It is an annual tradition for an undrafted free agent or two to get a lot of notice during training camp for the Dallas Cowboys. It sometimes leads to a spot on the regular season roster. Just as often, it doesn’t, leaving some fans disappointed. We still love to pull for these guys facing long odds.
Who will draw attention this year? There are not many positions that seem wide open enough to give these hopefuls a chance. Additionally, Dallas had an exceptionally large group of draft picks this year, who of course are in competition for a slot with the team. Using a pick on a player tends to make the staff want to prove they knew what they were doing.
Still, there are some names among the UDFAs that might be worth watching this year. And they are not just competing for a spot on the Dallas 53-man roster. They could land a spot somewhere else, and there is always the practice squads around the NFL that need to be filled.
LB Anthony Hines III
During OTAs, Hines look good out there. Whether the Cowboys will even carry more than five linebackers remains an open question, but this is often a place for a special teams ace to be on the roster. For a couple of seasons that has been the role of C.J. Goodwin. He is now in his sixth year in the league, and it may be time to start looking for some help for him. As a cornerback, Goodwin is also one of the smaller players on the team. Hines is 40 pounds heavier, which can help in the often ferocious collisions in the kicking game.
S Tyler Coyle
Some beat writers seem to think he has a real shot at nabbing a job for the regular season. It makes sense because safety is once again thin, and the only draft pick that the team invested there was the sixth-rounder for Israel Mukuamu, who is converting from cornerback, his position last year in the college ranks. Coyle may have the easiest path to wind up on the 53-man roster. Of course, “easiest” is very much a relative term. Still, if he starts to get his name called a lot in a good way, there might be a spot waiting for him.
C Braylon Jones
Another unanswered question for the team is the backup center job. Connor McGovern can fill in there, but the staff probably would rather he focus on guard while finding better center depth. Jones’ biggest competition is seventh-round draft pick Matt Farniok, who also brings more obvious position flexibility to the table. One reason to not discount Jones out of hand is that there is not much advantage to being taken in the seventh. One thing I will be watching for at camp is who gets most of the reps snapping the ball with the second team.
RB JaQuan Hardy
Here is a pure pet cat-type player here. Hardy hails from Division II Tiffin University, and that is intriguing. He would likely have to beat out Rico Dowdle for the RB3 job, and that is not going to be easy. But UDFAs are prime candidates for PS jobs and that is probably his real hope. It will take a good showing, particularly in preseason games, just to accomplish that much. It is just hard to not have a real underdog to root for sometimes.
WRs Osirus Mitchell and T.J. Vasher
They are lumped together because they have something else in common besides being UDFA WRs. Both are 6-5, which could make the Cowboys look at them hard as a red zone/possession specialist to add to their potent receiver corps. None of the veteran receivers for Dallas are over 6-2. Sometimes, especially near the goal line, things get compressed enough that good route running is not all you need. Someone who can sky and get the ball like these two should be able to can carve out a specialist’s role. That seems to be the thinking behind drafting Simi Fehoko, who showed an ability to come down with contested balls, but he is 6-3. These two may well be insurance in case he does not grab a spot of his own.
Emerging UDFAs are always a bit unpredictable and there are plenty of others that could catch fire. Stay tuned. Literally, with Hard Knocks coming your way.