The Cowboys are preparing for their second preseason game, which means we are getting closer and closer to the date when all NFL teams will trim their rosters down to just 53 players. And while there are countless roster predictions out there for the Cowboys - our own Jess Haynie and Danny Phantom have their own guesses - and there will continue to be more after this next game, one player looms large as the key to determining the rest of the roster cuts, at least on offense.
I’m talking about none other than undrafted rookie Hunter Luepke. Listed as a fullback, the North Dakota State product was a fan of many draft gurus due to his versatility. He split time between being a lead blocker and a primary ball-carrier, and in the last three years Luepke rushed for 1,622 yards and scored 23 touchdowns.
That’s not all, though. Luepke also got flexed out to tight end quite often. In fact, his splits between the backfield and inline come out to roughly 60/40 for his career, favoring towards the backfield. Luepke did a lot of blocking when lined up at tight end, but he also showed some receiving ability; he caught 27 passes for 398 yards and eight touchdowns. Not bad.
So now Luepke finds himself competing for a roster spot with the Cowboys, a team who is going to have some really difficult decisions to make at cutting time by the admission of head coach Mike McCarthy. And his versatility could make things interesting when those decisions have to be made.
By all accounts, Luepke has been solid in training camp but has yet to really turn heads. He saw just 16 offensive snaps in the Cowboys’ first preseason game, with 14 of those at running back. He had three carries for six yards; his first attempt went for eight yards, while the next two netted a loss of two. Luepke didn’t get any work at fullback or tight end.
His college tape shows a player who was capable of playing both roles, in addition to carrying the ball himself. Perhaps the Cowboys don’t want to put too much on the rookie’s plate, especially as he makes the jump from the FCS to the NFL. Or perhaps Luepke just didn’t get much work because Deuce Vaughn rightfully got more run.
Going forward, though, the Cowboys ought to explore Luepke’s versatility in these preseason games. If he can show an ability to hold up as a lead blocker or tight end against other NFL players, Luepke makes the roster calculus a little more interesting.
Luepke could allow the Cowboys to go deep with four running backs, knowing they’ll get him involved as a lead blocking fullback and perhaps using him as a short yardage running back. Being able to play tight end could also allow Dallas to keep just three listed tight ends - they’ve kept four every year of the McCarthy era - knowing Luepke can offer depth as TE4. And his likely role on special teams would also alter the calculus at other positions when considering which players have to be kept to play on special teams.
Of course, if Luepke gets in the game this weekend and struggles, then it takes that option away too. It wouldn’t be a shock if that happened, as few players in the NFL actually have that kind of versatility right now and Luepke is an undrafted rookie. But the Cowboys have an opportunity to really discover his limits right now and figure out how much more work he needs to get there.
Feel like this is an important week for Hunter Luepke and his battle to make the roster. Going to have to show more as a blocker especially when asked to help in pass pro. Might not be the most natural thing for him to do?— BryanBroaddus (@BryanBroaddus) August 14, 2023
Whether or not Luepke is truly capable of earning a roster spot this year, and filling a similarly versatile role to the one he thrived in at North Dakota State, unlocks a lot of the mysteries surrounding these impending roster cuts. Hopefully we’ll get a chance to see Luepke prove, one way or the other, what he’s capable of.