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How former Washington State receiver River Cracraft keeps beating odds and helping the Miami Dolphins

Miami Dolphins wide receiver River Cracraft reacts after scoring a touchdown against the Los Angeles Chargers during a Sept. 10 game at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, California.  (Tribune News Service)
By Barry Jackson Tribune News Service

Miami Dolphins receiver River Cracraft didn’t touch the ball a single time against the New York Jets last week.

But his fingerprints were all over the game-sealing touchdown; his second-level block took out two Jets defenders and opened a hole that Raheem Mostert eyeballed and danced through for a 34-yard run that pushed Miami’s lead to 34-13 with less than 4 minutes left. Excluding one Tua Tagovailoa pass intended for Braxton Berrios (which was intercepted), no pass was thrown to a Miami receiver not named Tyreek Hill or Jaylen Waddle in that Jets game.

Such is life for Dolphins receivers when you’re playing with an NFL All-Pro (Hill) and a player (Waddle) who led the league in yards per reception last season.

But the perks to being backups to Hill and Waddle also have become clear: You’re not going to draw double-teams and you’re going to play in a dynamic, creative offense for a winning team in an appealing destination city.

Cracraft (Washington State) keeps beating the odds and seizing on his opportunities by blocking with verve and rarely malfunctioning on an assignment.

Even before he was cut four times by Denver, once by Philadelphia and once by San Francisco, Cracraft knew early that he would need to do something to make coaches take notice. That meant running every route as precisely as coaches demanded, excelling as a blocker and gaining trust.

“For the majority of receivers in my position, who can understand we don’t have maybe the same skill sets as a Tyreek or Waddle; you have to find your way on the field,” Cracraft said.

“Most people in my position were kind of the guy in college and you get to the league and you’re not the guy all of a sudden. It takes an adjustment. It takes figuring out where do I fit in.”

At 6-0 and 198 pounds, “me not being the biggest guy ever isn’t exactly fit for a blocking role,” Cracraft said. “But I’ve seen so many guys do it at a successful level. I’ve watched people do it right; I’ve watched people do it wrong.

“I was like, ‘Hey, there’s a window.’ If I want to get on the field, I know I’m not doing some things that some other people are doing. But I know I am picking up some slack in some other areas that guys don’t want to do.”

Cracraft diligently studied how Rams receivers Cooper Kupp (Eastern Washington) blocks, and worked to perfect that craft.

In a welcomed change, Cracraft hasn’t been waived in 15 months, since Miami cut him in late August 2022 before bringing him back quickly.

“It hasn’t always been the easiest road,” he said.

He mentioned something that “I think about all the time” that his brother Sky – his former WSU teammate and now a high school defensive coordinator in Idaho – “said to me when I went undrafted” out of WSU in 2017.

“He said: ‘You decide when you’re done playing ball.’ That really stuck with me because the reality is there are other leagues.”

Cracraft wondered if the Dolphins would bring him back from injured reserve this season after a shoulder issue sidelined him six games. Teams can bring no more than eight players off IR, and Cracraft and De’Von Achane were the fifth and sixth who were designated to return. Running back Chris Brooks subsequently became the seventh.

“It crossed my mind early in the process,” Cracraft said. “I’m an overthinker, but (coaches) Wes (Welker) and Mike (McDaniel) have done a great job of calming me down the last few weeks and letting me know things were on pace and things will work themselves out.”

Cracraft – who has six catches (all for first downs) in eight targets for 87 yards and a touchdown in five games this season – said “something I bring to the table is understanding the game and understanding what we’re trying to get done. It’s a product of being in the offense so many years. It’s something I’m super grateful for, with my time in San Francisco and here. You just have to know where you fit in.”

McDaniel appreciates Cracraft’s resilience and diligence.

“He’s been cut multiple times and he’s made that part of who he is,” McDaniel said. “There’s no detail left unnoticed in regards to how he prepares. When you put your best foot forward for an extended amount of time, karma has an interesting way of working itself out …

“I didn’t take votes, but I don’t think you guys (reporters) voted that he was, in 2022, going to make the team. … When you have a collection of people like River, it gives you” something important.

“I’m fired up for him,” McDaniel said. “He’s definitely earned it.”