Dallas Cowboys are finding hidden gems in late rounds and with UDFA

(Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)
(Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images) /

As the Dallas Cowboys prepare for the upcoming NFL draft, fans and critics alike are using mock drafts and making educating guesses on who the Cowboys will draft with their No. 26 selection.

Except for the quarterback position, the Dallas Cowboys are rumored to go just about anywhere. Specifically focusing on offensive linemen, running back, tight end, wide receiver, or defensive tackle.

The Dallas Cowboys have a good track record of finding geat players in the first round, so the expectation is the Cowboys will draft another star-studded player to join their recent group of first rounder picks: Tyler Smith, Micah Parsons, and CeeDee Lamb. This trio is the cornerstone of a young and talented team.

But where the Dallas Cowboys really find their true success is in the later rounds of the draft, another reason why Vice President of Player Personnel Will McClay is regarded as one of the best in the league at finding hidden gems, and the main reason why the Cowboys have more hits than misses in finding quality players throughout the draft.

The Dallas Cowboys are one of the best teams at drafting quality players in the later rounds and after the draft.

The Dallas Cowboys have a total of seven draft picks (with three in the top 100) in the NFL draft, but it is the later round picks where fans need focus on which players Dallas will select. This is where McClay does his magic and finds those hidden gems that pay huge dividends.

Then McClay adds another layer of icing on the cake when he signs an unheralded UDFA (undrafted free agent) that either becomes a starter or a legitimate backup with big play ability. Let’s dive into why this is Dallas’ cheat code for success and why they will remain competitive while McClay is in the building.

Finding those hidden gems in the late rounds is what separates great teams from good teams.

The hidden gems: Late round picks

In the 2022 NFL draft, Dallas found instant success in the mid to later rounds when they drafted tight end Jake Ferguson in the fourth, cornerback DaRon Bland in the fifth, and linebackers Damone Clark and Devin Harper were also fifth rounders. Ferguson, Bland, and Clark were major contributors to a 13-win season.

Ferguson played well enough for Dallas to move on from former tight end Dalton Schultz because of his ability to catch, block, and as a receiving threat in the end zone.

Bland played in 596 defensive snaps, recorded five interceptions, had seven pass deflections, and his versatility allowed him inside and outside.  At 6’2 and weighing a solid 200 pounds, Bland’s physical nature is why he can bully smaller receivers and fight for contested balls against bigger receivers.

Bland’s rise sent Anthony Brown packing and will more than likely move slot corner-Jourdan Lewis-to a backup role. Once Lewis went down with a season-ending Lisfranc injury, Bland made the best of his opportunities and remained a starter.

After recovering from a spinal-fusion surgery before the 2022 NFL draft, Dallas’ front office took a chance on the former LSU Tiger, and just like his aforementioned draftmates, Clark played in 10 games (started 5), had two forced fumbles, recorded 47 combined tackles, 29 solo tackles, and assisted in 18. Yep, you guessed it. Expect Clark to be a starter that replaces aging linebacker Anthony Barr. Clark will join fellow linebackers Micah Parsons and Leighton Vander Esch, with another promising linebacker expected to join this elite unit.

Because an Achilles injury ended Harper’s season prematurely, the promising linebacker played in only three games mainly as a special teams ace (52 snaps). Harper is seen more as a developmental role player that gives the linebacking unit depth; however, Dallas found themselves another gem in the later rounds that will benefit on the all-important special teams.

Offensive lineman Matt Waletzko was a fifth-round pick, too, and his rookie season was cut short due to a recurring shoulder issue that would require surgery. So, the jury is still out on him. But if you are keeping count, Dallas drafted four players (three starters) in the mid/late rounds of the 2022 draft who are expected to take major leaps next season.

Finding those hidden gems in the late rounds is what separates great teams from good teams.

Sidenote: Dallas drafted Smith and Sam Williams in the first and second round of the 2022 draft. Those two played beyond expectations. If third round pick-wide receiver Jalen Tolbert-can take the next step as a solid role player, the 2022 draft will go down as one of the best draft class’s in recent years for this franchise.


To give you an idea of how great Dallas has been at signing undrafted free agents, we can go as far back as 2012 when they signed former wide receiver Cole Beasley as an undrafted free agent out of SMU. Beasley was an instant hit and a favorite target for Tony Romo and Dak Prescott.

Other noted undrafted free agents signed by Dallas include wide receiver Miles Austin, kicker Dan Bailey, safety Barry Church, guard Ron Leary, right tackle La’el Collins, and tight end Blake Jarwin. Of course, Romo is one of the most famous UDFA in franchise history.

Dallas stuck to its blueprint and hit the jackpot again when it signed tight end Peyton Hendershot to UDFA contract after last season’s NFL draft. Like his fellow tight end teammate (Ferguson) Hendershot’s ability to do everything is even more reason why Dallas had no problem not re-signing Schultz to a long-term contract.

Even with his limited opportunities in his rookie campaign, Hendershot played in all 17 games (started in two), caught 11 passes for 103 yards, scored two touchdowns, and his longest touchdown reception was a 29-yard wheel route that was perfectly executed.

Hendershot will play a lot next year and will be a major headache for opposing defenses. He only scratched the surface with what he can do. But there is other up and coming UDFA’s Dallas signed last season who could have a break year: Markquese Bell (S), Dennis Houston (WR), Malik Davis (RB), Dontario Drummond (WR), and Alec Lindstrom (C).

If these players take the next step, watch out.

In conclusion,

The Dallas Cowboys are clicking on all cylinders when it comes to drafting elite players and signing UDFA’s. Finding these hidden gems is why they elected to let Ezekiel Elliott walk because Tony Pollard (a 2019 fourth round pick) is a versatile back that can do it all. Add Davis and another complementary running back, and Dallas’ backfield could be one of the best in the league next season.

More. 5 defensive tackles on the Cowboys' radar. light

Next. Homerun, Base Hit, or Strike Out?. dark

As you eat your popcorn and sip on your favorite bourbon as you watch the 2023 NFL draft, be mindful that the best teams do not win in the first round, but they definitely win in the later rounds because that is the foundation of where all championship teams are built.

Super Bowl winning head coaches Tom Landry and Jimmy Johnson understood this concept the best way to hoist the Lombardi Trophy.