JACKSONVILLE, Fla. --- The NFL is full of longshots, underdogs and overlooked talents.
Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver Rasheed Bailey fits into all three categories, but in order to make it on the field on Sundays, he can't dwell on the overwhelming odds he faces.
A product of a Division III program, Bailey has been forced to fight and claw his way into the big leagues. The Delaware Valley University alum dealt with his share of early-career adversity, but has gathered a rather large cult fan following at the start of his NFL journey.
Armed with a positive attitude and impressive football skills, the Philadelphia native has made a mark with his hometown fanbase after receiving his first shot in the league with the team he grew up admiring.
After a local pro day workout turned some heads in the front office, the Philadelphia Eagles moved quickly to secure Bailey following the NFL Draft. His status as an undrafted free agent was always going to be something tough to overcome, but being in his backyard doing so made a lot of sense to the then-rookie.
“I had opportunities to go other places but I felt like the Eagles were the best fit for me because I had a local day with them, they’d seen me a lot and I had a relationship with [then-offensive coordinator] Pat Shurmur,” Bailey said. “I got there and things started building up.”
Bailey gained the appreciation of the fanbase quickly, as his story of local (yet minor) triumphs made waves in the media. While he started out as a local darling, Bailey's work on the field earned the respect of his peers and his audience.
"At first I was just a local kid,” said Bailey. “I was just a kid they were giving a shot and that shot turned out to be something different. I started to get a grasp of everything and things started evolving.”
As his offseason profile grew, his interactions with the top of the coaching staff increased. Bailey looks back on his time with then-Eagles head coach Chip Kelly with respect and gratitude.
He remembers being dogged by Kelly during practice, even in the early stages of the offseason program.
“It was like a test to see if I could handle this NFL lifestyle,” said Bailey. “He was on me for a week straight. He said some things to me and he pushed me. After that week, I got better and I learned and I took all of those good things from what he was trying to push out of me and good things came out of it.”
Despite the attention given to him by Kelly, Bailey failed to make the team's initial 53-man roster.
He had produced 10 catches for 100 receiving yards and a touchdown in four preseason games, but Bailey was told he wasn't going to be a member of the squad following the final roster shakedown last September.
“It was sad, it hurt me,” Bailey said. “[But] I had to learn this business and learning it was good for me. I took some good things with me from when I left that building.”
Still not content with just playing on an offseason roster, Bailey set out to continue his NFL career. His first post-Eagles workout was with the Jaguars, but the team decided to go in another direction at the time.
Even after being turned away twice in short period of time, Bailey kept working on his craft during his time away from the league.
“It was me trying to get my mojo back, trying to get that edge back that I needed,” Bailey said.
During his hiatus, Bailey had workouts with the Kansas City Chiefs and Cleveland Browns. While he was happy with the tryouts, he was again told to look elsewhere for work.
“I killed those workouts,” Bailey said. “I thought one of those teams was going to sign me, but unfortunately, it was another one of those NFL growing pains and everyone goes through them.”
After having been turned away from four NFL teams, Bailey decided to take his professional football career elsewhere in October.
“I had to make a decision,” Bailey said. “Did I want to sit and wait or did I want to do something? That’s why I took the opportunity to be with the BC Lions on their practice squad.”
The deal allowed Bailey some wiggle room for an NFL return. While Bailey was catching passes in Canada, his agent was working the phones.
The move up north and his agent's persistence worked wonders with a quick turnaround.
“[My agent] called me maybe two weeks from that day [of the BC Lions signing] and he gave me the call that I was going to Jacksonville,” Bailey said.
On October 20, Bailey signed a deal to join the Jaguars' practice squad.
When Bailey joined the team, he was warned by his agent that could be a short trip. However, for Bailey, the opportunity was all he needed to find his spot in the NFL.
“I was excited to be somewhere and showcase [my skills]," said Bailey. "I took it and I ran with it every day. I worked hard and it paid off.”
Bailey spent the rest of the season learning the playbook, getting stronger and getting to know his teammates. As he had done with Jordan Matthews in Philadelphia, Bailey surrounded himself with the top wide receivers on the Jaguars roster when forming friendships and learning the offense.
His Jaguars teammates quickly accepted the small school product into their locker room. An outgoing and confident individual, Bailey brought an energy to the locker room, despite being new to the team.
“In anything in life, anything I try to do, I want to be who I am,” Bailey said. “I don’t try to force myself onto anybody, I try to just be myself. Once you’re yourself, people and coaches start gravitating towards you.”
Bailey received a degree in marketing from Delaware Valley and loves to talk. In fact, if he's in the locker room, it's hard to find silence.
“I love communicating, I love talking,” Bailey said.
That attribute has caught the eyes of those around him. Heading into his second season, Bailey has established himself with his teammates and coaches in Jacksonville.
On top of his familiarity with his team and coaching staff, his comfort with the playbook has grown immensely. He has also become more familiar with his surrounding, spending the offseason in Jacksonville, working out at EverBank Field regularly.
Having the familiar footing has served as a huge asset for Bailey following his whirlwind rookie season. He appreciates knowing where he'll be when the offseason begins and potentially when it ends.
“Last year was so much unknown,” Bailey said. “This year there’s so much known. I know what to expect, I know what I have to do to be better and know if I put myself in this locker room and be around the guys who are here and learn from them, I’m only going to put myself in a better position.”
Bailey hopes to make an NFL active roster in his second offseason. While he knows the odds are stacked against him, especially with the Jaguars' jam-packed wide receiver depth chart, Bailey plans to continue to fight his uphill battles with a smile on his face.
Follow Mike Kaye on Twitter at @Mike_E_Kaye.