Every year there are undrafted free agent rookies around the NFL that come out of nowhere to make a roster and contribute. Only rarely though do these diamonds in the rough play at quarterback, skill positions on offense, or along the offensive line. Though I don't have the data to back this up, it sure seems like an awfully high percentage of UDFAs that do manage to stick are running backs. Perhaps it's because there's so little difference between the size and speed of the highly regarded backs and those that go undrafted. Or maybe it's because the RB position requires less mental mastery of complex NFL schemes before being entrusted with rushing attempts.
For Phillip Tanner, an UDFA out of Middle Tennessee State, the stars seem to be aligning. Injuries to Tashard Choice and DeMarco Murray have opened up the door for Tanner, and the 6-0, 214 pound back has made the most of his opportunities to impress Jason Garrett and the Cowboys coaching staff. In Sunday's loss to the San Diego Chargers, Tanner had four carries for 31 yards including . He gained 44 yards on nine attempts in Dallas' preseason opener against the Denver Broncos. Calvin Watkins of ESPN Dallas, included Tanner in this week's Cowboys' 'Stock Report' saying this about Tanner's chances to make this year's squad:
Phillip Tanner: He's making a strong case to make the 53-man roster, or at least the practice squad, with another strong performance. He rushed for 31 yards on just four carries and had a touchdown taken away because he lost his helmet while breaking a tackle. One thing Tanner does well is move laterally to another spot along the line of scrimmage when there's no hole available.
Felix Jones has also looked sharp this preseason, so expect the former first round pick out of Arkansas to retain his status as the team's starting RB. But unless Choice and Murray get back on the field quickly and prove they're healthy enough to be an effective part of the backfield rotation, Tanner could very well find himself as the latest UDFA running back to emerge from nowhere to contribute in the National Football League.
Though it could be taken down at any moment, here's the video of Tanner's previously mentioned helmet-less TD that was called back.
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