The NFL Draft is over. UDFA season has begun.
There's something I like about undrafted free agents. They chose to be Cowboys - or, rather, to have a chance to become Cowboys. Draft picks, no matter what they say, might not always want to go to the team that signs them. And that's understandable.
How would you feel, as a Cowboys fan, if you were, say, an accomplished slot receiver? The Cowboys, with a need at third receiver, are next up, and the Patriots, with Wes Welker firmly entrenched in the slot, are on the clock. You feel like you're minutes from becoming a Cowboy. They trade the pick to the Eagles, who, for whatever reason, draft you. How happy would you be?
I know, it's an extreme scenario, and you'd likely be happy for the paycheck no matter where it came from. For UDFAs, though, who don't receive significantly less money than seventh-round picks, perhaps the ability to choose who to play for has some value.
I'm happy to say that some premier athletes have made that decision, and signed with the Cowboys. As there's very little information available on these guys, I've scoured the internet to find any sort of information on these guys.
Five guys stood out to me.
What I found after the jump...
First, Wide Receiver Donavon Kemp from UTEP.
At 6'1" and 194 pounds, he's got the body to play inside or out for the Cowboys. When you look at his pro day numbers, though, he really looks like an outside receiver. 4.4 second 40-yard dash, 37.5" vertical, and an 11'2" broad jump. This is a truly explosive receiver with good height and great vertical. His broad jump is in the elite range.
Here's Kemp on film:
When you watch him, you might be disappointed to see that none of his routes are all that crisp. In fact, a number of his plays were made by simply flowing to an open area and waiting for the ball (then again, if you watched Laurent Robinson for us last year, that's essentially what made him so productive for us).
Once he gets the ball, however, he has an explosive first step and eats up yardage quickly. In traffic, he sometimes gets into trouble. His measured agility is very average for an NFL receiver, but, in college, he would often use jukes to get around defenders. In the NFL, those tricks won't work. Thankfully, he has the explosiveness to compete at the highest level, and has two of the best in Miles Austin and Dez Bryant to learn from.
Another area in which Kemp stood out was special teams. In the video, you see him blocking for returns, and returning. He really stands out as a blocker. He was all too willing to put his shoulder into coverage personnel and lay them out. He almost seemed to enjoy it more than catching the ball.
All-in-all, Kemp has the measurables to become a real force on the outside for the Cowboys, even if only in spot duty. His straight-line burst is exceptional. He should be as effective as Sam Hurd was on special teams (and much faster). Look for Kemp to seriously threaten for a roster spot. He was an excellent pickup as a priority UDFA.
Next, Running Back Lance Dunbar, North Texas.
At 5'8" tall, 205 pounds, the short, stout Dunbar is built for success as an NFL back. As a general rule in football, height and longevity have a negative correlation for running backs, as the lower man wins the collisions, saving his body. His short stature is also a benefit in the passing game - when asked to stay in and protect, he can easily get under the pads of the blitzer and at the very least re-route him.
Two pro-day figures stood out with Dunbar. First was his straight-line speed. A 4.47 forty is good enough for the NFL. Perhaps more important is his impressive 6.87 second three-cone drill, indicative of some high-speed change of direction ability.
Dunbar is almost impossible to locate on the internet, but I managed to find one video of him in action, courtesy of a Hoosiers news outlet after their team couldn't stop him:
You probably noticed that he didn't exactly fill up the highlight reel. With the exception of the last clip, Dunbar was simply grinding it out, hitting gaps hard and twisting and fighting his way for extra yardage. In 2010, this style helped him to accumulate 1,553 rushing yards and 13 rushing touchdowns on 274 carries, for an efficiency of 5.7 yards per carry. Garrett also likes to utilize his backs as receivers out of the backfield. To acquit himself in this respect, Dunbar collected a respectable 332 yards and 3 touchdowns off of just 28 receptions, a fine 11.5 yards per reception.
This tough mentality is reminiscent of what Phillip Tanner showed up with in preseason, though it seems that Dunbar outshines his predecessor in the receiving game. Tanner averaged 5.64 yards per carry, and his 40 time was 4.57 seconds, considerably slower than Dunbar.
While the incumbent Tanner, a 2010 selection to All-Sunbelt second team, was a fan favorite during preseason and in limited regular season action, Dunbar, All-Sunbelt's first team running back that same year, will look to unseat him.
Dunbar will certainly challenge for a roster spot, and, if nothing else, push Phillip Tanner to improve his game. As such, he was an excellent pick-up as a UDFA.
The first of two Cornerbacks, Lionel Smith from Texas A&M.
Standing a quarter-inch shy of 6', and weighing in at 192 pounds, Lionel Smith possesses what seems to be the ideal physique for an NFL corner. With a 4.44 second 40-yard dash, one might be surprised that he went seven rounds without being drafted. What went wrong?
Production. Lionel never accomplished much at Texas A&M, scarcely accumulating any recorded statistics. If you watch an Aggies game, though, it's not hard to find number 3:
If you were paying attention, he started the game off by setting the tone on special teams. This is a recurring theme for Smith, who appears to play special teams with violence and physicality. At about 2:04, he also comes up with an interception - a scarce accomplishment in his career.
It appears that Smith was never properly taught the position, which hurt his stock tremendously on draft day. In the NFL, however, this may be to his advantage: if he can manage to cling to a roster spot, he may be able to build a solid technique from scratch, likely having very few bad habits to unlearn. It appears likely that Smith will be fighting for a position as a special teams gunner, with the potential to develop into a situational corner in time.
After last season's struggles at the corner position, I believe we can never have enough athletes fighting for time on the field (with the alternative being older, slower defensive backs fighting for time on the bench). Smith was a solid addition to the squad, well worth his UDFA contract.
The other Cornerback, Isaac Madison from Arkansas.
At 5'10", with a 4.47 40 and 37.5" vertical, and coming from a big school like Arkansas, Isaac Madison is another case where you question how he managed to dodge the draft. A look at his profile shows a history of knee troubles. He tore his ACL prior to the 2009 season, which caused him to miss it in its entirety. He re-aggravated that injury last year, and missed significant time once more.
His pro-day results indicate that he still favors his knee, as his 20-yard short shuttle time was nearly two seconds greater than his 40-yard dash time. A typical result is to have a short shuttle time tenths of a second lower than the forty, especially for a skill position. Once at full health (Mike Woicik, anyone?), he should improve, athletically, in all aspects.
Unlike Smith, above, there's no shortage of film on Madison:
When watching Madison, the guy really stands out. Every snap, he looks eager to de-cleat whoever happens to be carrying the ball. He attacks downhill against the run, fighting off receivers. When crossing the field, pursuing through traffic (because he never quits on the play), he takes good angles and appears to make solid tackles. In coverage, he aggressively tries to play the ball, and, when he fails to break up the play or intercept the pass, he turns to rip off the receiver's arms in order to prevent the completion.
Madison looks to have potential as a special teams player and a fourth cornerback (the second slot, if you will). He's slot-sized but lacks elite slot speed (Scandrick's more of a 4.3 guy than Madison's high 4.4), which may limit his ceiling as a Cowboy.
Overall, he's a great competitor and a solid athlete, which makes him well worth his roster spot, and a good pickup by the Cowboys.
Finally, there's the Safety, Eddie Whitley, from Virginia Tech.
At 6'1", 191, Whitley lacks the true bulk that some (at least I) prefer at the Safety position. Of course, you can forgive that in a Safety when he's over 6 feet tall and runs a sub-4.4 (4.39) forty.
Whitley's future in the NFL as either a true corner or safety doesn't seem very promising, in all honesty. He's not the most agile defender, and doesn't appear to be either a ball hawk or a punishing hitter (though he amassed 2 interceptions, 6 pass deflections, and 80 tackles as a senior). He wasn't incredibly strong or explosive, and yet I think he'll be a great addition to the squad.
Check out this video, to see Virginia Tech get torn apart by Andrew Luck (Whitley is number 15):
If you kept your eye on 15, you would've noticed that he was all over the field. This is why I like him. He played a roving defensive back, something Rob Ryan loves to implement in his 3-3-5 Nickel package.
In Ryan's 3-3-5, he pulls Kenyon Coleman or Marcus Spears off the field, and has Anthony Spencer put his hand on the ground, effectively playing both DE and OLB, the extra man replacing the DE is the roving DB, who can freely move throughout the formation to cause chaos and confusion for the offense.
As a rover, Whitley also quarterbacked the defense. He was officially a safety, but often began plays at ILB, then dropping deep or moving wide with a motion man. He effectively read offensive sets, diagnosed the play, and forced Andrew Luck to go through his reads before finding an open receiver.
In man coverage, he was effective. Though he didn't always turn to find the ball, in one case, against UNC, he was able to intercept the ball with his back to the play, simply by reading the receiver's arms and eyes.
This is the type of smart, versatile football player that's perfect for Rob Ryan's defense. If he fails to fill the role, he can be cut at little cost. If he's effective, he'll be a very important weapon in our sub-packages, and one more reason to keep us from re-signing Alan Ball (Whitley played both Corner and Safety).
As with all of the other UDFAs, Whitley appears to be a solid addition with true potential to make the roster in August. The Cowboys appear to have continued their trend of fining excellent UDFAs.
If, after all of this, you're still not feeling too good about who we've picked up, compare their measurables with other notable NFC East players.
All numbers are from www.nfldraftscout.com and, in all cases, I used the better result from either pro day or combine.