I’m willing to bet that when you take a glance across various NFL depth-charts, you aren’t going to see too many key players scattered across the roster that were undrafted, or a late round draft pick.
The Dallas Cowboys organization deserves a ton of credit for identifying players that others passed on and developing them into stars in the NFL.
Tony Romo, Miles Austin, Jay Ratliff, and Mat McBriar are all Pro-Bowlers, and Romo, Austin, and McBriar were all signed as undrafted free agents, while Ratliff was drafted in the final round by Dallas in 2005.
Key contributors Patrick Crayton, Orlando Scandrick, and Marion Barber were drafted in the seventh, fifth, and fourth rounds respectively as well.
Wide receiver Kevin Ogletree went undrafted in 2009 before signing with Dallas, and by the end of the 2009 season, had replaced former first-round pick Roy Williams in certain two-wide receiver sets. The Cowboys are very high on the development of Ogletree, as current tight ends coach John Garrett coached Ogletree at the University of Virginia. He believes that a knee injury that robbed Ogletree of his junior season, combined with poor quarterback play after the team dismissed starting quarterback Peter Lalich for disciplinary reasons Ogletree’s senior season, dropped his draft stock in 2009. The organization fully believes that Ogletree can develop into a key contributor like his counterpart Austin.
Ogletree will likely see an increased role in 2010, both as a receiver and returner.
The University of Iowa employs a similar strategy, as they take in several unheralded prospects as well, and a few years later several of them are featured in the NFL. See Chad Greenway, Shonn Greene, and Dallas Clark.
It’s great to see my two favorite football teams identify players that others passed on, and see something in them to develop into star players down the road. There’s nothing better than home-grown players in sports.
For an organization that often gets criticized for “buying” a team, nothing can be further from reality. The Dallas Cowboys do a masterful job of scouting players and coaching them into superstars that end up cashing in fat checks.
The next time you hear of your favorite team signing an undrafted free agent or drafting a player in the final round, don’t shrug it off. Certain players fall for different reasons, and playmakers can still be had outside of the first few rounds of the NFL Draft. With the proper scouting and coaching, these players can turn out just as good as some of the first-round picks.