When the Cowboys opened the season last year, they had a common theme among their starting quarterback, wide receiver, punter, kicker, deep snapper, center, free safety and special teams captain.
All were undrafted free agents.
Sure, we know all about Tony Romo and Miles Austin becoming superstars from an undrafted status. But this Cowboys team has thrived on finding diamonds in the roughs, especially in the last few years.
This season, they’ll be counting on guys like Barry Church, Danny McCray, Dan Bailey and Chris Jones. Others like Phil Costa, Cole Beasley, Ron Leary, Lance Dunbar and Ben Bass should also have prominent roles, too.
None of these guys were drafted, giving further validity to how important the “eighth round” seems to be in the NFL these days.
So who’s next? Well, I’d never predict another Romo or Austin. Not saying it won’t happen because it most certainly will. But it’s just never anything you can predict.
For every Tony Romo, there’s a Richard Bartel or Jeff Mroz or Matt Baker or in this case, Dalton Williams.
Williams won’t make my list of five undrafted rookies who could stick around this year, but I’ve got a handful of other players to watch out for.
Brandon Magee – The Cowboys had a fourth-round grade on the linebacker from Arizona State and were stunned to see him still around after the draft. His Achilles injury obviously hurt his draft stock, but the Cowboys are hopeful he can make an immediate impact on special teams and should be a great fit as an OLB in the 4-3 scheme. As long as he’s comparable to Ernie Sims, he’ll likely get the nod because of his youth and upside.
Jakar Hamilton – Like Magee, Hamilton was another player on the draft board (fifth round) who fell through the cracks. The Cowboys love his athletic ability and range to fly all over the field. He was banged up some in the minicamps and OTAs, but he’ll get plenty of chances to show he can stick around. If he does anything on special teams, he’ll likely make it.
Eric Rogers – For most of the summer, he’s been No. 14. Even now, he’s not really a household name and it might take a while for that to change. But this guy just keeps making plays. His 6-3, 211-pound frame is the perfect size for a receiver. But the fact this rookie from Cal Lutheran keeps making catches is even better than his size. Rogers might be better suited for the practice squad, but if he continues to perform like he did this summer, he’ll have a shot.
Kendial Lawrence – Sometimes players just make it impossible to cut them. Last year, Lance Dunbar was that way. There wasn’t a lot of room for him but he was just too flashy to get rid of. Kevin Ogletree was that way in 2009. Actually, Miles Austin was the same in 2006. I have a suspicion Lawrence could be like that this year. My only question is how many reps he will get. Joseph Randle will get a ton in the preseason and Dunbar and Phillip Tanner should as well. But watch out for Lawrence because he can catch the ball out of the backfield and pick up the blitz. He’ll make some “wow” plays in the preseason games.
Taylor Reed– Can SMU produce another undrafted player for a second straight year? We will see if Reed can make a splash like Cole Beasley did. The inside linebacker has been impressive in the summer practices. Again, it’s hard to tell how physical these guys are, but
for that position, his awareness and instincts are crucial and he was able to display that in the practices. His tape at SMU showed a guy with the ability to get to the football on just about every play. He’ll likely have to unseat Caleb McSurdy as the backup middle linebacker and/or excel on special teams.