Have the Eagles found a true hidden gem in this CFL recruit?

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The somewhat contained chaos of rookie minicamp always has its fair share of highlights and blunders. Re-watching the Eagles’ stream of their first practices held this spring, despite all the muffed punts and false steps, there was one player that stood out in particular. He’s not a household name, nor a highly touted college recruit, but he may just be a diamond in the rough for Philadelphia.

Marken Michel’s path to the big leagues is not a conventional one, and this isn’t his first time on an NFL roster, but it began just like any other. He and his brother, Patriots running back Sony, were both offensive stars for powerhouse American Heritage School in south Florida. Unlike his brother, Marken wasn’t given an offer by a top 10 college and instead looked to carve a name for himself with the historic Massachusetts Minutemen. It took him a while to crack the starting lineup, beginning his tenure with the team as a rarely-used receiver. In the meantime, he returned kicks in an attempt to get on the field and fared admirably — finishing the year with 16.1 yards per return. Somewhat surprisingly, he decided to take his second year off and came back to the team with a new focus.

The 5’11” 190-pound receiver came back swinging for his third season. He made himself invaluable with his versatility and big play ability. In three years of college, Michel’s numbers weren’t fantastic, but his explosiveness was difficult to overlook. As the number two receiver and a rotational running back, he averaged 6+ yards per carry and close to 12 yards per reception in both of his final two seasons. That was all while sharing touches with standout receiver Tajae Sharpe, now with the Tennessee Titans. Still, the promise of Marken’s athletic ability wasn’t enough to hear his name called on draft day. The 2016 NFL Draft came and went and a long trek to the NFL became that much longer for the electric receiver.

All hope was not lost. As an undrafted rookie free agent, Michel got a shot with the Minnesota Vikings. He stuck on their roster until late August, when teams make their final cuts before preseason. Inches away from touching NFL turf on game day, the young athlete had nothing but potential to show for his efforts. Instead of taking a second swing at it with another team, Marken turned his attention north and signed with the Calgary Stampeders of the CFL.

Stepping onto a team fresh off a Grey Cup appearance and a 15-2-1 season, it can be tough to find a role. Nevertheless, in his first season in the pass-happy 3-down Canadian Football League, Michel wasted no time making an impact.

Somewhat of a gadget player in college, Michel continued to do it all for the Stampeders. The area in which he showed the most improvement was his ability to go get the football while it hung in the air — not generally a strong suit of receivers under six feet. With sticky hands and comfort in space, he quickly established himself as a go-to option for Calgary’s offense.

The clip below was part of a dominant six catch 190-yard performance against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. He added this touchdown right before halftime:

In his rookie season, he would help the Stamps return to the Grey Cup. They would lose in heartbreaking fashion to the Toronto Argonauts, but Michel’s performance throughout the season did not go unnoticed. He was named the West Division’s top rookie, finishing the season with 41 receptions, 780 yards and 3 touchdowns in just 13 games. He also returned three kicks for 57 yards. Held back by a hamstring injury he suffered late in the season, Marken was hungry for more in season two.

“I don’t believe in taking a break. In the offseason you got a lot of guys going on vacation, but I just feel like I don’t have time to waste. I have aspirations, for me to reach those goals I can’t let my competitors outwork me.”

In an interview with Laura Bates of the Calgary Stampeders

2018 was more of the same for the Calgary Stampeders. After missing the first two games of the season, Michel returned to his role and continued to be a big part of the team’s success. While his receiving numbers took a hit, he got some more run as a return specialist. Calgary would finish the season as CFL champs in their third straight visit to the Grey Cup. The speedy receiver racked up 435 yards on 31 receptions, 36 yards on two carries and added six total touchdowns in 11 games. With one season left on Marken’s rookie contract in Canada, the Eagles were quick to rush to the phone lines and sign him to a futures contract in January. It was plays like the one below that make it obvious as to why.

Obvious from the film, Marken shows a lot of the same game-breaking traits we’ve seen from his brother in New England. He can score from anywhere on the field and make it look easy. Truly, it isn’t fair to tag him with the deep threat label as he can stress a defense just as much with the ball in his hands. 394 of his 1215 receiving yards (or 32.4%) in the CFL came after the catch. He also managed 11.8 yards per carry in his young career. He’s a jack-of-all-trades player that would intrigue any NFL scout. From all accounts, he’s a humble, hard-working, intelligent player and has proven his special teams value. Those are exactly the type of traits that make players hard to cut once the preseason comes around.

What has plagued the older Michel brother is injuries. After dealing with them throughout college, Marken was unable to make it through a full schedule in either of his two seasons in the great white north. Whether a hamstring or a scapula, his body just hasn’t held up for him. If he can stay healthy, there’s no question Michel will be in the mix for a second shot at his NFL dreams. At just 25 years old, he could very well have his best football in front of him. So far, he’s stood out from the bunch at minicamp, looking by far the most agile, polished athlete among the group of young receivers. His route to the Eagles may have been a long one, but Marken Michel is trending in the right direction.