5 Dark-Horse Candidates to Make Dallas Cowboys Final 53-Man Roster

Jonathan BalesAnalyst IJuly 6, 2014

5 Dark-Horse Candidates to Make Dallas Cowboys Final 53-Man Roster

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    LM Otero/Associated Press

    The Dallas Cowboys signed and drafted so many rookies and have altered the composition of their team in such a way that you almost have to expect multiple surprises when it comes to their final 53-man roster. When you look at the roster and start to add up the number of players who are sure bets to make the team, you’ll see there are quite a few spots left up for grabs.

    When assessing dark-horse candidates to make the final roster, the nature of the beast is that we’re probably not expecting such players to make the team. To be considered a dark horse at all, you have to be a pretty severe underdog in some way—perhaps due to a lack of experience, a history of poor production, lackluster measurables or something else.

    In suggesting dark horses to make the Cowboys roster, I’m looking for upside. These players don’t necessarily need to do anything crazy during camp, but they do need to show that they have potential. When the cost is low, it makes sense to shoot for the moon, so it behooves Dallas to search for Miles Austin-esque players who have the physical tools to provide a really high ceiling.

    With that said, here’s a look at five dark-horse candidates to make the Cowboys’ final 53-man roster.

LaRon Byrd, WR

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    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    The odds of Byrd making the Cowboys’ final roster are slim because there’s so much competition at wide receiver. In addition to Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams, Cole Beasley, and Dwayne Harris, Byrd will also need to compete with rookies Devin Street, Chris Boyd, and L’Damian Washington, along with Tim Benford and Jamar Newsome. That’s a crowded wide receiver corps.

    So what’s to like about Byrd? It’s his physical tools, plain and simple. At 6’4”, 220 pounds, Byrd ran as fast as 4.42 in the 40-yard dash, according to NFL Draft Scout. That’s rare athleticism.

    Does it mean that Byrd can play wide receiver at an elite level? Not at all. Actually, his seven touchdowns and 11.8 yards-per-catch average over four seasons at Miami, per Sports-Reference.com, suggest he’s probably not a great football player.

    But with his physical tools, Byrd at least has a potential path to success. It’s not like he’s 5’8”, 180 pounds with poor speed. Maybe something needs to click for him to translate his athleticism into success on the football field, but the raw tools are there to at least give him the chance to do that.

Brian Clarke, G

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    Undrafted free agent Brian Clarke is a 6’2”, 299-pound guard out of Bloomsburg. With an 8’10” broad jump, according to NFL Draft Scout, Clarke isn’t a highly athletic player, but he’s apparently adept as a run-blocker, according to Danial Jonsson of High Desert Scout (via Draft Diamonds).

    What I like is his school. According to Andrew Healey—an economics professor at Loyola Marymount (via FootballProspective.com)—small-school players drafted in the middle rounds are twice as likely to make a Pro Bowl as their BCS counterparts. It’s not a stretch to argue that the small-over-big-school trend, of which I’ve also found evidence on numerous occasions, extends to undrafted free agents.

    Are small-school players as talented as big-school players overall? Of course not. But we’re not dealing with all players but rather specific players who have been preselected by scouts. Basically, we’re asking, “Who has a higher chance of success: Clarke or another undrafted guard from a BCS conference?” Assuming they were assessed equally by scouts, the answer is probably Clarke.

Davon Coleman, DT

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    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    Davon Coleman is an undersized defensive tackle (6’1”, 286 lbs) out of Arizona State. That’s not ideal, and Coleman’s 5.25 in the 40-yard dash, per NFL Draft Scout, isn't either. The 40 isn’t terribly predictive of NFL success for defensive tackles, but at his weight and speed, you have to wonder if Coleman even has the requisite athleticism to succeed in the big leagues.

    So what’s to like? His production. Last year, Coleman racked up 8.5 sacks and 15 tackles for loss, according to Sports-Reference.com, and he was pretty good in 2012 as well.

    In three years, Coleman averaged 33 tackles, 10.3 tackles for loss, and 5.3 sacks. My guess is that Coleman won’t develop into anything special in the NFL, but his history of production suggests there’s more there than his measurables show.

John Wetzel, T

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    Phil Sears/Associated Press

    They say you can’t teach speed, but an even truer statement is that you can’t teach size. At 6’7”, former Boston College offensive tackle John Wetzel has size that is rare. Running a clumsy 5.46 in the 40-yard dash with an uninspiring 25-inch vertical, according to NFL.com, Wetzel is far from an elite athlete.

    Wetzel is similar to Byrd in that he has a trait that predicts NFL success, but he doesn't have much to go with it. For Wetzel, that trait is his arm length (34 inches). Again, that hardly means he’s automatically going to be a great football player, but it’s something that acts as a foundation to build on.

    Remember, we’re talking about longshots here, and given the choice between two dark-horse candidates with relatively equal ability, I’ll take the one with long arms because he doesn’t need everything else to be going in his favor to succeed.

J.C. Copeland, FB

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    Dave Martin/Associated Press

    Fullback J.C. Copeland is different than the other players mentioned in this slideshow because he may or may not actually have a decent shot to make the roster.

    When you think more about it, though, Copeland is a limited player at a dying position who actually has a lot of competition. It’s not that fullback is a loaded spot but rather that the Cowboys might not carry a fullback at all, meaning Copeland could be competing with just about everyone.

    By that, I mean that if the Cowboys are undecided on even keeping a fullback, then Copeland could be the first player to go if/when the team adds a free agent, assuming he makes the team to start with.

    I think the Cowboys need a short-yardage blocking specialist, and Copeland is my favorite of the options they have right now, but his presence on the roster isn’t a certainty given the limited nature of what he can provide.