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2016 Dallas Cowboys Undrafted Free Agents: Any SPARQ Standouts?

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Strong athleticism markers alone won't help rookie UDFAs make the Cowboys roster, but it certainly won't hurt.

Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Last week, using a metric called SPARQ, we took a look at the Cowboys' 2016 draft class, and found that the Cowboys assembled one of the most athletic rookie classes of the 2016 NFL draft.

Today, we turn our attention to the undrafted rookies and tryout players the Cowboys have assembled at rookie minicamp this weekend as we wonder which of them stand a chance to make the team.

My hypothesis going in is that prospects with superior athleticism stand a better chance of making the roster; this is not rocket science. If you don't have the athleticism to compete at the next level, the odds are pretty slim that you will succeed the in a league that has assembled the biggest, fastest, and strongest men on the planet. At the same time,  even the most athletic wide receiver in the world is not going to help your team if he can't catch the ball. Which just goes to show that a measure for athleticism like Sparq is just one tool in the evaluation process.

But before we get to this year's UDFA class, let's take a look at last year*s UDFA class as viewed by SPARQ:

Player Pos. pSPARQ z-score NFL%
Showers, Jameill QB 109 0.7 74.7
Farmer, George WR 120.2 0.4 65.4
Whitehead, Lucky WR/KR 119.8 0.3 60.5
Goodley, Antwan WR 115.4 0 49.1
Vinopal, Ray S 118.1 -0.1 48
Harwell, Nick WR 111.9 -0.3 37.1
McDermott, Shane OC 99.3 -0.4 36.2
Greenberry, Deontay WR 110.8 -0.4 33.7
Donnie Baggs* LB 114.2 -0.5 30.2
Collins, La'el OG 95.5 -0.7 25.3
Scott, Tim FS 109.9 -0.7 23.2
Days, Synjyn RB 111.7 -0.8 22
Ross, Joel CB 108.4 -0.9 19.7
Wilson, Jason CB 105.3 -1.1 12.5
Reshod Fortenberry* OT 83.4 -1.6 5.7
Hamilton, Ray TE 78.9 -2.8 0.2

pSPARQ, the single metric designed to summarize a player's athleticism, z-score and NFL% calculates a player’s ranking relative to his peers at his position. A 0.0 z-score would represent a player who rates as a league-average NFL athlete at the position, a score of 1.0 is one standard deviation above the peer average. NFL% is the z-score translated into percentiles.

Three players form last year's UDFA class made the team last year. Jameill Showers stuck around on the practice squad and was activated for a few games at the end of the season. Lucky Whitehead was on the 53-man roster the entire season and got one start. La'el Collins became the starter at left guard.

Of interest here is that the Cowboys lured George Farmer to Dallas with a $55,000 guarantee, but his obvious athleticism did translate on the field. The other top athletes, Showers and Whitehead, found their way onto the roster. La'el Collins, who shows up here with below average athleticism, was never a question to make the team, which just goes to show that athleticism is just one part of the equation.

As we move on to this year's UDFA class, there are two things to keep in mind. First, the NFL is pretty good at identifying freak athletes, and these are usually snapped up in the draft, so it's unrealistic to expect an uber-athletic UDFA rookie class. Second, some of the players assembled here are so far down the list of draft prospects that nobody bothered calculating their SPARQ scores. Doesn't mean they won't make the team, just that we don't have their numbers.

With that out of the way, here's the 2016 UDFA class:

Player Pos. pSPARQ z-score NFL%
Jake Brendel OC 116.6 1.1 86.1
Andy Jones WR 128.6 0.6 72.5
Jason Neill DE 120.3 0 52
Caleb Azubike DE 115 -0.3 36.5
Deon King OLB 108.1 -0.9 18.5
Chris Brown WR 112.9 -0.9 16.6
Arjen Colquhoun CB 106.9 -1 15.9
Ed Eagan WR 102.1 -1.2 11.8
Boston Stiverson OG 80.4 -1.8 3.3
Ryan Mack OT 76.9 -2.1 1.9
Rodney Coe DT - - - - - -
David Hedelin OT - - - - - -
Jeremiah McKinnon CB - - - - - -
Tryout Players
Chris Brown QB/WR 107.4 0.6 71.7
Taylor Cox RB 108.1 -1.1 14.4
Sam Moeller S 103.1 -1.5 7.2
Mandel Dixon TE/FB 87.3 -1.7 4.8
Austin Traylor TE 92.8 -1.8 3.5
Zach Wood DE/LS 83.7 -2.7 0.4
Rolan Milligan S - - - - - -
Tory Slater DT - - - - - -
Justin Tukes TE - - - - - -
Ja'Juan Story WR - - - - - -

Purely from an athletic standpoint, Center Jake Brendel and WR Andy Jones stand out from the 13 UDFAs the Cowboys have signed so far.

Center Jack Brendel out of UCLA got a glowing review from NFL.com: "Brendel brings everything you'd want in a center: leadership (three-time co-captain), intelligence (first-team Academic All-Conference pick), reliability (four-year starter), and production (second-team All-Pac-12 pick in 2014 and 2015). Brendel isn’t as strong or athletic as some NFL teams prefer in the pivot, but others will value his other traits and willingness to get after his man in the run game enough to consider him a potential starter." Brendel is listed at 6-4, 303 pounds and looks like a good option as the backup center. Functional strength is something that can be improved; the athleticism is already there.

Jacksonville State wide receiver Andy Jones recorded a 41.5-inch vertical jump, which would have tied him with Jalen Ramsey and Daniel Lasco for the best performance at the Combine. Jones’ broad jump mark of 11-1 would have been the third-best at the combine, where Ramsey and Lasco tied at 11.3. Jones also posted a 4.5-second time in the 40-yard dash. Listed at 6-1, 217, Jones fits the mold of what the Cowboys are looking for in their wide receivers, but does he have the skills to make it as a receiver at the next level?

Cap Poly QB turned wide receiver Chris Brown looks good in this comparison, but only because his SPARQ score is benchmarked agaist the average QB in the league. If we were to benchmark his 107.4 pSPARQ against wide receivers, he'd have a -0.7 z-score, which is in the 23rd percentile.

We don't have scores for Rodney Coe and Deon King. Both were brought in for official pre-draft visits, so they may have a leg up on the other UDFAs here, regardless of the athleticism scores. Coe, like Henry Melton, is a former running back who's transitioned to DT, and we know that Rod Marinelli likes what he sees from Coe.

Jeremiah McKinnon is another prospect the Cowboys showed early interest in.

Overall, this UDFA class has some interesting prospects, some stand out for their athleticism, others caught the Cowboys' attention through their play or their potential.

How many end up making the team is anybody's guess, but the Cowboys have traditionally found contributors from the UDFA ranks every year.

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Some notable highlights for the remaining UDFAs:

Jason Neill out of UTSA recorded 56 tackles, 11 TFLs and 8.5 sacks. And his fourth-quarter performance caught the attention of Pro Football Focus.

Could the 6-2, 266 edge rusher be the next UDFA diamond for the Cowboys?

Vanderbilt DE Caleb Azubike didn't put up great numbers in Vanderbilt's 3-4 defense, but should look much better in a 4-3 scheme.

Norfolk State linebacker Deon King and led all NCAA football teams last year with 163 tackles.

Notre Dame receiver Chris Brown (6-1, 195) caught 48 passes for 597 yards and four touchdowns last year, but was overshadowed by fellow WR Will Fuller.

Michigan State CB Arjen Colquhoun started 11 games for the Spartans last year, recording a career-high 45 tackles, 12 passes defended, 10 pass break-ups, two interceptions and two forced fumbles. The Canadian native was ranked No. 5 overall on the Canadian Football League's December Scouting list and was expected to be picked high in the 2016 CFL Draft.

Northwestern State receiver Ed Eagan (5-11, 192) is a premier kick returner. He finished as the school's all-time leader in career receptions (177), receiving yards (2,228), all-purpose yards (5,651). He was also the school's leader leader in kickoff returns (125), single-season kickoff return yards (1,045), single-season kickoff attempts (45), and kickoff returner yards (2,922). Eagan had initially committed to the Bills, but Jason Garrett, his coach at the Senior Bowl, convinced him to come to Dallas.

Boston Stiverson, who played left guard at Kansas State, twice earned honorable mention All-Big 12 honors, lining up at guard next to LT Cody Whitehair, who was picked in the second round by the Bears.

Offensive tackle Ryan Mack (6-5, 309) blocked for both Teddy Bridgewater and Paxton Lynch during his collegiate career. Mack spent three years at Louisville, and was the starting right tackle during Teddy Bridgewater's final season with the program. He eventually transferred to Memphis and as a graduate senior, he started for the Tigers and helped protect Paxton Lynch.

David Hedelin is from Sweden, and took a circuitous route to the NFL. As a JuCo transfer, he was in Purdue for only two years, but he was a 4-star recruit. He had to sit the first few games of his junior season due to an NCAA suspension for playing for a club team in his native Sweden. Then he missed the final two games of 2015 due to a concussion, so he played in less than 20 games for Purdue.