In my previous post I diagnosed how the Cowboys, who are up against the salary cap and with only six picks in the 2013 draft, could turn to some of the Canadian Football League's top stars to bolster this team's depth along the offensive line and secondary. Now we look at the more tried and true method for this franchise to find talent without big ticket free agency or high draft picks -- the undrafted free agent ranks, where came (most famously) Tony Romo, Miles Austin...and more recently Barry Church.
In fact one could make the argument in the age of a flat salary cap and widespread parity across the league that the Cowboys' reputation for developing UDFAs into starters is one of the few advantages the Dallas front office has in the eternal war for talent. Thanks to Jason Garrett UDFAs coming out of college know they have a legit chance to start if they can beat out an incumbent starter or if someone gets hurt in Dallas' training camp -- much more so than with other franchises that might prefer to sign an over-the-hill-veteran off his couch at any position. This pattern of scooping up some of the top undrafted talent every April is the closest thing Jason Garrett does to what Tom Landry used to do in finding quality starters from small schools in the NFL's 11th or 12th rounds back when the draft used to go that long.
In looking at some of the players Dallas could have in mind for April's post draft signing period I've considered the positions a FanPost four days ago suggests this team's scouts could be 'digging deep' for -- cornerback, safety and wide receiver -- while also weighing positions that seem less urgently in need of depth like quarterback. The beauty of this approach is that it won't make me look like a complete fool in trying to prognosticate how the draft board will look before February Combine in Indianapolis. Plus there will be loads of underclassmen declaring at positions that could push key prospects to when Dallas is projected to pick in the early 20s (for example I've heard one BTBer say Bama's Jesse Williams as our 1st round pick at NT would be a bust). I have basically given up on assembling my big board until at least after the Super Bowl when we'll know whether guys like pass rushers Demontre Moore and Bjoern Werner and junior OTs like Jake Matthews and Taylor Lewan want to turn pro in 2013.
So with that lengthy intro done, let's look at some players I've had my eye on as possible targets for the Cowboys in undrafted free agency:
3-4DE Caraun Reid 6"2 305 4.83 (estimated by NFLDraftScout.com) Princeton
Reid is a Bronx, NY native who's projected to either go in the 7th round or slip into the UDFA ranks because he played Ivy League football. That being said, eight sacks from an interior defensive lineman is impressive at any level. If Princeton alum Jason Garrett hasn't heard about Reid yet you can bet he will this offseason before the draft ...and so will scouts for the Philadelphia Eagles and other East Coast teams.
Can Reid rush the passer as an undersized nose tackle in the pros like our old friend Jay Ratliff? I don't know, but I do think given his Ivy League smarts combined with plenty of hustle could put him on an NFL roster or practice squad in 2013.
3-4NT Cody Larsen 6"4 300 S. Utah
Larsen played basketball in high school and would bring some athleticism to the 3-4DE spot after getting six and a half sacks this year, earning recognition as an AP FCS All-American. Larsen also recorded an interception and a blocked kick as a junior in 2011. Larson has played the nose tackle position in college which combined with his taller frame might allow him to bulk up to play Nose Tackle in the pros either in a 3-4 or 4-3 system. In many respects he reminds me of Sean Lissemore, but without the surprising speed for a man of his size (the 300-pound Lissemore clocked a pretty good sub-five second 40 time prior to the 2010 draft). Nonetheless with Larsen's proven burst over short distances he might be a good UDFA pickup for Dallas.
Like many Mormons the business management major did a two year mission before getting his degree so he would come into training camp as a more mature player with a decent shot of nabbing a practice squad spot thanks to his athletic history and ability to play the nose.
3-4 OLB Caleb Shreibeis 6"3 253 Montana State
Twelve and a half sacks even at the FCS level is noteworthy. Shreibeis has done that and more while receiving the Buck Buchanan Award as the top overall defensive player in the Football Championship Series and All-American honors from the Associated Press this season. If the Cowboys could make Montana's Caleb McSurdy a 7th round pick in 2012 the Treasure State could produce another player for the Boys in 2013. However even if he goes undrafted Shreibeis is likely to see multiple teams bidding for his services as a UDFA in April. Thus the Cowboys may find another team outbidding them. In particular, the Dolphins and Jets could both use a younger/cheaper outside backer/pass rusher to get after opposing QBs than what they currently have on their rosters.
3-4 SOLB Armonty Bryant 6"4 254 E. Central Oklahoma
A Wichita Falls native who could probably get a look on Dallas Day simply because he's less than an hour and a half drive from Valley Ranch, Bryant has had some success at a very small college level of competition, notching 13 1/2 sacks in 2010. Bryant represents a very long shot to make the practice squad much less the roster. But with that said, in many ways he reminds me of former Cowboys practice squad player Aston Whiteside out of Abilene Christian. Whiteside is currently listed as a 6"2 285 DE/OLB on the Chicago Bears roster after the team claimed him off the Cowboys' preseason cuts in 2012.
In other words, Bryant might have more raw talent than Whiteside, a guy who couldn't make the Cowboys but apparently is good enough for a roster spot here in Chicago. And that may be enough for him to claim the practice squad pass rusher spot once held by the late OLB Jerry Brown (very poignant that the Cowboys keep his player profile up after the tragic drunken driving crash that claimed Brown's life).
3-4 ILB Nate Palmer 6"3 240 Illinois State
This Chicago native led the Missouri Valley Football Conference with 9 1/2 sacks in 2011 as a redshirt junior. According to his Redbirds profile as a high school athlete he caught 10 passes for 250 yards and a touchdown on offense so he might have decent hands to pick off the football as a linebacker. If he runs a 40 time faster than his NFL Draft Scout estimate at his pro day he could demonstrate the speed to shift inside in a 3-4 while still having the ability to ability to A-gap blitz that Rob Ryan loves to see in his reserve linebackers. Palmer would be a guy to bring in and push Alex Albright for the 'swing linebacker' job in the Cowboys D. This Nate Palmer from Illinois is not be confused with former Northern Illinois turned Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Nate Palmer.
The Cowboys have drafted one player out of Wake Forest in recent years -- OLB Kyle Wilber --and Okoro's the type of player they could bring in to develop as the 5th corner on the roster, either with the team's 6th round pick or as a highly touted UDFA. At 6"1 Okoro would be capable of playing some zone safety and has a history of returning kicks at the collegiate level to go with 4.4 speed. Okoro would be a great UDFA signing to compete with 2012 practice squad signee Micah Pellerin in training camp for the 4th or 5th cornerback job.
The main reason Okoro could go undrafted despite being a former ACC All-Freshman team member is a lack of big plays his senior year -- though in his junior year he did have a game-clinching interception against Duke, a pick against North Carolina State, and a fumble recovery in the 2011 Music City Bowl versus Mississippi State. Okoro is currently ranked 27th on Walter Football.com's list of 2013 NFL Draft prospects at cornerback.
CB Demetris McCray 6"0 185 Jackson State
This Georgia native played in FCS Southern conference, where the right cornerback had five interceptions (on 14 passes defended) as a junior. Although he's a long shot as he did not play against the level of competition that Okoro faced, McCray is probably going to have several NFL teams interested in bringing him into training camp if he doesn't sign with a Canadian Football League team this February.
FS Vaughn Telemaque 6"2 205 Miami
"Telemaque, who has 183 tackles, five fumble recoveries, four interceptions and 13 pass breakups in his (five year) college career, hasn't exactly piqued the interest of too many NFL Scouts. Despite being tabbed as a strong tackler, NFLDraftScout.com lists him as the 23rd best safety in the Class of 2013, a player likely to go undrafted." As this article from the Miami Herald reports (with a cool photo of Telamaque laying the wood on future Dallas Cowboy Danny Coale) Telamaque was penciled in to start alongside Ray Ray Armstrong for the Hurricanes in 2011, but lost his starting job to a left knee injury and couldn't regain it from redshirt junior A.J. Highsmith. Still the Canes are not known for lacking talent despite their poor play in recent years and Telemaque would be worth bringing in to compete in training camp.
Nonetheless, with some coaching from Jerome Henderson,Telemaque could join Barry Church as a player who overcomes a perceived lack of speed to develop into a good player.
Out of this group, the player with the best chance to nab a roster spot would likely be Okoro, followed by Larsen and Reid. The rest look like practice squad material.
This first edition of 'A Few Good UDFAs' obviously tilted towards defensive players. In the next iteration I'll take a look at UDFA prospects on the offensive side of the ball, particularly offfensive linemen who could push for backup roles.