FRISCO, Texas – It sounds strange on the surface, but Jahad Thomas genuinely wanted to come here.
That seems a bit puzzling when you consider the situation in the Dallas Cowboys' running backs room. Ezekiel Elliott is the reigning NFL rushing champion – a first-round draft pick, a face of the franchise and a key component of the offense.
Elliott isn't likely to go anywhere any time soon. But with Lance Dunbar leaving the team in free agency, and with both Darren McFadden and Alfred Morris under contract for just one more year, Thomas saw the Cowboys as an opportunity.
"The roster – this is one of the best fits," he said. "I know, with losing Dunbar to the Rams, I had an opportunity to come in and fill that role as someone with his style of play."
Standing at 5-10, Thomas is a bit taller than Dunbar, who served as the Cowboys' third-down back for much of the past few years. Consider his college career, though, and the comparison makes sense.
In two years as the starter at Temple, Thomas racked up 2,215 total rushing yards and 30 touchdowns, averaging an impressive 4.6 yards per carry. But he also did a little bit of everything else, as he caught 69 total passes for 998 receiving yards and six touchdowns over his career.
He also boasts plenty of experience as a return man, with 46 total kick returns in his college career, as well as eight punt returns in his senior year – with an average of almost 13 yards per attempt.
"We haven't really got into too much special teams practice yet, but I'm going to try to be on every special team there is," Thomas said during rookie minicamp.
Having taken a deeper look, Thomas' logic for signing with the Cowboys makes perfect sense. He might not have been drafted, but he possesses a skillset that most of his competitors for a roster spot do not. In that regard, his best bet for lasting on an NFL roster might hinge on the fact that he wasn't drafted, after all.
"I think everyone's dream is to get drafted and walk across the stage, but as you get older you understand that it's not about where you go," he said. "It's about where you end up and just making the best of your opportunities."
It will be interesting to see what exactly that opportunity looks like over the next few months. Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones was asked last week about replacing Dunbar's role on the roster, and he pointed out that the front office partially addressed that with the decision to draft Ryan Switzer.
"It may be that we have a different look at the running back position if Switzer turns out to be what we think he can be -- that we end up having a different look in the running back corps in terms of what we carry there," Jones said.
Even if that's the case, Thomas' abilities as a special teamer will make him interesting to watch this summer. The rookie worked on punt returns at rookie camp, and he figures to factor in a variety of other ways.[embeddedad0]
McFadden and Morris are both seasoned veterans, and they provide a valuable insurance policy for Elliott. But Jones acknowledged that they don't play as large as a special teams role as most teams would prefer from their reserve running backs.
"I will say this: at some point you'd love for your third back, in a perfect world, to be a contributor on special teams," he said.
None of this guarantees a roster spot – especially not to an undrafted rookie from a non-Power 5 football program. But if all Thomas wants is an opportunity, it certainly sounds like he'll get it here.
"Now, as I'm here, I really can prove to myself that I can play here," Thomas said. "Like I said before, I'm just thankful to be here. I'm blessed and glad to have this opportunity to show that I can play here."