Just as the irritation from a grain of sand produces a beautiful pearl within an oyster, constantly being an afterthought in the NFL has been Antwaun Woods' motivating factor.
The 6-foot-1-inch, 310-pound defensive tackle is entering his third season with the Dallas Cowboys and is still using the feeling of being overlooked to fuel his drive.
"I’m very very prideful of my play," Woods said. "I’m a realist. I’m honest with myself. I absolutely think I’m overlooked a lot."
One could point to his entry into the NFL as the genesis for his being overlooked. The former USC Trojan went undrafted in 2016 before catching on with the Tennessee Titans as a priority free agent.
The AFC South club released him at the end of preseason, but brought him back on the practice squad. Though he did get promoted to the active roster, it was for the final week of the regular season. In 2017, it was the same routine of battling for a roster spot, only to be cut and find a place on the practice squad.
"Maybe it’s because I came in the NFL undrafted, maybe it’s because I’ve been on the practice squad a few years," said Woods. "Maybe it’s because I had to work hard and earn everything from when I first got here from the fourth string."
The Cowboys signed Woods in the 2018 offseason after the Titans waived/injured the defensive tackle just before their organized team activities. For Dallas, Woods collected 33 tackles, 1.5 sacks, a pass breakup, and a fumble recovery in 15 games, all of which he started.
The 2019 campaign was not as productive for Woods as he played 10 games, starting in each one, and recorded 22 tackles and a fumble recovery.
Dallas signed Woods as an exclusive rights free agent in late July after acquiring defensive tackles Gerald McCoy and Dontari Poe in free agency along with drafting Neville Gallimore in the third round from Oklahoma.
Dallas has 2019 second-round pick Trysten Hill as part of the rotation, as well. The investment in the trenches is part of an approach of the new Mike McCarthy regime to bolster the defensive line.
Even though the Cowboys used their salary cap space and a top-100 pick to address the interior of their defensive line, defensive line coach Jim Tomsula isn't discounting Woods.
"Woody, man, that's a guy that you all watched him play last year," Tomsula said. "You talk about tough. You talk about relentlessness in his approach — smart."
Even though Woods is getting credit from the coaching staff for his service to the club, even if it was in the Jason Garrett era and in defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli's system, the 27-year-old needs to feel underestimated to fuel his competitive drive.
"I actually like the fact that I’m overlooked because it just fuels the fire inside of me and pisses me off to keep going hard," Woods said. "Keep proving everyone wrong. I see y’all out there — y’all keep doubting. I’ll keep proving you wrong."
With McCoy lost for the year with a torn quadriceps, there should be more opportunities for Woods to make an impact along the interior defensive line. If Woods' motivation from being overlooked is the key to his success, at some point, it will be hard not to notice him.
Do you think Antwaun Woods will be able to replace Gerald McCoy’s expected production with more playing time in 2020? Share your thoughts with Mark on Twitter @therealmarklane.