You probably noticed Dallis Flowers' kick returns in Week 15 against the Minnesota Vikings. The Colts' undrafted rookie from Pittsburg State scythed for 48 and 49 yards on a pair of returns, and he finished Saturday's game with 175 return yards – the second-most by any player this season.
But what you may not have noticed were the 24 snaps Flowers played at cornerback, his first as a pro in a regular season game. That's because the Vikings never threw his way – even with Flowers matched up in press man-to-man coverage against Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen on multiple snaps.
Conventional wisdom would say the Vikings would've picked on Flowers with the most dynamic receiver in the NFL (Jefferson) and a nine-year veteran with over 6,500 yards and 54 touchdowns in his career (Thielen). But Flowers more than held his own, whether he was playing zone coverage or defending Jefferson or Thielen one-on-one.
"I came into the game locked in, focused and ready for those opportunities," Flowers said. "Justin Jefferson is one of the best receivers in the game, Adam Thielen in his career is one of the best receivers in the game. So coming into the game, I'm like, I can't do nothing wrong — in other people's eyes, I'm supposed to lose again them. That gave me that chip much more to go out there and ball and showcase my skills. After the game, I want people to be like, oh, 33 is a pretty good player. Where did he come from?"
Where Flowers came from is a fascinating story. He's from the west side of Chicago and has been a dual-sport standout in basketball and football from his days at Oak Park-River Forest High School in Oak Park, Ill. He spent time at four colleges – Robert Morris (Ill.), Tiffin, Grand View and Pittsburg State – splitting time against NAIA and Division II competition. And while his top-level speed, vision and return skills all showed up on tape across those stops, pro scouts were pessimistic.
Their message: "Your film is good, you're a good player," Flowers recalled, "but I don't really know how good you are for real because you're going against future teachers."
The Colts, though, were intrigued by Flowers' talent and signed him as an undrafted free agent in the spring. The odds were stacked against him: He was one of 22 undrafted free agents the Colts signed in May, and he faced an uphill battle in the offseason and training camp to just earn a spot on the practice squad, let alone active roster.
But Flowers, fueled to prove anyone who viewed him as an afterthought wrong, flashed at cornerback during training camp practices and ripped off a 53-yard kickoff return in the Colts' final preseason game. He earned a spot on the 53-man roster in late August, made his NFL debut in the Colts' Week 5 game against the Denver Broncos and returned his first pro kickoff in Week 12 on Monday Night Football – which he took 89 yards to open the second half against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
"He's a stud," safety Julian Blackmon said. "We all knew that his time was coming. We all tell him, he's got all the ability, but just be there and be ready. And he has. That just shows his mental and the kind of character that he has as a player."
And a few weeks later, Flowers was at cornerback singled up on Jefferson and Thielen – and not getting picked on by Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins. Flowers got the opportunity with the Colts down a pair of cornerbacks – Kenny Moore II was out with an ankle injury and Brandon Facyson was out with an illness.
Flowers played sound, physical coverage on the back side of two plays against both an inside and outside release by Thielen. And he lined up in press coverage a few times against Jefferson – both outside and in the slot – including on a fourth-and-15 where plenty folks watching the game would've figured the ball would go Jefferson's way regardless of who was defending him.
But the ball never went Flowers' way, although he said wished it did so he could've showcased even more of his skills.
Still – not bad for a guy who was guarding future teachers a year ago.
"Coming into this, I wasn't even supposed to be here," Flowers said. "You know what I'm saying? Coming from an NAIA or Division II school, I wasn't supposed to be here.
"But I knew I was good enough to be here."