1. Zack Martin, OT Notre Dame
2. DeMarcus Lawrence, DE Boise State
4. Anthony Hitchens, OLB Iowa
5. Devin Street, WR Pittsburgh
7. Ben Gardner, DE Stanford
7. Will Smith, ILB Texas Tech
7. Ahmad Dixon, S Baylor
7. Ken Bishop, DT Northern Illinois
7. Terrance Mitchell, CB Oregon
The Dallas Cowboys, seemingly the NFL’s version of Sisyphus, was knocked back down the hill by cap issues. They had to release DeMarcus Ware and the defense as a whole was awful. Offensively, they have a lot of talent, but cannot and do not run the football. The 2014 NFL draft was an opportunity to knock out a number of needs while maximizing talent and after the first two picks, it is unclear if they really made the most of their opportunities.
When Dallas came onto the clock, everyone was focused on whether or not Jerry Jones could resist selecting Johnny Manziel, even though he would have been a long time backup for Tony Romo. Not only did the Cowboys not pick Manziel, they went as far away as humanly possible from Manziel by taking Zack Martin.
Martin was the best, most fundamental player they could have taken. For a 300lber, it was noticeable just how much of a splash he did not make, but that is not a bad thing. All of a sudden, the Cowboys have an extremely young and formidable left side made up of three 23 year old players with a ton of talent.
Last year, the Cowboys were highly criticized when they selected Travis Frederick to be their center and he was outstanding in his rookie year, making everyone that laughed at them (myself included) look stupid. They already had Tyron Smith at left tackle. Presumably, Martin is going to play left guard and this makes sense in a few different angles.
Martin could compete with Doug Free for the right tackle spot and there is an argument that maybe he should, but Tony Romo gets a fantastic pass protector in between Frederick and Smith. For as often as they want to pass, that is critical. If they do decide they want to run the football, they should be able to create running lanes. It remains to be seen who is worthwhile enough to take advantage of those running lanes, but they should be there.
Tony Romo is the Cowboys and has been for the last few years. Guard may seem questionable, but investing in protecting Romo and giving him the best situation possible is smart. The fact that the move also gives the Cowboys one of the best, young left sides in the NFL is a smart move as well. And while Martin may be at guard, if the Cowboys find someone that can be a good left guard, he could end up moving to right tackle and playing there.
In the second round, the Cowboys got a really talented player in DeMarcus Lawrence. Lawrence was somewhat under the radar for the general public, but he was fantastic on tape and personally, I thought he was a first round caliber player. He is extremely well coached, uses great leverage and is able to stack and shed really well in addition to being able to rush the passer.
They replace one DeMarcus with another and while this version may never reach the heights Ware did, he has the talent to be fantastic. He will play the run and get to the quarterback and while the Cowboys currently are positioned to have Anthony Spencer be the starting right end, it should not be a surprise if Lawrence really pushes him in camp. The move also gives them options in passing situations, having Lawrence, Spencer and George Selvie that can all rush the passer.
After that pick, the Cowboys had one pick in the fourth round, one in the fifth and then took five players in the seventh round. I like the pick of Devin Street in round five. He brings a unique skill set to the Cowboys as he is tall and really long (having really long arms in addition to his height), but he is remarkably quick and able to contribute from the slot.
Street is rail thin and needs to get stronger, but he can be electric with the ball in his hands and is deceptive because he is so tall and skinny. His feet are quick, but he also has speed when he gets into the open field. Street gives them a player that can play in the slot as well as on the outside and gives a talented Cowboys receiving corps some options.
Anthony Hitchens in round four seems curious. It looks like he was brought in to backup Bruce Carter and while it would seem like he could be an option as a nickel linebacker, the Cowboys drafted DeVonte Holloman for that type of player as a former spur at South Carolina.
Hitchens has some ability as a run and chase linebacker and some ability in coverage, so where he fits into that plans is unclear at this point. What further makes this pick confusing is the talent on the board that could have helped them in some areas that are pretty thin. Tre Boston could have given them a ball hawking type presence at safety. Caraun Reid would have been a good pick for a defensive tackle. Lorenzo Taliferro or James White were both available at running back. The Cowboys might have a talented player in Hitches, but at least right now, the pick is a little odd.
When it comes to the seventh round, I liked a few of the flyers they took. The Ben Gardner pick is one that I think could be impactful for the Cowboys. If not for a pec injury, he probably goes much higher, but he gives them versatility. Gardner can play power end and be a rush tackle. More than likely, the Cowboys took him as a rush tackle first. The Cowboys want to put teams in obvious passing situations and then use a player like Gardner to come in and rush from the inside.
Gardner has the tools and the skill set to do it and the injury could have caused him to simply get overlooked. If he can get on a roll, he has the chance to be a rookie that chips in with impact, possibly notching a few sacks along the way. Long term, the Cowboys could use Gardner as a power end or bulk him up into a full time 3-technique defensive tackle. The latter seems more likely, given the makeup of the Cowboys roster.
Terrance Mitchell is a good pick in round seven because the Cowboys should know exactly what they are getting. His physical tools are relatively average, but he just does his job. In fact, at times on tape is almost boring because all he does is his job. For the Cowboys, he can come in and potentially contribute as a dime or nickel. Chances are, the Cowboys are going to like him immediately or he will not make the team as his upside is limited.
I am not a big Ahmad Dixon fan, but for where they got him, I understand it. His best position in the NFL might be in nickel as a tweener linebacker/safety. If the Cowboys want to run nickel with size enough to play the run, Dixon can give them that look.
He looks the part and had a lot of press clippings in his collegiate career, but he is hit or miss as a player. Dixon tends to struggle in coverage because of stiff hips and has to guess where opponents are going. He can make a big play at times and will go for the kill shot when presented to him, so playing him in the box, he is a potential option as a linebacker in obvious passing situations or the nickel for three and four receiver sets where the Cowboys want to keep their options open in stopping the run.
The Cowboys had nine total picks, but only two came in the top three rounds. In my opinion, they did a great job with both of those picks, but the Hitchens pick is at least puzzling right now. I like the Street pick and a couple of the seventh rounders, but the Cowboys have some sizable issues still lingering on their roster and no real way to fill them; the most notable of which is the lack of a true 3-technique, which is the most important defense in Monte Kiffin’s scheme. The running back position is filled with multiple “if he can stay healthy” guys and JAGs.
Overall, the Cowboys may end up getting a couple nice players in Martin and Lawrence, but it would not be a huge surprise if they get next to nothing out of the rest of the draft. I might have the most hope for Gardner out of the remaining picks, but they could have a few that might help them. Overall, Jerry Jones put them and always put them into tough spots and there are never enough assets to overcome them all. This could be a long year for the Cowboys.