The 2021 NFL Draft came to a close on Saturday, and the undrafted free agent signing frenzy began in short order. It seems as if the Cowboys have completed their process, with 13 players added right after the draft in addition to the 11 rookies they drafted. It’s always possible they could add one or two more, so be sure to check out our tracker in the meantime.
But if you want to get the low-down on who these guys are and why Dallas brought them in, you’ve come to the right place. The Cowboys, of course, have a history of success with undrafted free agents. Players like Mark Tuinei, Cliff Harris, Everson Walls, and Tony Romo all went on to become stars. Cole Beasley turned into one of the league’s best slot receivers. And last year, Terence Steele ended up starting 14 games at right tackle. Could the next impact UDFA in Dallas be on this list?
RB Brenden Knox, Marshall
The Cowboys are pretty set at running back with Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard, but the depth behind those two is a bit of a question. Rico Dowdle, an undrafted free agent last year, won the competition to be the third running back on the roster and ended up playing a lot of special teams throughout the year. Dowdle didn’t do anything to put his job in jeopardy, but Brenden Knox could take his spot with a good offseason.
Knox came out early from Marshall after three years of solid production. He only carried the ball 95 times as a freshman, but he turned that into an impressive 578 yards and four touchdowns. He became a bellcow for the Thundering Herd in 2019 and racked up 1,387 yards on 270 carries with 11 touchdowns. For those efforts, Knox was named the Conference USA MVP. He didn’t play as well in 2020, but was still a productive back in the shortened season. Over nine games, Knox had 887 yards and nine touchdowns on 185 carries.
At 6’0” and 223 pounds, Knox fits the profile of a bruiser back. Most of his yards came by way of his physicality and great contact balance, and Knox also has a mean stiff arm. With just one fumble across his 550 career carries, Knox knows how to take care of the ball. He’s not the fastest or most agile running back, and was rarely used as a pass-catcher at Marshall. He does have experience on special teams, both as a kick returner and cover guy. Most importantly, though, Knox offered good reps in pass protection. That’s a must-have trait for a running back looking to make the back-end of a roster, and makes Knox a good candidate to steal a roster spot.
RB JaQuan Hardy, Tiffin
The low profile of the Tiffin Dragons program makes it hard to find out much about JaQuan Hardy, but his stats show why the team took a low-risk flyer on him in the undrafted free agent pool. At 5’10” and 217 pounds, Hardy has a compact frame that may limit what he can do at the next level.
Hardy saw just 90 carries in his freshman year and turned it into a solid 576 yards and five touchdowns. Like Knox, he was bumped into a workhorse role the next year and turned 207 carries into 1,077 yards and eight touchdowns. Hardy missed all of the next season, but returned in 2019 for a huge season. He had 1,554 yards on just 204 carries and scored 15 touchdowns. Hardy was primed for another big year, but Tiffin ended up moving their season to the spring of 2021 due to COVID-19, which prompted Hardy to opt-out in order to prepare for the draft.
What Hardy can offer the Cowboys is a little unclear given the low level of competition he faced. His frame also prompts questions, and Hardy’s six career fumbles at Tiffin won’t help his case. He didn’t figure into the Dragons’ return game, and wouldn’t seem to be a special teams player elsewhere based on his size, but Hardy will have an opportunity to prove his worth this summer.
ATH Nick Ralston, Louisiana
I was pumped to see the Cowboys add Nick Ralston, as he initially attended my alma mater, Arizona State. Ralston initially committed to the Sun Devils as a linebacker but after he redshirted his first year on campus, he was moved to running back. He ended up getting 32 carries with 139 yards and two touchdowns. In the offseason, new offensive coordinator Billy Napier moved Ralston to fullback. In his first year at that position, Ralston had four carries for 22 yards, caught six passes for 32 yards, and became a fan favorite for his willingness to be extra physical as a run blocker.
Napier left after the season to become the head coach at Louisiana, and Ralston’s usage as a runner and pass-catcher decreased significantly in 2018 under an offensive scheme that sought to solely use him as a run blocker. So Ralston transferred to Louisiana to reunite with Napier in 2019, where he was listed as a tight end but functioned more as an H-back who played both as a fullback and in-line tight end. He only had one carry for one yard that year, but set a career high with 15 catches for 100 yards and four touchdowns.
In Dallas, Ralston has an opportunity to find a role in this offense. Last offseason, Mike McCarthy talked about his desire to have an H-back type of player who could play at both fullback and flex out to the tight end spot. Undrafted tight end Sean McKeon ended filling that role after being bumped up from the practice squad following the loss of Blake Jarwin, but Ralston has more experience in such a role. He’ll have to compete with both McKeon and Sewo Olonilua, who saw limited time as a fullback late in the 2020 season as well. One thing is for sure, though: Ralston is a strong dude.
WR Osirus Mitchell, Mississippi State
As is usually the case, the Cowboys signed a whole bunch of receivers in undrafted free agency. This is often done simply for the purpose of having enough bodies to throw to in training camp, but every now and then a gem emerges and makes the team. Osirus Mitchell has understandably caught some eyes already just because of his measurables:
Cowboys agreed to terms with ex-Mississippi State WR Osirus Mitchell, source said. Ridiculous frame at 6-5, 206 with 82 1/4" wing span (second-largest of any WR in draft). Largest hands (10 7/8") of all WRs and TEs in draft. Caught 47 passes for 505 yards, four TDs in 2020.— Michael Gehlken (@GehlkenNFL) May 1, 2021
Mitchell had a moderately productive career for the Bulldogs, where his sheer size made him a reliable target. Across four seasons, Mitchell caught 107 passes for 1,413 yards and 14 touchdowns. He’s a prototypical possession receiver but lacks the traits to consistently create separation or contribute as a return specialist. That limits his avenues for making the roster, but a strong preseason could force the team’s hand.
WR Brennan Eagles, Texas
This is the only way you’ll ever get Cowboys fans to root for Eagles. A two-year stater for the Longhorns, Brennan Eagles turned heads more than a few times. At 6’4” and 229 pounds, Eagles has a very similar profile to Mitchell. He caught 60 passes for 991 yards and 11 touchdowns over the past two seasons, being used almost exclusively as a possession receiver.
Much like Mitchell, Eagles has the frame to be a dangerous red zone threat and contested catch maestro, but that seems to be it. Eagles doesn’t have burner speed or great route running, and seems like a prime candidate for the practice squad.
WR Brandon Smith, Iowa
The Hawkeyes program has quietly earned a reputation as of late for producing talented pass catchers at the next level. This year, it was Ihmir Smith-Marsette who caught the most attention, but Brandon Smith functioned very well as a complement to him.
The shortened Big 10 season limited Smith’s impact in 2020, but three total seasons as a starter allowed Smith to tally 88 catches for 1,031 yards and nine touchdowns. Standing at 6’1” and 218 pounds, Smith offers good size and has the athleticism to play inside or outside. His issue is consistency: drops, poor tracking skills, and inconsistent route timing often led to Smith going absent for possessions at a time. He’s a developmental receiver that could potentially make the back-end of a roster with lesser talent ahead of him than Dallas has.
WR TJ Vasher, Texas Tech
Yet another big-bodied receiver from the Lone Star State, TJ Vasher was a highlight waiting to happen for the Red Raiders. His two best seasons were his first two seasons, and Vasher thrived in now-Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury’s Air Raid offense. Across those two seasons, Vasher had 1,232 yards and 13 touchdowns on just 83 catches.
TJ Vasher, catch of the year? pic.twitter.com/HwisJbgedF— Josh Norris (@JoshNorris) September 1, 2018
His numbers dipped in a new offense, but Vasher still flashed as a physical downfield threat. His 742 yards and eight touchdowns through 16 games over the last two years showcased some incredible body control and hands. He’s a bit one-dimensional as a route runner, a common issue for Air Raid receivers, but Vasher has the traits to develop over time. At 6’6” and 215 pounds, he offers a ridiculous athletic profile that doesn’t come around often.
TE Nick Eubanks, Michigan
Tight end was an under-reported need for the Cowboys, considering that both Dalton Schultz and Jeremy Sprinkle will be free agents after this season. The Cowboys do have Sean McKeon, an undrafted free agent out of Michigan last year, but likely want more options. They added McKeon’s former teammate in Nick Eubanks, an athletic prospect who struggled to produce in his time with the Wolverines.
Seeing various amounts of playing time across his four seasons, Eubanks only ever recorded more than 10 catches once, in 2019. He had 25 catches that year for 243 yards and four touchdowns. He has nice size at 6’5” and 256 pounds, but Eubanks is a bit of a project. He could develop into a viable backup tight end, but he’s still very raw.
TE Artayvious Lynn, TCU
Artayvious Lynn was stuck behind Pro Wells - who signed with Cincinnati as an undrafted free agent - on the depth chart during his time with the Horned Frogs, so his projection to the next level is a mystery. He had 22 career catches over three years with 236 yards and two touchdowns.
TCU mostly used Lynn as a run blocker, which is why he had such minimal production. He’s far too raw as a pass-catcher to make the roster that way, so Lynn will have to show he can contribute on special teams if he hopes to make the cut in Dallas.
OG Braylon Jones, Houston
Much like the need for receivers in training camp, the need for offensive linemen also leads to signing plenty of guys. Dallas spent their final pick on Matt Farniok, who has the versatility to play anywhere on the line, but also added Braylon Jones of Houston.
It’s a short résumé for Jones, who has just seven starts to his name. But the versatility he brings - Jones played at right guard for four games and center for the other three - is a big reason why Dallas brought him in.
DT Austin Faoliu, Oregon
The Oregon Ducks have gained a reputation in recent years for being fierce in the trenches on both sides of the ball, and Austin Faoliu was part of that. At 6’3” and 300 pounds, Faoliu functioned as the Ducks’ 3-technique tackle, frequently shooting gaps and generating pressure.
The issue for Faoliu? An inability to convert pressure into stops. He saw a lot of snaps over his four seasons but finished with just 11 tackles for loss and six sacks in his time there. Like most undrafted rookies, Faoliu is very raw but possesses traits to grow into a good depth piece along the interior of the defensive line.
LB Anthony Hines III, Texas A&M
Anthony Hines III was once a budding star at Texas A&M, but circumstances altered his course. He played promising as a freshman, where the Aggies used him on early downs as a run-stopper. Through 10 games, Hines had 33 tackles, six tackles for loss, three sacks, and both forced and recovered a fumble. He became a full-time starter in 2019 and tallied 73 tackles and 10.5 tackles for loss, frequently making plays in the backfield.
Another season on that trajectory likely catapults Hines into being a draft pick this year, but he chose to opt out of the 2020 season. Now, he’s staying near home as an undrafted rookie in Dallas. Hines joins a suddenly-crowded linebacker room, but can prove his value on special teams after the Cowboys opted not to bring back Joe Thomas in the offseason.
LB Tyler Coyle, Purdue
Tyler Coyle played three productive seasons at safety for the UConn Huskies from 2017 to 2019 before transferring to Purdue in 2020, where he was moved to linebacker. As a safety, Coyle racked up 261 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, three interceptions, 15 passes defensed, and forced two fumbles while recovering two fumbles.
Things didn’t go so well for his Boilermaker tenure. Coyle only played in three of the team’s four games and recorded just 13 tackles and a pass defensed. Coyle has a unique combination of size - he’s 6’2” and 215 pounds - and tackling skills. His conversion from safety to linebacker is similar to new Cowboy Keanu Neal, but Coyle isn’t rangy enough to play safety in the NFL but it is still very new to the linebacker position.