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Greg Dortch: From Undrafted to Rising Star Four Years Later

An unconventional start to NFL career but a success story unfolding in Arizona through determination and perseverance

Los Angeles Rams v Arizona Cardinals Photo by Mike Christy/Getty Images

Towards the end of every April, the dreams of many become a reality as young men fresh out of college get a life-changing phone call from an NFL general manager informing them that they will be drafted to their respective teams.

A card is turned in, the pick-is-in notification bedazzles on the bottom half of a television screen on draft night, the NFL commissioner walks to the podium and announces the name of the selection.

Unfortunately, not every NFL hopeful is able to take this conventional route. For undrafted free agents, the agony of all three days of the draft go by without a ring from their phones can be daunting and discouraging. The final picks of the draft start dwindling down as agents begin negotiating contracts with teams to sign their undrafted clients.

Going undrafted can be a disappointing start to an NFL career but it is just another hurdle that some athletes will need to cross to reach their dreams of becoming a professional football player. Many have heard the success stories of the undrafted such as Kurt Warner, Tony Romo, Dick ”Night Train” Lane, Antonio Gates, and so many more.

Maybe the next success story that is only just getting started is Greg Dortch, a player that has experienced trials and tribulations of going undrafted but, with his patience and hard work, has become a rising talent on the Arizona Cardinals’ roster.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 09 Wake Forest at Boston College Photo by Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Prior to playing in the NFL, Dortch attended the University of Wake Forest for three years. He was doubted due to his size (5’7’’ 173lbs) but was a playmaker nonetheless. Dortch was redshirted his freshman year (2016) before breaking out on the football field with 722 receiving yards and nine touchdowns in 2017 followed by 89 receptions for 1,098 receiving yards and eight touchdowns the next year.

And his Wake Forest accomplishments on his profile is astonishing:

“Tied school record with two punt returns for touchdown in win over Towson (Sept. 8) . . . That also tied ACC record for PR TDs in a game . . . Set school record with four consecutive 200-yard all-purpose games (final 2 of 2017, first 2 of 2018) . . . Averaged school record 152.0 all-purpose yards per game for his career with 3,040 AP yards in 20 games . . . Owns school record for TD receptions with 4 twice, vs. Louisville in 2017 and Rice in 2018 . . . Holds school career record for touchdowns per game at 0.95 . . . Set new marks for fewest games needed to get to 100 career receptions (14) and fewest games to get to 1,000 career receiving yards (11).”

NFL: JUL 29 Jets Training Camp Photo by John Jones/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Dortch began his NFL journey with the New York Jets in 2019. He did the best that he could in his limited opportunities during the preseason and even caught a touchdown pass but it was not enough to earn a 53-man roster spot. He was signed to their practice squad after roster cutdowns.

Later that year, he was signed off the Jets’ practice squad to the Carolina Panthers’ active roster to be a return specialist. On November 3, Dortch made his regular season debut against the Tennessee Titans where he returned a pair of kicks and punts in a 30-20 victory. On December 8 in his second career NFL game, it was a devastating one as he returned three kickoffs with one crucial fumble lost that ultimately ended his tenure there four days later.

For the remainder of 2019, he was on the Los Angeles Rams’ practice squad and spent the end of the 2020 season on the Falcons’ practice squad. After being in and out of four different team’s practice squad in his first two years in the NFL, it really seemed as though his chances of making another 53-man roster was fading away. Anyone in his position could have given up but he kept chasing his dreams.

Carolina Panthers v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

When his time in Atlanta ended, the Cardinals came calling and the decision to sign with Arizona was the one of the best decisions of Dortch’s football career. He proceeded to play five games in 2021, made his first two career starts, and showed flashes of his playmaking ability with a 24-yard carry in Week 17 against the Dallas Cowboys.

By the time the 2022 offseason came around, the one player on the Cardinals’ roster that kept getting rave reviews from coaches and the media was Greg Dortch with his impressive showings during OTAs and training camp.

His success during practices translated into the preseason, as he finished with 14 catches, 164 receiving yards, and one touchdown. Dortch made a Week one 53-man roster for the first time in his NFL career and stayed on their active roster permanently last season.

Dortch finished the 2022 season with career highs in catches (52), receiving yards (467), and hauling in the his first career NFL touchdowns (2) as he was one of the more dominant slot receivers that year. His consistency as a playmaker had fans giving him the nickname of “The Human Torch” and “Dortch the Torch”. He was the third-leading wide receiver on the team in receiving yards behind DeAndre Hopkins (717) and Marquise “Hollywood” Brown (709).

With the Cardinals’ previous coaching staff, they struggled to find a way to have both Dortch and Rondale Moore on the football field. One could only imagine the greater statistical success Dortch would have had if he was not limited to less than 10 percent of the offensive snaps in six out of the 16 games he played last season. His success story with the Arizona Cardinals is only just beginning after re-signing on an exclusive rights free agent contract in March.

Last but not least, Happy 25th Birthday Greg Dortch! Wishing him the very best in the upcoming football season.

Arizona Cardinals v Las Vegas Raiders Photo by Michael Owens/Getty Images