The Dallas Cowboys have traditionally been a good place for college free agents who went undrafted. Everybody has, of course, heard the story of Tony Romo and Miles Austin, to name just two of the more recent examples of undrafted free agents who eventually ended up as stars for the Cowboys.
Over the last three years, 11 UDFA players made the Cowboys' opening-day roster. Here are the Cowboys' UDFAs who survived training camp to make it onto the initial 53-man roster.
- 2010: OC Phil Costa, S Barry Church, S Danny McCray, FB Chris Gronkowski.
- 2011: RB Phillip Tanner, OC Kevin Kowalski, OLB Alex Albright, K Dan Bailey
- 2012: OG Ron Leary, WR Cole Beasley, RB Lance Dunbar
There are more UDFA players who eventually made the roster after first making the practice squad, but these 11 made the leap from unsigned college free agent directly onto an NFL roster. Could safety Jakar Hamilton out of South Carolina State join the list this year?
Hamilton made early headlines at Cowboys Rookie Minicamp for the wrong reason: He was the first player to throw up in practice. But after that, things started looking up for Hamilton. The Cowboys brought in the coveted free agent because they liked his athleticism, and they weren't disappointed. In Friday practices he impressed Bryan Broaddus with his speed and playmaking skills.
This morning I liked what I saw from J.J. Wilcox at safety but in the afternoon he took a seat to Jakar Hamilton who didn’t start off his morning all that great but was able to rally with some nice plays.
In the one-on-one drills against the running backs and tight ends, Hamilton in coverage against Gavin Escobar was carrying him up the field and as the ball arrived was able to rip the ball from his hands for an interception as Escobar was trying to bring it to his body.
Then later in the team period, Hamilton playing as a single high safety from the middle of the field was able to shoot to the sideline to play a route that Jared Green had beaten Dustin Harris badly on up the field. Hamilton was in great shape to defend the ball on the play. It was a nice day from the two young safeties.
And Hamilton also received praise from two DC.com writers as the most noticeable rookie free agent after Saturday's practice:
Broaddus: "With the two practices on Saturday he was once again around the ball and not only showed some range in the team periods coverage wise but when he had to go one-on-one with Gavin Escobar he was able to get the job done position wise."
Eatman: "He’s looked pretty good in his coverage skills. He has a fluid motion to him. Looks like a guy who started his career at Georgia, more than someone who went to South Carolina State. Which of course, he did both."
Then yesterday, Hamilton delivered a four-minute locker room interview that no PR agency and no player agent could have scripted any better. Here's the interview in its entirety:
Q: Tell us how it’s been like to be out there.
Hamilton: For one thing, it’s an honor to be here. To be surrounded by a bunch of guys who were top-ranked in College. To meet some of the veteran guys like Tony Romo, Jason Witten, DeMarcus Ware – I met Dez Bryant! – it’s a great honor to be here, to be around Hall Of Famers, Mr. Calvin Hill, Mr. Jerry Jones.
First day of practice was really great. It gives you an opportunity to come out here, learn the plays, learn the tempo and just work & go hard.
Q: The coaches see you pretty high, and you were in for Dallas Day as well. What convinced you to sign with the Cowboys after the draft?
Hamilton: Coach Henderson and Coach Joe Baker are great DB coaches. I fell in love with them as soon as I met them. Then I met Mr. Jerry Jones and I fell in love with him. All the coaches, they give it to you 100%. They have high expectations for us as players, as persons – and just to go hard. Anything to help better the team, that’s why I’m here.
Q: Can you talk about the transfer from Georgia to South Carolina State. Why did you need to make that move?
Hamilton: Once I got hurt and my grandfather was diagnosed with cancer, as a young man, you go through adversity. And I’ve never been through adversity except for that time. So it kinda hit me hard. It was a lot of dealing with me, growing up, becoming a man. Just making a better decision for my future.
We had two great safeties, Rambo and Shawn Williams, we had Sanders Commings – he went from cornerback to free safety – so the more I sat out the more I figured everyone else was able to get better at their craft and better at the plays. And I just felt if I had a new start, somewhere else where I’m not known, I can go in and prove myself and work hard.
Q: Were you surprised on draft day not to get drafted? You talked about Rambo and Commings – you beat them out in your freshman year. When you look at the tape you have that top half of the draft talent …
Hamilton: Yes, Sir.
Q: … so were you surprised on draft day not to be picked?
Hamilton: You know what? Once I saw all the linemen going, I felt that most of the skill players were going to go later. And signing as a free agent is not a bad deal.
It takes hard work whether you go first round, second round or third round, you still have to prove that you belong on the team.
Q: Did the coaches give you any indication if you’re going to have a chance to come and contribute? Like I said, I know they’re really high on you.
Hamilton: Oh, yes, Sir! The safety position is wide open. I figure if I come in, prove myself on special teams, any way that I can to contribute to the team whether it’s special teams – even whether it’s passing out water – any way I can contribute, that’s what I’m going to do here.
Q: Is that why you picked the Cowboys, because the safety positions are wide open?
Hamilton: Yes, Ma’am. It’s America’s team. Dallas Cowboys, that’s every young man’s dream to come here and wear that Star and play amongst the veterans that have been here. And the Hall Of Famers that came through here like Michael Irvin. And like I said Grant Hill’s father, Calvin Hill. So I look at that and I just keep pushing forward, keep God first and continue to work hard.
Q: Did that pre-draft visit play a factor in you coming here, because you already knew these guys here …
Hamilton: Yes, Sir.
Q: … a little bit better than others and did you visit other teams?
Hamilton: I visited Green Bay, the Jets, Redskins, San Diego, Houston Texans. All of those are great places surrounded by great coaches. But it was just something about the Dallas Cowboys that really stuck out once I got here and once I met Coach Joe Baker.
He came out to the house. We had a cook-out for him, my grandmother made red velvet cake for him. You know, we had a good time, so I feel that that’s the type of coach I want to be around. [A coach] that’s going to work twice as hard to have his players ready and prepared for the season.
In an earlier interview on the Dallas Cowboys Show, conducted almost immediately after he had signed with the Cowboys, Hamilton spoke a little more about why he picked the Cowboys and about his father.
On whether the uncertainty at safety was a factor in signing with Dallas:
"Yeah, a big factor. I knew coming in that I wasn’t going to start off the bat. I can contribute on special teams, as a gunner, returner, kick off returner, or even on the kickoff coverage team, so I’m just trying to get in, and stay in and get the feel of being in the NFL and work my way where I want to be."
On his father:
"Growing up my dad was always doing something with sports. He was an agent. He played in the NBA for about a year or two for the 76ers. I was able to meet a lot of NFL as well as basketball players. He got incarcerated in 2005. It was kind of tough because it was right around the time where the state championship was up that I was playing in. He wasn’t there to make it because of him being locked up. I recently heard that they gave him 23 more years, so it’s been kind of tough growing up not being able to see your dad when you want to. Now, the only way you can see him is going to Beaumont, Texas."
Earlier this month, we asked you for your pet cats. Five BTB members, including yours truly, picked Jakar Hamilton. That may quickly increase if Hamilton continues to impress both on and off the field.