The term ‘pet cat’ in the context of football jargon is used to describe a player thought to have an opportunity to see his production far exceed his acquisition status.
A ‘dark horse,’ or ‘slept on’ player so to speak.

Current and former Cowboys like Cole Beasley, Miles Austin, and Blake Jarwin would have all qualified as pet cats to those who saw their potential early on.

There is no universal set of requirements for what pet cat status. For the sake of order and uniformity, let’s put a few guidelines in place. A ‘pet cat’ candidate should be either a rookie, or 2nd year NFL player who has yet to make an impact in regular season NFL games.

Secondly, a ‘pet cat’ candidate should have been either an undrafted free agent acquisition or have been selected no higher than the 5th round of the NFL draft. This is about exceeding expectations, players drafted higher than round 5 tend to have fairly high expectations.

Given the guidelines we have put in place here, the Cowboys have around 20 players on board for training camp who would qualify for ‘pet cat’ status.

We won’t talk about them all, but we can go over the ones with the most realistic chances to make the team and make an impact.

QB Ben DiNucci // 6’3″/209lbs // James Madison – Rookie – 7th Round

Favorite son of the Dak-dislikers, Ben DiNucci does bring some talent to the table. Dare I say it, the small school prospect has a bit of Tony Romo in him, with his above average arm strength, and improvisational skills. However, not unlike a young Romo, DiNucci is still rough around the edges. He is also a bit light in the cakes at just 209 lbs, and is about to experience a severe jump in competition.

Despite the the wishes of many, Ben DiNucci is not here to supplant Dak. He also has zero shot at bumping Andy Dalton for the understudy role. They Cowboys have shown that they much prefer keeping just two quarterbacks instead of three. A third guy would need to show some pretty serious potential. The cancellation of the preseason hurts many guys in this regard, but you would have to think it affects quarterbacks especially. Lots of guys can make reads and toss a pretty ball when they know they won’t be accosted, but things are different when the live ammo is whistling around.

Let’s not get things twisted. The Cowboys would absolutely love to parlay a 7th round selection into a long term backup, or even a player who could be potentially flipped into draft picks down the road. Still, DiNucci is going to have to be immensely impressive for the Cowboys to be willing to part with a roster spot for a QB3.

CB Chris Westry // 6’4″/199lbs // Kentucky – 2nd Year – UDFA (2019)

No position group in Dallas is more muddled than the defensive back room. The Cowboys have no superstars in the secondary, no notable contracts that extend beyond 2021. This thing is wide open, so a super athletic corner, with a rare body type needs to be given some consideration as a pet cat.

Chris Westry is long like Advanced Statistics equations. At 6’4″, Westry would be the in the 100th percentile for height amongst NFL cornerbacks. His 33 3/4 inch arms are offensive linemen level long, and he’s a freak of an athlete on top of all of that. Westry ran a 4.36 forty yard dash, and bopped off a 121 inch broad jump, and 38 inch vertical at his pro day. There is a lot to work with here.

Westry is a raw player who needs refinement, but even last season he was a guy whom the Cowboys may have dripped a little sweat over, waiting for him to clear waivers to they could stash him on the practice squad.

Westry has had a year with access to NFL amenities to thicken up his slight frame. He also has a new coaching staff, that will not marry him to a small number of techniques, and look to use him to his strengths. Everything is up for grabs in the DB room, and Westry should not be left out of the conversation.

WR Jon’vea Johnson // 6’0″/192lbs // Toledo – 2nd Year – UDFA (2019)

Johnson was on pace to make the squad last season, but was undone by dropped passes. Johnson possesses a skillset that isn’t really prevalent amongst Cowboy receivers. Johnson is that speedy/shifty traditional slot type.

With a 4.38 forty, and a 35 inch vertical leap, Johnson also doubles as a punt returner which would be appealing to those (not me) wanting to keep rookie CeeDee Lamb safe from special teams duties. The wide receiver room is not stacked beyond the teams three starters (Cooper, Gallup, Lamb). It’s anybody’s game at WR.

WR Aaron Parker // 6’3″/208lbs // Rhode Island – Rookie – UDFA

WR Kendrick Rogers // 6’4″/204lbs // Texas A&M – Rookie – UDFA

I’m grouping Parker and Rogers together here because they are basically the same guy. Big, good but not great athlete, great body control and good at the post up, jump ball stuff. The Cowboys actually signed a third free agent WR of similar type in Mississippi State’s Stephen Guidry, who exercised his Covid opt-out option.

The fact that the team brought aboard three players of a specific mold suggests that maybe the team is desirous of having that type of player on the roster. Adding some rebounders on the perimeter makes sense for a team that has really struggled in the red zone in recent years.

LB/EDGE Azur Kamara // 6’4″/235lbs // Kansas – Rookie – UDFA

The Cowboys will likely keep 5 linebackers. Leighton Vander Esch, Jaylon Smith, and Sean Lee are all in. Joe Thomas is also likely in. The 5th spot looks to be a scrap between 2nd year man, and star of the 2019 preseason Luke Gifford, and Utah rookie Francis Bernard. In a Rod Marinelli defense, I would count Kamara out entirely, but here is why Kamara has a chance to sneak onto the squad in 2020.

He was not asked to do so a ton, but when called upon, Kamara showed some juice off the edge as a rusher. Kamara has some rare, rare length (81.25″ wingspan), and with just a little seasoning could become a useful piece in what looks to be a very diverse pass rush scheme. Gifford and Bernard are better pure LBs, but Kamara’s rare set of traits, and position flex potential could be very appealing to a creative staff.

Kamara would be an outstanding practice squad stash, but can’t be counted out 100%.

FB/TE Sewo Olonilua // 6’3″/248lbs // TCU – Rookie – UDFA

Olonilua is my personal pet cat. Mark me down. This is my dude.

The position flex on this guy is just nuts. Mike McCarthy recently seemed to hint toward the idea that fullbacks and tight ends are somewhat interchangeable parts within his offense. Players who can do some of both, might be found especially useful. Olonilua has a ‘tweener’ build. You can call him a squatty TE or a long FB.

Either way he is somewhere in the middle. Olonilua is a smooth and powerful athlete who seems to have natural hands. What puts Olonilua over the top for me though, is his ability to play as a traditional tailback. As a ball carrier, Olonilua is surprisingly nimble and explosive for his size, and predictably packs a punch.

Olonilua could in theory serve as your FB1, RB3, and TE3/4. That would be some outstanding value for a UDFA. Sewo is one to watch.

Make your declarations now…
Who is your pet cat for 2020?

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