The Dallas Cowboys own a six-pack of seventh-round picks in the upcoming NFL draft and seventh-round picks are not made of gold. But they nevertheless represent an opportunity to mine for a variety of other precious metals. To downplay the value of the three compensatory picks that are now part of the Dallas asset package that already included three seventh-round slots is an error that fans and media sometimes make. But no smart team does so. And the Cowboys, for all their foibles and flaws, do have a history of end-of-draft smarts.
Late-round picks and undrafted free agents should in a sense be viewed as being available under the same umbrella. Today’s “UDFA”s are what would have been eighth-round or ninth-round or 12-round picks before the draft was shortened to seven rounds in 1994. How much help can be available when hitting on these guys? The Cowboys’ Super Bowl teams of the 90s were greatly impacted by discoveries like Brock Marion, Leon Lett, Bill Bates, Jason Garrett, Dale Hellestrae, Chris Boniol, Larry Brown, Kenny Gant, Kevin Gogan, Nate Newton, Mark Tuinei and John Gesek. All of those guys: seventh-round picks, ninth-round picks, 10th-round picks or so little-regarded out if college that they were not drafted at all.
And today’s Cowboys? Tony Romo was a UDFA. So were full- time contributors Lance Dunbar, Cole Beasley, Chris Jones, Ron Leary, L.P. Ladouceur, Dan Bailey and Barry Church. George Selvie and Mackenzie Bernardeau were once seventh-rounders. Undrafted team members also include Jeff Heath, Cameron Lawrence, Ben Bass, Jakar Hamilton, Tyler Clutts, Orie Lemon, Sterling Moore, Darrion Weems and Jermey Parnell. That’s 19 players, more than a third of an NFL team……which can’t be fully constructed of higher-priced, higher-round superstars. Oh, and lest you think Dallas’ volume of late-umbrella pickups is tied to Dallas’ mediocre record, know that the world-champion Seattle Seahawks’ 53-man roster on Super Sunday included 21 players who originally entered the NFL as UDFAs. Again, more than a third of a team.
And there’s more. Blogging The Boys did a 10-year study on seventh-rounders/UDFAs. Their findings? There were 471 players picked in the seventh round, including compensatory picks, from 2001 through 2010. 213 ended up starting at least one game in the NFL, 120 had at least one season as the primary starter for their team and eight became Pro Bowlers. It’s a long shot to get a star. But you get a one-in-four chance at acquiring a starter.
You want hard numbers on UDFAs? NFL teams carried a total of 703 UDFAs on rosters in 2013. The total number of drafted players on 2013 rosters was 1,384. Therefore, roughly one-third of every player in the NFL got there the hard way – without being drafted. The higher-priced, higher-round budding superstars – the Tyron Smiths and the Dez Bryants acquired at the top – are without doubt gold. But these seventh-round-and-later guys? Smart NFL teams mine successfully for those precious metals, too.