256 rookies heard their names called last April during the NFL Draft. They had found new homes on new teams, but for countless other young players, the fight was just beginning.
For the past 21 years, the Chargers have had at least one undrafted rookie make it onto the regular-season 53-man roster. This year, the Bolts' agreed to terms with 21 undrafted rookies, and now with training camp complete and initial rosters established, three have made it to the 53-man.
One of those three, wide receiver J.J. Jones, was shocked to realize he's finally reaching his dreams. The wide receiver never doubted his ability, but he knew the odds were stacked against him.
"I didn't have words," Jones said. "It was a blessing coming from giving great effort and the coaches seeing my talent. They gave me a chance. I was told one percent make it, and God gave me the opportunity to be one of the one percent. I'm so thankful."
The 5-10, 173-pound rookie out of West Georgia caught Head Coach Anthony Lynn's eye when he returned a punt during the second preseason game for a 72-yard touchdown. Lynn said Jones' biggest strength is his speed.
"We've tried to upgrade the speed on this football team, and he brought that speed element and points," Lynn said. "We need to score points, from everybody, not just offense. We need points from everybody."
For an undrafted rookie, it's a longshot to make it onto a team, but sometimes, those players turn out to be legends. One of the most iconic undrafted rookies ever is Antonio Gates, who just signed on for his 16th season with the team. Gates is the franchise leader in receptions (927) and receiving yards (11,508). His 114 touchdown receptions are the most of any tight end in league history…and he was once just like Jones – undrafted.
Jones has been looking up to veterans of the team all through training camp, explaining how they've helped him improve his game.
"Travis (Benjamin), Keenan (Allen), Tyrell (Williams); all the guys are great guys to be around," Jones remarked. "(They're showing me) how to be a pro, how to take care of my body and how to become the best receiver I can possibly become."
Now, with the first game of the season on Sunday, Jones is preparing for the real deal.
"Trying to get the jitters out…(it's) my first game as a real NFL player," Jones said. "Preseason is live action but it's not like the real game, so just trying to take it one day at a time."
Presenting your 2018 Los Angeles Chargers.