At a time of year when fans should be reading RanchReport.com's reports about who is doing what at the Cowboys' post-draft rookie mini-camp, the league and its fans instead are mired in a haze of bewilderment, wondering when the owners and players will reach an accord on a new collective bargaining agreement, and change the name of the league from the National Endless Negotiations And False Posturing League to the National Football League.
So overlooking the obvious — that football should be starting now — the next element that is missing is the annual mating ritual between teams and undrafted free agents. Make no mistake: personnel officials around the league don't head home after the draft to put their feet up and spend quality time with the family. Instead, NFL personnel wonks traditionally spend several days after the draft on the phone with agents for undrafted players (and sometimes the players, themselves), convincing them to sign as undrafted free agents.
The idea that quality players can't be found after the first few rounds of the draft is simply inaccurate. Ever heard of Tony Romo? The Cowboys' starting quarterback had a solid college career at Eastern Illinois and opened some eyes at the 2003 NFL Combine, yet the entire draft came and went that year without Romo hearing his name called. Former St. Louis Rams and Arizona Cardinals quarterback was not drafted, but has a chance to end up in the Hall of Fame. More recently, players like Houston Texans running back Arian Foster and Tampa Bay running back LaGarrette Blount have made an impact in the NFL without having been drafted.
In other words, the list of undrafted players who end up as productive NFL players is lengthy.
So who might join that list this year? Updates will be forthcoming as RanchReport.com can confirm them, but it appears the Cowboys hope to make up for the fact that they ignored one of their biggest needs — safety help — in the draft by bringing in any of a number of safeties for free-agent tryouts, whenever the lockout is lifted.
Cowboys personnel studied a number of candidates in the weeks leading up to the draft, but the team ultimately chose to select players at other positions in the draft. But according to ranchreport.com's source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, it's likely that the agents for more than one of the following candidates can expect a call from the Cowboys when the league resumes normal business:
• Jeron Johnson (Boise State):
A strong safety in college, Johnson (5-10, 212, 4.56) is a powerful player who relies more on his strength (he put up 23 repetitions on the NFL-standard 225-pound bench press at the NFL Combine), and he was productive at Boise State, collecting 328 tackles and eight interceptions in his career. Johnson is a tough, physical player who can contribute on special teams.
• DeAndre McDaniel (Clemson)
McDaniel (6-0, 217, 4.66) is a center fielder type, who can roam the deep third of the field, read quarterbacks and break quickly when the ball is in the air. A three-year starter at Clemson, he was very productive, with 272 tackles, 16 passes broken up and 15 interceptions, including eight in 2009, when he earned some All-America votes. Projected by many to have gotten selected in the middle rounds, McDaniel slipped in part because of concerns about his speed. But he has long arms, enormous hands, and excellent ball skills. McDaniel is a solid tackler with the capability of delivering a highlight reel-style hit, and can play on several special teams.
• Joe Lefeged (Rutgers)
Lefeged (6-0, 210, 4.56) is one of those guys who might be a better athlete than football player. In college, he was used almost like an extra linebacker, creeping into the box to play the run, where he used his speed and strength to make big hits. His tackling, however, was inconsistent at times, and while he has good speed, he managed just two interceptions in 50 games over four years.
• Deunta Williams (North Carolina)
At 6-2 and 205 pounds, and with 4.55 speed, and with outstanding ball skills when the ball is in the air (he had 12 interceptions during his college career, including six in 2009), Williams has the makings of a potential NFL starter. But he needs to add bulk and needs to get stronger in run support, although when he gets to a ball carrier, he is a consistent tackler. He plays very aggressively on passing plays, and sometimes can be susceptible to double moves, but he has the ability to make acrobatic interceptions. Pre-draft analysis of Williams ranged wildly, as some projected him as an undrafted free agent, while others thought he could go as high as the second or third round.
• Brian Lainhart (Kent State)
Lainhart (6-1, 207, 4.55) is a tough playmaker who finished his KSU career as the NCAA leader in career interceptions among players on Bowl Championship Subdivision (BCS) teams with 17, the second-highest total in school history. Lainhart is a rugged player who was responsible for 20 takeaways in 30 games (15 interceptions and five fumbles) over the last two seasons and caused two other fumbles that were recovered by the opposition. Lainhart also had 344 career tackles in his college career.
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