Over the years, Cowboys fans and the Cowboys front office have taken a certain pride in the amount and quality of undrafted free agents that have made the roster, as the Cowboys have traditionally been a good place for college free agents who went undrafted.
Everybody has, of course, heard the stories 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. Those two, plus other signings, have earned the Cowboys a reputation for signing undrafted free agents that develop into key contributors.
The Cowboys had nine undrafted free agents on their roster starting at least one game in 2017. La’el Collins (16 starts), Jeff Heath (15), David Irving (8), Cole Beasley (4), Keith Smith (3), Benson Mayowa (2), Byron Bell (2), Richard Ash (2), and Rod Smith (1) all went undrafted and took a sometimes circuitous route to the NFL. Add special teamers Dan Bailey, Chris Jones, and L.P. Ladouceur, along with promising recent UDFAs like Cooper Rush, Lewis Neal, and Blake Jarwin, and you begin to understand the importance undrafted free agents (UDFAs) have for the Cowboys.
One of the reasons for the Cowboys’ success with UDFAs is that Chris Hall, director of college scouting, doesn’t allow scouts to “come off grade”. If they have a grade on a guy before the draft, they have to stick with it after the draft. Which means that after the draft, they try and sign every guy still left on their draft board, as they feel those players effectively amount to extra draft picks.
”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 eight years, 19 UDFA players made the Cowboys’ opening-day roster, even though the numbers seem to have slowed down to a trickle over the last few years. Here are the Cowboys’ UDFAs who survived training camp to made 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 Ronald Leary, WR Cole Beasley, RB Lance Dunbar
- 2013: S Jeff Heath
- 2014: QB Dustin Vaughan, CB Tyler Patmon, DT Davon Coleman, OT Donald Hawkins
- 2015: OG/OT La’el Collins, WR Lucky Whitehead
- 2016: - -
- 2017: QB Cooper Rush
You could take these numbers is as a sign of the quality of the Cowboys’ scouting department, who seem to be able to land an eventual starter from the UDFA ranks almost every year. 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. Conversely, you could argue that the improved quality of the roster over recent years has made it harder for UDFAs to make the opening roster.
Be that as it may, this year is likely going to be very tough for undrafted college free agents to make the roster, never mind that you can find all sorts of headlines telling you which UDFA will make the roster - before a single snap had been played in training camp.
- In late April, NFL.com picked the 20 UDFAs in the most favorable positions, and RB Jordan Chunn made the list for the Cowboys.
- On the same day, the Dallas Morning News published an article on five UDFAs you need to now more about, which highlighted CB Charvarius Ward, CB/S Kameron Kelly, TE David Wells, and DE James Hearns (since released).
- In early May, Bleacher Report gave the Cowboys an “A” for their UDFA haul, and listed these players as favorites to make the roster: DT DeQuinton Osborne (since released), DB Kameron Kelly, DB Tyree Robinson, S Kyle Queiro
But that was then, and this is now.
At this point of camp, and cognizant of the fact that there are still four preseason games to play, it looks like a slightly different crop of UDFAs might have played themselves into 53-man roster consideration.
- CB Donovan Olumba (Portland State, 6-2, 192) has turned heads with his highlight plays in camp, even if they haven’t been consistent enough to consider him a roster lock. Plus he has one “Star of the Day” from DallasCowboys.com, and he’s wearing a familiar number in Orlando Scandrick’s “32” - though those two points may not be what ultimately tips the scales in his favor.
- CB Charvarius Ward (Middle Tennessee State, 6-1, 198) has three “Stars of the Day” going for him. Plus he received the second-highest known UDFA signing bonus with $5,000 and reportedly turned down a $10,000 bonus offered by the Titans. Does all of that make him a keeper?
- RB Jordan Chunn has drawn the occasional favorable review, and for what it’s worth, when the Cowboys released a running back this week, it was Trey Williams, and not Chunn. So there’s that.
- S Tyree Robinson received the highest signing bonus of this year’s UDFA draft class (that we currently know of) with a reported $6,000. Does that give him an edge for that final safety spot on the 53-man roster? Haven’t really heard much from him so far in camp, but that could change quickly once the third-teamers take to the field against the 49ers on Thursday. If nothing else, at least he’s got his 6-2 height going for him in the new defensive scheme.
- CB Kameron Kelly got a lot of pre-camp attention. We haven’t seen a lot of him in camp so far, but maybe he’ll justify all that attention over the next few weeks of camp.
Let us know in the attached poll which of these five players you think could make the roster, or let us know in the comments which other UDFA you think should make the roster.
Note: DT Antwaun Woods is also an undrafted free agent, and his chances of making the roster look very good, considering he’s already getting snaps with the first team. But he went undrafted in 2016, so he’s not part of the 2018 UDFA class, which is why we’re excluding him from this poll - and also because the poll would be terribly lopsided if we had included him.
Which 2018 undrafted free agent do you think will make the opening 53-man roster for the Cowboys this year?
This poll is closed
CB Donovan Olumba
CB Charvarius Ward
RB Jordan Chunn
S Tyree Robinson
CB Kameron Kelly