Ellis (5-11, 195) replaced current Broncos safety Rafael Bush in the South Carolina State defensive backfield after the 2009 season. A two-time first-team All-MEAC selection, Ellis recorded 65 tackles and three interceptions for the Bulldogs last year.
Originally part of N.C. State’s 2008 signing class, Ellis played in all 13 of the Wolfpack’s games as a true freshman. He transferred to South Carolina State the following summer for personal reasons.
The Chiefs were one of several teams on hand for South Carolina State’s Pro Day on March 28th. Ellis ran a 4.50-second 40-yard dash time and put up 17 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press at the workout. His performance was enough to warrant an extra look.
Ellis was invited to tryout at the Chiefs rookie minicamp in May and was signed by the team shortly afterward.
Chiefs Nation Should Know:
Dominique Ellis knew he had to make a distinct first impression.
It’s already difficult enough for small school college players to make an NFL roster. Those that go undrafted and pass through the first wave of rookie free agency without a contract face even longer odds.
When Ellis joined Kansas City’s rookie minicamp on a tryout basis, he couldn’t afford to just blend in with the rest of the pack. He had to make a play. He had to find a way to get on the radar.
“I was basically just getting trialed, so I was just trying to catch the coaches attention anyway I could,” Ellis said. “They could’ve asked me to punt and I would have tried to be a punter.”
Ellis wasn’t asked to punt, but he was inserted into the rotation in the Chiefs defensive backfield and asked to play free safety. It was there that he made a big play - the only big play turned in by a defender during the two minicamp practices open to the media.
During the first full-team period of the weekend, Ellis picked off a pass from tryout quarterback David LeGree. Ellis raced down the right sideline and celebrated with teammates like a player who was already on the team.
“Actually it was a pretty easy pick,” Ellis recalled. “The corner funneled the receiver straight to me and he did his job, I did my job. Fortunately the quarterback misread it a little bit and it was able for me to make the interception.”
Ultimately, the interception might have been the play that earned Ellis a rookie contract. He left his two-day tryout with the Chiefs not sure what to expect, but felt like he’d performed well enough to at least warrant future consideration.
It turns out Ellis wouldn’t have to wait in limbo very long.
“I flew out of Kansas City, landed the next morning and they called me right back,” Ellis said. “It was half a day, they put me right back on the plane to come back. It wasn’t like a lot of guys leaving a tryout, because I didn’t have to wait long for an answer.
“I was prepared to sit and wait, thinking that it’s out of my control and I can only handle the things that I can control. I was just lucky enough to be one of the guys that they gave a call back to.”
Ellis still faces long odds to make the Chiefs roster as an undrafted player, but the minicamp performance extended his opportunity to work with Chiefs coaches and get on tape for 31 other teams.
But every year a few undrafted players are able to crack the Chiefs 53-man roster or eight-man practice squad. Some are the product of minicamp tryouts just like Ellis’.
Dantrell Savage is one of the most recent tryout success stories, playing in 13 games from 2008-09 after earning a contract at rookie minicamp in 2008. The former Oklahoma State running back served as the Chiefs primary kickoff returner as a rookie and also logged 25 carries for 98 yards over his career as a reserve running back.
The odds were stacked against Savage, both undersized and undrafted, but he made Kansas City’s 53-man roster out of training camp two consecutive years under two different head coaches.
“I was just trying to get a free agent contract and it worked out where they kept me,” Ellis said. “Now I’m trying to earn a spot.”