IRVING, Texas – Deontay Greenberry knew Miles Austin made himself into a Pro Bowler during his eight seasons with the Dallas Cowboys. What he didn't know was, like himself, Austin originally signed as an undrafted free agent in 2006.
That made him smile.
"That's big news," he said. "I'm just trying to come in and make a name for myself and earn a spot on this team."
Greenberry, a three-year star at the University of Houston, isn't alone. The Cowboys signed five receivers after the draft for necessary depth on their 90-man roster, as well as competition for backup and/or return duties: Greenberry, George Farmer (USC), Lucky Whitehead (Florida Atlantic), Antwan Goodley (Baylor) and Nick Harwell (Kansas). Der'rikk Thompson, a tryout from SMU, made some plays in last weekend's rookie minicamp, too.
The club had interest in drafting a receiver, "but as it turned out, it was the same thing as (with) running back," executive vice president Stephen Jones said. "Every time we had our eye on one, they tended to come off our board and then the next guy down we had a better player (at another position)."
The Cowboys moved quickly to sign the aforementioned five wideouts, as a couple were on the team's draft board in the later rounds. Jones is as excited about this year's undrafted class as in 2006 when Austin and Sam Hurd made the initial 53-man roster and wound up playing a combined 13 seasons in Dallas.
It's no secret the Cowboys have a history of keeping and developing undrafted receivers. Greenberry and the others are familiar with $13.6 million man Cole Beasley, the most recent rookie free agent to beat the odds and become a reliable contributor under the guidance of offensive coordinator Scott Linehan and receivers coach Derek Dooley.
"I know that they know how to work with smaller receivers," the 5-9 Whitehead said. "I've seen that all these guys play, and they get the ball around and stuff like that. They know how to win."
Perhaps most of all, the rookies know Dwayne Harris – the man they hope to replace as a backup receiver and special teamer.
Harris signed a five-year, $17.5 million contract with the Giants after four seasons in Dallas, where he caught 33 passes and scored five touchdowns (three receiving, two on punt returns). He also led the Cowboys with 18 special teams tackles last season.
When Farmer weighed offers from teams after the draft, he chose the Cowboys not so much for money – his $15,000 signing bonus is a large sum for a rookie free agent – but opportunity.
"I felt like it was the best place," he said. "There's a lot of opportunity at the position, special teams, wherever it might be."
The nation's No. 1-rated high school receiver recruit in 2011, Farmer followed in the footsteps of his dad, George Sr., who played four seasons with the Rams and Dolphins. But injuries held the younger Farmer back. He played in only 24 games with four starts in four years on campus, which included a 2013 redshirt season due to a torn ACL and MCL.
The Cowboys saw a receiver with kick return experience and the size (6-1, 220) and speed (4.35 at his Pro Day) to compete in the NFL. Farmer also played in a similar offensive system at USC.
"I did, kind of in a way, expect to be drafted," he said. "But at the same time, I was still looking for an opportunity. To be able to still come here and showcase what I could do is an opportunity in itself. It's a blessing."
Without Harris, the Cowboys' receiver depth chart isn't settled after Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams and Beasley. Devin Street, a 2014 fifth-round pick, will compete for more playing time and will get additional offseason reps if Bryant chooses not to participate in the upcoming voluntary OTAs without signing his franchise tag tender.
And, without Harris, the club doesn't have a clear-cut returner on the roster. Beasley can do it, and so can Bryant, but their offensive roles might be too valuable to risk injury on special teams.
Whitehead and Goodley, in particular, have explosive return ability. Whitehead scored a 73-yard touchdown in his final college game, and Goodley progressed from kick returner as a freshman and sophomore to an All-America receiver in 2013.
The Cowboys have had recent success with Baylor wideouts. Goodley said he got a phone call from his old college teammate, Williams, after he signed with Dallas.
"He's a great mentor," Goodley said. "He taught me a lot of things, and I'm sure he can teach me a lot of things here. I look up to him."
Harwell, a team captain at Kansas, and several of the rookie wideouts returned kicks during the rookie minicamp. Like most positions, the more they can do, the better their chances of making the team. In the meantime, the Cowboys will likely be on the lookout for more talent throughout the offseason.
"It'll be fun to see those guys compete for some spots," head coach Jason Garrett said.