Former college lacrosse star Jared Bernhardt has only been a football wide receiver since May, but he showed enough this summer to make the Atlanta Falcons' initial 53-man roster.
The 6-foot-1 athlete beat out a host of better-known wideouts to make the Falcons' roster ahead of the season after an impressive preseason campaign.
"You look at the background, you look at the pedigree, you look at all these different things and then you take a chance on him," wide receivers coach T.J. Yates said, via the team's official website. "And then you throw him in OTAs and he's doing OK, and as soon as we got to training camp, he just took off."
Bernhardt's route to the NFL has been unique.
The 24-year-old was a star lacrosse player at Maryland, taking home the Tewaaraton Award as the nation's best collegiate lax player in 2021. Bernhardt then moved to Ferris State as a grad transfer to try his hand at football, where he played quarterback, leading the Bulldogs to a Division II national title.
NFL teams viewed Bernhardt as a receiver/returner. After going undrafted, he landed with the receiver-needy Falcons, where he's turned heads.
"From where he started in the short amount of time is close to remarkable," Yates said. "He has the ability to take a coaching point and immediately apply it like right away and do exactly what he is asked to do."
Bernhardt is a good athlete, and his lacrosse background enables him to play in tight quarters. The wideout showed great rapport with rookie QB Desmond Ridder during preseason action, snagging the game-winning touchdown in the first preseason game against the Detroit Lions. He then led the Falcons with 67 yards on three catches against the New York Jets.
Bernhardt did enough that the Falcons didn't think they could sneak him through waivers during initial cuts, keeping the rookie as one of six wideouts along with first-rounder Drake London, Olamide Zaccheaus, Bryan Edwards, KhaDarel Hodge and Damiere Byrd.
"You saw the constant improvement and the ability to trust him," said head coach Arthur Smith. "I think he deserves a shot right now."
With all undrafted rookies, there is always a chance Bernhardt could get squeezed off the roster at some point if the Falcons need to add players at other positions. But for a former lacrosse player-turned-quarterback-turned-receiver to make the initial roster is a testament to his ability and quick study. Now, he'll have to continue to prove he deserves that shot.
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