After looking at some of some of the top defensive players likely to slip into the UDFA ranks either because they played at small schools or have had subpar senior seasons, it's time to look at some intriguing "projects" and back-ups for the offense who'll likely be undrafted free agents in April:
QB Alex Carder 6"2 223 4.7 40 (by his own timing), Western Michigan
Alex Carder hails from the Mid-American Conference, where increasingly scouts say the talent is starting to catch up if not surpass the much more ballyhooed Big 10. The 23-year-old from Springfield, Missouri grew up a Chiefs fan. Carder brings intelligence, mobility and moxy to the quarterback position -- in many respects he reminds me of former Cowboy turned Miami Dolphin Matt Moore.
The main reason Carder's likely to go undrafted is due to two subpar seasons overall for the Western Michigan program, concluding with his head coach being fired this offseason. While Carder is a long shot to become a starter in the NFL (hey wasn't Tony Romo at one time?) I do think the Cowboys should bring him in for a pre-draft visit. Dallas might be able to get by with two quarterbacks on the active roster but history shows two starts by former Cowboys third string quarterback Stephen McGee in his four year career with the team. That alone suggests Carder or someone like him is needed for the 2013 practice squad.
QB Tim Jenkins 6"2 225 4.75 (school or self-timing), Fort Lewis College (D2 Rocky Mountain Conference)
Jenkins in many ways reminds me of Kansas City Chiefs rookie and former D3 phenom Alex Tanney, who was mentioned here at BTB back in August 2012. Like Tanney the Fort Lewis College (Durango, Colorado) star has put up some eye-popping numbers at a lower level of college football, and has also shown off some impressive athleticism that could allow him to escape the pocket in the pros if honed like Tony Romo's famous spin move.
If the Cowboys miss out on the more previously hyped Carder I would be happy to see them bring Jenkins into training camp as the prospective 3rd or 4th (Practice Squad) QB. Jenkins in my opinion is a player that like Tanney will find his way onto some NFL team's roster or practice squad. Frankly I think one of the reasons the notoriously QB desperate Chiefs have not given Tanney a shot this year is that they didn't want to throw him to the wolves too early in his career and are hoping he can at least become a solid backup when they've moved on from Brady Quinn and drafted Geno Smith.
RB Khiry Robinson 5"11 220, 4.52 (NFL Draft Scout Estimate), W. Texas A&M
The Temple-Belton native hasn't put up spectacular numbers at his level of competition but does have good speed for his size as a former track athlete and some ability to catch the ball out of the backfield. That may be enough with some polishing in training camp and preseason standout play to earn Robinson a slot on the practice squad once occupied by former UNT wide receiver turned fullback Jamize Olawale.
RB Travis Davidson, 5"11 200 4.46 (NFL Draft Scout estimate), Morgan State (Baltimore, MD)
First of all I haven't included an running backs in this list who don't have fairly good speed and hands. That eliminates some of the big but slower backs whether at the major college or small school level likely to slip into the UDFA ranks in April. While Davidson has not shown the productivity of a Lance Dunbar at his level he does bring good speed and return skills to the table and an injury at running back in preseason could open the door for him to sneak onto the roster or earn a practice squad spot.
WR Tyrone Goard 6"4 192 4.47 (NFL Draft Scout estimate), E. Kentucky
An Ohio Valley Conference star who has excelled if not dominated at his small school level of competition, Gourd is an intriguing prospect to come in and beat out Andre Holmes for the No. 4 "big outside" receiver role. He's listed as 6"4 on NFL.com's prospects page but is 6"3 in CBS Sports list of the top small school prospects in this draft. Goard would definitely need to build up his lower body and work on his blocking and route running to cut it in the pros. A very raw project who might develop into a special player given a full offseason and plenty of preseason reps in 2013 by 2014. It's worth recalling that Miles Austin took three seasons to break out although he may have been held back by both Bill Parcells and Wade Phillips not giving him more regular season playing time. Gourd could go anywhere from the 5th round to the UDFA ranks so I'm not sure he should be on this list.
WR Dominique Croom 6"1 193 4.54 (NFL Draft Scout estimate), C. Arkansas
Croom might not have made this list but for his 2010 appearance on the All-Southland Conference Academic team, which suggests he has the smarts to learn the slot role in the NFL. Croom is definitely a long shot even for a practice squad spot competing in an already crowded field of slot guys and/or mid-size receivers like Danny Coale (coming off a knee injury), Donovan Kemp (also IR'd with a knee problem in 2012) and of course, incumbent Kevin Ogletree for the 4th or 5th receiver job. But as the previous sentence strongly suggests, season-ending injuries do happen.
OC J.C. Tretter 6"4 300 Cornell
Like last year's preseason "star" at OT Jeff Adams (who is now on the Dolphins practice squad) Tretter shined at the Ivy League level. Unlike Adams however Tretter has a different body type and previously starred as a high school basketball player, graduating as Akron (NY) HS's all time leading scorer and rebounder. That hints he just might have the good hands to play center in the NFL as he certainly won't make it at tackle without putting on considerable weight.
Like former Cowboy Bill Nagy, Tretter also could have the versatility to play some Jumbo TE down on the goal line but with better hands to be a target for the tackle-eligible pass. Tretter is someone NFL teams in the Northeast in need of young players to groom at either center or guard (i.e. the Giants and Eagles) will take a look at....and maybe even have on their draft boards in the 7th round.
OG Joe Unga 6"6 320 Midwestern State
Unga started his career at Midwestern State as a backup to eventual Carolina Panthers second round pick Amini Silatolu. Like Silatolu Unga might project to move inside in the pros as a mauler at guard. Unga's cousin is Reno Mahe who earned All-Pro honors with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2005. He has several siblings playing top D-1 ball at different positions. If the Cowboys are looking for a big body to develop into an NFL caliber offensive lineman from the UDFA ranks -- starting up the road in Wichita Falls wouldn't be a bad idea. Given his family athletic history and coaching there's an outside chance Unga could actually get drafted in the final round if he shows good feet work at the Combine.
OT Rogers Gaine 6"7 320 Tennessee State
Gaine is a player like former Oklahoma State turned Northeastern State transfer Michael Bowie who will be in some NFL team's training camp. The Tennessee native earned All-Ohio Valley Conference honors as a redshirt senior and graded out well at his level of competition. But he'll have to show quick feet to make it even as a backup right tackle in the pros.
Out of this list I see either Carder or Jenkins earning a practice squad spot and at least one -- maybe Gourd or Robinson -- earning a surprise roster spot after showing up with some big plays in preseason. I didn't include any tight ends on this list as I currently see Dallas trying to address the position in the mid-rounds of the draft and possibly developing late season pickup Andrew Smith (link correct?) into John Phillips replacement at the blocking/special teams TE position this offseason. Certainly though we're likely to see at least one small school tight end shine at the Combine this February, which isn't so far off anymore!|
Click here to read the first part of this series, "A Few Good UDFAs - Depth for the D".