Beyond the natural connection with the Miami Dolphins’ first-round draft pick at quarterback, undrafted free agent wide receiver Jeff Fuller has a solid NFL pedigree.
Sure, he caught passes from Ryan Tannehill at Texas A&M, but the reason he was an Aggie to being with is because that’s where his father, Jeff Fuller, starred as a defensive back. The elder Fuller went on to team up with Hall-of-Famer Ronnie Lott on the San Francisco 49ers to form one of the hardest-hitting safety duos in the league from 1984-89.
Unfortunately, a spinal injury suffered in 1989 during a violent collision with New England Patriots fullback John Stephens ended Fuller’s career prematurely. He still suffers from partial paralysis in his right arm and elbow but has become his son’s biggest cheerleader.
“My whole family supports me but for sure he is one of my biggest cheerleaders,” said Fuller, who was happy to be reunited with Tannehill at last week’s rookie mini-camp. “They all have my back 100 percent. The draft didn’t work out the way we expected or the way we wanted but they still stay by my side and have my back and give me words of encouragement every day.”
One benefit of being the son of a former NFL player, specifically one that was a part of three Super Bowl wins in San Francisco, is the company the younger Fuller got to keep. In addition to Lott, one of his father’s closest friends was Hall-of-Fame wide receiver Jerry Rice.
By the time Fuller reached college he was able to incorporate Rice’s work ethic and some of the technical things he did well into his own game. Those tools were on display in 2010 during his junior year when Fuller caught 72 passes for 1,066 yards and 12 touchdowns, leading some to suggest he declare for the draft at that time.
But Fuller chose to return for his senior year and a drop in numbers related to an early season hamstring injury coupled with a stress fracture to his foot at the Senior Bowl that kept him out of the NFL Scouting Combine may have hurt his draft stock. Tannehill has a different outlook for his favorite target in college.
“I think he has all the tools,” Tannehill said. “Obviously, you look at him he’s 6-4, 220. Great size, good speed, able to use his body to block off DBs and he has the hands to go make plays. It’s just a matter of going out, getting a firm grip on the offense and standing out.”
Fuller has always set the bar high for himself and it’s been a lifelong dream of his to follow in his father’s footsteps and play in the NFL. In order to help him reach that goal, he made sure to watch the best receivers in the game both past and present.
Dolphins Head Coach Joe Philbin considers Fuller a “fantastic target” due to his size and he’s had successful receivers of similar size when he was with the Green Bay Packers. So to hear some of the names Fuller rattled off as receivers he tries to emulate should only help him endear himself more to Philbin and the coaching staff.
“Growing up I was always watching Jerry Rice because he was probably the greatest technician to ever play the game,” said Fuller, who finished his career at A&M with 233 receptions for 3,092 yards and 34 touchdowns. “Even threw college I watched Calvin Johnson and worked with Larry Fitzgerald this past summer. There are so many receivers that you can learn so much from and I try to pick parts of everybody’s game and steal a little bit from everybody.”
Even though he had some incredible access to Rice, Fuller admitted that he has not taken full advantage of that opportunity but he plans on getting with him to get some more help with his game. His family moved to Dallas when Fuller was in middle school and he didn’t start playing football until his freshman year of high school.
Fuller’s father already was out of football when he was born on April 20th, 1990, so all he knew about his father’s prowess on the football field he learned from stories told by family friends and looking at old highlight reels. There was one important lesson he learned from his father’s experience and he holds it close to his heart to this day.
“He just told me that nothing ever comes easy,” Fuller said before the 2012 NFL Draft. “I’m just looking forward to getting out there and competing and being on a team.”