There are few NFL teams that have done better than the Dallas Cowboys with undrafted free agents. Tony Romo, Cole Beasley, Barry Church, Jeff Heath, Miles Austin, and, as he mentioned to a few supportive and caring people in Philadelphia, Drew Pearson, are just a few of the UDFA acquisitions that have a good deal of success with Dallas. But 2017 may be a very tough year for undrafted players to make the Cowboys’ roster. David Helman laid out the problem in his article at DallasCowboys.com.
Yes, there will be some interesting position battles, but I’m not sure how many genuine surprises we’ll see when it comes time to cut this roster down.
That’s a good thing. Firstly, it means the Cowboys have – for the most part – done a good job drafting in recent years. It also means they’ve managed to hold on to the guys they’ve identified as key components of their roster.
It’s entirely possible an unknown player could break out and be the next undrafted success story this summer. But as it stands right now, that challenge looks as steep as it has in quite some time.
Still, for the fourteen players that are believed to have been signed by the Cowboys in the UDFA frenzy just after the draft, this is at least a chance to try and prove themselves. And these players are not just auditioning for the 53-man roster. They can be prime candidates for the practice squad, and the preseason games are also a great chance to catch the eye of another team. Most franchises have a lot more issues headed into camp than the Cowboys.
Here is the list of UDFAs that are believed to have been signed by Dallas.
Dan Skipper, OT, Arkansas
Cooper Rush, QB, Central Michigan
Blake Jarwin, TE, Oklahoma State
Woody Baron, DT, Virginia Tech
Nate Theaker, OG, Wayne State
Michael Coe, C, North Dakota
Levon Myers, OT, Northern Illinois
Lewis Neal, DE, LSU
Joe Jones, OLB, Northwestern
Kennan Gilchrist, OLB, Appalachian State
Lucas Wacha, OLB, Wyoming
Jahad Thomas, RB, Temple
Austin Appleby,, QB, Florida
Brian Brown, WR, Richmond
Kade Harrington, RB, Lamar
So who has a real chance to break through with the Cowboys?
The best opportunity probably is in front of Cooper Rush. The Cowboys only have two quarterbacks on the roster now. They may well only carry that many into the regular season, but that would almost certainly mean that they would need to have one on the practice squad as insurance. As usual, there is speculation that Dallas will be looking at veteran backups, but given their experience over the past two years, that should be a much less palatable option than finding and grooming their own.
Rush has some remarkable similarities to Kellen Moore, but is seen to be a bit better than him, which may make him a favorite of Scott Linehan. He is not seen as having any real chance of starting in the NFL, but is believed to be a capable backup. If Rush can put together a good preseason and camp, he may have a future in Dallas.
Another real opportunity may exist at running back. It is just hard to see Alfred Morris as having a very secure job after a markedly lackluster performance in 2016. Expect Jahad Thomas and, if he is signed after his tryout, Kade Harrington to get every chance to challenge for Morris’ spot - or at least to make it to the PS to lie in wait.
The player who is getting the most buzz may be Dan Skipper. That seems to be partly because he was the highest-ranked of all these players before the draft, and also because the right tackle situation is not settled for the Cowboys. Skipper has some issues to overcome, not the least of which is his height, 6’ 10”. It just seems too tall to be able to play effectively on an NFL line.
Blake Jarwin is one other name to watch, pending what we find out about how well James Hanna and Geoff Swaim have recovered from their injuries. He also may be prime PS material to have ready in case the Cowboys have more injuries in the TE room this year.
Outside of those names, the rest of the players signed as UDFAs are, sadly, most likely camp bodies. It may be tough to even get on the practice squad, because some of the rookies from this season and even last year are not certain to make the 53 and may need stashing.
But a few of these players will flash in camp or a preseason game, and we will start pulling for them. Just don’t get your hopes up too much. It is a tough world in Dallas for undrafted rookies this year.
Who are your top candidates from the UDFAs to make the team?