys, they’ve been productive players in college," Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin said of the team’s rookie linebackers.

Miami could certainly use Hull’s services at linebacker after conducting a major overhaul at the position earlier this offseason. In the span of a week, the team cut veteran Phillip Wheeler, traded an overpaid Dannell Ellerbe to New Orleans and had previously decided to let backup Jason Trusnik walk in free agency.

As it stands now, only weak-side linebacker Jelani Jenkins, who had a team-high 110 tackles in 2014, and middle linebacker Koa Misi can be penciled into starting roles next season.

That being said, Hull will certainly be given every opportunity to crack Miami’s 53-man roster this offseason. If hopes to contribute beyond special teams, though, he’ll need to beat out incumbents Kelvin Sheppard, Chris McCain and Spencer Paysinger, in addition to his fellow undrafted rookies.

Could Hull be Miami’s next undrafted gem? He certainly believes so.

"I believe in my heart I can play at this level," said Hull. "I know nothing will be handed to me and that’s the way it should be. I keep reminding myself that it doesn’t matter where you start off; it matters where you end up."

You can follow Jameson Olive on Twitter @JamesonCoop or email him at JamesonOlive@gmail.com.