Cowboys fans and the Cowboys front office take a certain pride in the amount and quality of undrafted free agents (UDFAs) that regularly make the roster in Dallas, as the Cowboys have traditionally been a good place for college free agents who went undrafted.
Over the years, their success with UDFAs has earned the Cowboys a reputation for signing undrafted free agents who develop into key contributors.
"We’ll continue to take a lot of pride in that," Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones said. "It’s a priority for us. If you end up getting the top five or six guys that you’re after that you would have taken [in the draft], then it’s like having three more, five more, six more seventh-round picks. We think that pays off for us."
Over the last six years, 18 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 , S , FB Chris Gronkowski.
- 2011: RB Phillip Tanner, OC Kevin Kowalski, OLB Alex Albright, K
- 2012: OG Ronald Leary, WR Cole Beasley, RB Lance Dunbar
- 2013: S
- 2014: QB Dustin Vaughan, CB Tyler Patmon, DT Davon Coleman, OT Donald Hawkins
- 2015: OG La’el Collins, WR Lucky Whitehead
You could take this as a sign of the Cowboys scouting department’s quality, who seem to be able to land an eventual starter from the UDFA ranks almost every year. Conversely, you could also take it as a sign of weak depth across the roster, where undrafted free agents take up slots that other teams might be able to fill with draft picks.
Be that as it may, this year is likely going to be very tough for undrafted college free agents to make the roster, especially since the Cowboys had six picks on the final day of the draft, four of which were in the sixth round. And those sixth-rounders were drafted with at least one eye looking to avoid a bidding war for their services had they become UDFAs. But regardless of their draft status, they’ll be just as intent on making the roster as the UDFAs are.
Unlike last year with La’el Collins, nobody from this year’s UDFA class is a roster lock. Of the 14 UDFAs initially signed, two have already been released (DT Jason Neill, DE Caleb Azubike).
The key for all the remaining UDFAs is to find a way to impress the coaches and scouts heading into training camp. The easiest was to do this is by creating "wow" plays that help a player get noticed and make him stand out versus the other UDFAs and versus veteran players. Unfortunately for this UDFA class, the "wow" plays have been few and far between so far, but here are five UDFAs that may have already created some buzz that could help separate them from the rest of the UDFA class heading into mandatory minicamp.
- The Cowboys front office was very excited about DT Rodney Coe, but he hasn’t really stood out at OTAs so far. With Maliek Collins out injured, the Cowboys will get a lot of opportunity this week, in camp, and in preseason games to figure out whether they were right to be excited about Coe.
- While rookie CB Anthony Brown took first-team snaps as the nickel corner in OTAs, CB Jeremiah McKinnon was part of the second-team rotation behind him, where he made that all-important "wow" play: McKinnon turned heads when he notched an interception in OTAs off Dak Prescott. He’s also hanging out with veteran Cowboys players at the Texas Motor Speedway, and Bryan Broaddus called him a young CB to watch out for on a recent radio show. Whether an endorsement by Broaddus is the kiss of death for an UDFA or actually means something remains to be seen, but at least his name keeps popping up.
- The Cowboys had WR Andy Jones with a "draftable grade" and gave him the highest signing bonus of all UDFAs. While he has been the most consistent of the down-roster receivers, but it doesn’t look like he’s impressed enough to unseat any of the veteran receivers yet.
- Praise from Broaddus for OT Ryan Mack:
His technique and finish have been impressive in the two practices that I have had a chance to see. He is going to get plenty of work at training camp and these preseason games to develop. Mack has been lining up on the right side, but his movement skills could allow him to see some action on the other side.
- OG Boston Stiverson, who played next to second-round pick Cody Whitehair at Kansas State, has been getting some chatter as a potential guy for the last open spot on the O-line.
Let us know in the comments which other UDFAs you think have a good chance of making the roster this year.