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Looking For A Returner: The Cowboys' UDFA Candidates

Everyone focused on how Dallas did not take a running back in the draft, but not getting a potential kick and punt returner may be something that requires more attention as we head towards training camp.

Could this be Dallas' return man this year?
Could this be Dallas' return man this year?
Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

The Dallas Cowboys scored what may have been the biggest UDFA coup ever in signing La'el Collins, a true first-round talent. That was a unique and bizarre situation we may never see again. Collins becomes a very rare UDFA indeed, having essentially made the team the moment he signed his fully-guaranteed three-year contract. The rest of the UDFAs that they brought in, along with any of the rookie camp tryouts that may get picked up, all face a real challenge in trying to earn a roster spot or a place on the practice squad.

Odds are long for any undrafted player, but there is one group that is likely competing for one spot on the roster. While there was so much talk about the Cowboys not taking a running back after the departure of DeMarco Murray, the team feels it had players already under contract that at least provided a workable solution. The quality of the offensive line, which just got better when they grabbed Collins from the eager clutches of basically every other team in the league, is a very big part of their thinking.

Dallas also has one other need that was not addressed in the draft. Dwayne Harris was the punt and kick returner for the team. When he was signed to a contract that looks to be very overpriced by the New York Giants, it left a void that the Cowboys will now be looking to fill from the ranks of the undrafted. They could use Cole Beasley and even Dez Bryant to handle punts and kickoffs, but that is a risky way to use players that are so valuable as receivers.

There are five candidates currently for this job, the UDFA wide receivers. They obviously want someone who is also a serviceable receiver, but with the current incumbents in the receiving corps, the best value one of these players would have for the Cowboys would be in the receiving job. The team might still find someone else to add to the mix, and probably will at some point, but these players are the ones that the team likely feels have the best chance of taking this job (with perhaps two more on the practice squad to have ready to step in if needed during the season). I have listed the five in the table below, with some pertinent stats. (I lumped punt and kick returns together for simplicity, but the team certainly would hope to find one player who can do both.) The pSPARQ numbers are from the table at Three Sigma Athlete.

Player Years Played Total Returns Yards Average pSPARQ NFL %
George Farmer 3 3 59 19.7 120.2 65.4
Antwan Goodley 4 45 1037 23.0 115.4 49.1
Deontay Greenberry 3 0 N/A N/A 110.8 33.7
Nick Harwell 3 26 257 9.9 111.9 37.1
Lucky Whitehead 2 43 863 20.1 117.1 54.8

The team has already made a preference clear by giving Farmer the biggest guarantee of any of their UDFAs. The $55,000 is significant, since it was the largest one for any UDFA in the league until the Collins signing. As you can see, he has the highest pSPARQ score of any of the UDFAs, and he was likely one of the most coveted undrafted receivers. His pSPARQ score places him just below the top third of the NFL in terms of athleticism. While he was not used much as a returner in college, that was almost certainly because he, like Bryant and Beasley, was simply too valuable to his college team to risk in returns. Goodley, Harwell, and Whitehead all have a good bit of experience, and it would be assumed that the team feels that they would be able to coach Farmer and Greenberry in the required skills.

However, as much as the team has shown it likes Farmer, Whitehead is the player whose overall numbers make him look like the best bet to become a very good returner. He was productive at the job in college, and he is in the top half of the league as far as athletic ability. Goodley is also one who has some very good tools that may allow him to break through, being just under that 50th percentile, but having by far the best resume as a returner.

College numbers and workout measurements do not always predict the future, of course. What happens in the OTAs, training camp, and preseason will be far more important. But if these numbers are indicative of how things may shake out, it looks like Farmer, Whitehead and Goodley are the best bets to be either on the 53-man roster or the practice squad.

It is just one of the storylines to watch, but it could be one of the more interesting.

Follow me @TomRyleBTB

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