Tyree Kinnel knew there was a good chance he might not get drafted to the NFL last month, but when the final round concluded his disappointment quickly turned to hope.
The Wayne High School graduate and former University of Michigan safety got three or four calls almost immediately from teams interested in signing him as an undrafted college free agent. The Cincinnati Bengals – just 50 minutes south of his hometown – were one of them, and the two parties quickly struck a deal.
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On Friday, Kinnel stepped onto the field in an NFL helmet and uniform for the first time, wearing the No. 43, as the Bengals began their two-day rookie minicamp, which concluded Saturday.
“I was hoping to get drafted obviously, but unfortunately that didn’t happen so I just had to stay positive,” Kinnel said. “I had about three or four calls so it was a relief. I just felt like this was the best opportunity and the best chance for me. We made a deal pretty early and I felt comfortable here. I felt like it was a great spot for me, a great opportunity to achieve and I went with it, and I’m glad I’m a Bengal.”
Kinnel said he grew up just a general fan of the NFL, not feeling tied to any particular team, but the Bengals were the closest to home for him in Huber Heights, so he did attend some games at Paul Brown Stadium.
Coming back as a player was almost surreal. He admitted he probably would have been happy to be anywhere in the NFL, just so long as it was an opportunity. Kinnel was fortunate he had a little more say as an undrafted college free agent.
“I’m just glad to be here,” Kinnel said. “It feels good. It’s really close to home, about 50 minutes away so I’m excited to be close to my family and friends and compete at a high level and try to make the team.”
The 5-foot-11, 207-pound safety didn’t get an invite to the NFL Combine, so he knew his situation going into the draft was far from certain, but different projections and his agent indicated he could possibly go on Day 3, anywhere in or after the fifth round.
Despite not getting to see his name called during the draft, Kinnel still believes he can make it in the NFL. A two-time All-Big Ten honorable mention selection in 2017 and 2018, he started all 13 games last fall and recorded 74 tackles with three for loss and two pass breakups. In high school, Kinnel was a four-star prospect and considered the No. 10 safety nationally and No. 1 safety in Ohio, according to Scout.com.
Kinnelis hoping to make the most of his opportunities the next few weeks. The Bengals will integrate rookies in with the veterans for the first time Monday.
“I know it’s an achievable goal,” Kinnel said. “I know it can happen. I’ve been putting myself in a situation to make that happen for myself so I am going to come here every day and compete.”
The Bengals only drafted one defensive back this year, cornerback Deshaun Davis in the seventh round, and they’ve turned some undrafted college free agents into successful contributors in the past – though for the last 16 years that was under Marvin Lewis’ watch.
Kinnel said walking into a situation where everyone is new in the start of the Zac Taylor coaching era gives him a better chance to show what he can do. Taylor said the chance to find some “underdogs” out of the undrafted guys is exciting for any coach.
“There’s plenty of guys that are here that maybe we had draftable grades on,” Taylor said in a press conference Friday after the first practice. “We’re excited, because you don’t get a chance to draft them, and then no one else does, and you bring them into the camp and you feel you might have something there. We’ll continue to evaluate these guys the next two days and see what we’ve got with some of those guys that weren’t drafted.”
Kinnel said he hopes to show he’s an overall player and a “team-oriented guy” who can learn quickly.
The former Wolverines captain came into the first day feeling prepared and was more anxious and excited than nervous. He said he has always considered his ability to execute a playbook has always been a strength, and that’s something he believes will help him during offseason workouts with the Bengals.
“I picked everything up pretty fast,” Kinnel said. “That was a strength of mine at Michigan to be a leader in the back end and know the plays and know where everyone has to be lined up so I feel like I excel in that, knowing the playbook really well and know where to be.
“I felt like I was prepared. I got the first practice under my belt and I’m just ready to keep going forward.”
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