Yesterday, the Indianapolis Colts announced they had signed Caesar Rayford, a 6-7 265-pound Arena League linebacker who played the past three years with the Utah Blaze. To make room, they released former Indoor Football League linebacker Jake Killeen, who had signed a reserve/future contract back in January.
Rayford was a reserve at the University of Washington but managed to total 10 tackles and 4 sacks his senior year. The Detroit Lions added him as an undrafted free agent in 2008, but Rayford soon found himself in the CFL with the B.C. Lions. After stints with B.C. and the AFL’s Spokane Shock, Rayford finally managed to make a name for himself with the Utah Blaze, where he stood out the past three seasons. In 2012, Rayford totaled 21 tackles, 7.5 sacks, 7 tackles for a loss, three passes defensed, a forced fumble, and a blocked kick.
In his three years with the Blaze, Rayford had 68 tackles, 22.5 sacks, 26.5 tackles for a loss, 16 passes defensed, 7 forced fumbles, 7 fumbles recoveries, and 2 touchdowns off interceptions. He also blocked 5 kicks in 2011 in addition to the one last year.
Rayford has the build of a powerful outside linebacker, and he sounds like a guy who is always ready and willing to go mix it up on special teams. He’s another player who was a defensive end in college but turned out to be a better fit as a 3-4 outside linebacker. As far as I can tell, he posted a middle 40 time of 4.86 in 2008 – when he was listed as a 254-pound DE, which could certainly be quick enough for a backup OLB.
Indy picked up a guy who averaged 7.5 sacks in a league where sacks are difficult to come by (If you want to feel better about how much the NFL favors offenses, take in an Arena League game), blocked 6 kicks, and averaged just over 2 forced fumbles and fumble recoveries per season. With those numbers, and what sounds like a real instinct for getting after the ball, Rayford could have a good chance of becoming a backup/special teams contributor in the NFL, but it will be an uphill battle for a roster spot.
Last year, Indianapolis had 4 OLB’s and 5 ILB’s on their roster at the end of the season. They currently have 5 OLB’s signed counting Rayford. Bjoern Werner will make it 6, and Lieutenant Josh McNary, who can join the team as soon as his military service is over, could make it 7, depending on which position the team chooses for him (he’s listed as “LB” on the Colts roster currently). That would leave the Colts needing to cut 2-3 OLB’s at some point, and Robert Mathis, Werner, and Erik Walden aren’t going anywhere.
Rayford will be battling against Justin Hickman, Lawrence Sidbury, and possibly Josh McNary for one or two roster spots. The winner could be the one who plays the best on special teams. It will be an interesting competition to watch. Is it time for training camp yet?
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Living in Vancouver ,I find myself on occasion watching BC Lions games. I do briefly remember seeing Rayford play and all that I could think of was that he was a huuuuuge linebacker, especially by CFL standards. Unfortunately, other than his size there wasn't much that stood out. I applaud Grigson for tirelessly finding talent wherever he can but I would be shocked to see him survive camp.
Assuming he will be a rush OLB, which of the guys that are listed on the roster as OLB can actually cover?
These end of the roster battles spots always interest me. There's so much drama and surprise since there's usually not a clear winner. This kid has the size advantage but obviously not the pedigree of the others. I wish him luck.
It's hard to say what else he is besides really big. If I were going to bet on it, I'd probably put my money on a younger player.
There really aren't any that you would think of as having coverage as their strongest suit. Walden is one of the only natural OLB's, and there's no sense rehashing how we all feel about him.