Cowboys UDFA John Stephens Jr.’s roster fate makes ACL injury even more devastating

John Stephens Jr. played his way onto the Cowboys' 53-man roster.
Aug 12, 2023; Arlington, Texas, USA;  Dallas Cowboys wide receiver John Stephens Jr. (49) scores a
Aug 12, 2023; Arlington, Texas, USA; Dallas Cowboys wide receiver John Stephens Jr. (49) scores a / Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

The Dallas Cowboys' run of injury luck this offseason came to a screeching halt in Saturday's preseason loss against the Seahawks, as rookie third-round pick DeMarvion Overshown and undrafted tight end John Stephens Jr. both tore their left ACL and are out for the season.

Overshown's injury is more deflating for the team itself for obvious reasons. The former Texas Longhorn shined throughout camp and preseason and was headed for a sizable role on Dan Quinn's defense, as well as special teams.

Stephens, meanwhile, was another camp standout and translated that in preseason. He led Dallas in receiving against Jacksonville and scored a touchdown. He only caught one pass for six yards vs Seattle, but impressed as a blocker and likely would've had a bigger role as a receiver if not for the injury.

Long story short, Stephens Jr. seemingly was trending toward making the 53-man roster, possibly over 2022 UDFA Peyton Hendershot.

While the injury prevents us from knowing whether Stephens would have made the team, EVP Stephen Jones delivered the ultimate gut punch regarding Stephens Jr.'s roster fate while speaking to reporters on Tuesday.

Cowboys rookie John Stephens Jr. would have made 53-man roster, per Stephen Jones.

“As we all know, injuries are a part of this game,” Jones said, via the Dallas Morning News. "But certainly these two young men we lost were in our plans, both."

“John Stephens, which is not unheard of, for him to come from a priority college free agent and be a guy who pretty much found himself a spot on this football team. And then Overshown, he was leading the rookie class in terms of our draft picks. It’s just difficult you see guys like that that are going to be significant on the field in terms of the contributions this year.”

As if Cowboys fans couldn't possibly feel worse about the injury. If nothing else, though, Jones' comments serve as a needed silver lining.

Stephens Jr. couldn't have done much more during camp and preseason to become part of the 53-man conversation. The fact the former Rajin' Cajun was in a position to make the team with one week of preseason left is a testament to Dallas' roster building ... and the player's work ethic.

Though Stephens Jr. is raw and needs development in all facets, including blocking, the fact the Cowboys were willing to sacrifice experience and poise for sheer upside shows the coaching staff believed he could make an immediate impact, even in a limited role.

Jake Ferguson is cemented as TE and Luke Schoonmaker is expected to assume the secondary tight end role in year one. Peyton Hendershot and Sean McKeon could both end up making the 53 in light of this news, but a simple reading of the tea leaves shows Stephens Jr. has a future with the Cowboys.

It's just a shame the future can't be this season.

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