Let’s all take a deep breath, shall we? The 2014 NFL Draft has come and gone and finally the real picks can be analyzed. This year’s draft managed to live up to the hype of the longer wait, but the Cowboys stayed away from the drama most of the time.
That’s not to say they were out of the spotlight entirely. Their first round pick, in particular, was a delicious bit of TV as the entire country held its breath to see what Dallas would do.
Now that the air has cleared, here’s a letter grade for all nine of the 2014 Dallas draft picks and some analysis as to how they’ll fit in.
Pick 16: OT Zack Martin, Notre Dame
For Cowboys fans, there was a moment on Thursday night when we turned to each other wide-eyed and thought, “Could this really happen?” There sat Johnny Football in New York and there sat Jerry Jones in Dallas. At that moment, anything seemed possible.
Thankfully, Roger Goodell ended that moment with a surprise dose of sanity from the Dallas war room: they had, for the third time in four years, addressed their offensive line in the first round with tackle Zack Martin from Notre Dame.
Martin is widely expected to start at guard in Rod Marinelli’s scheme, but the great thing about him is his ability to play all over the line. When Doug Free gets replaced in a few seasons, don’t be surprised to see Martin slide over and take his place. He’s the kind of guy you can plug into a lineup and forget about for seasons on end. Some trips to Hawaii may well be in the future for Martin. When the Cowboys drafted him, they sent a message to Tony Romo: we’ve got your back.
Pick 34: DE Demarcus Lawrence, Boise State
Martin was a great pickup, but last I checked, he does not play the defensive line. And every Cowboys fan knows that Dallas really, really needs help on the defensive line.
So in the second round, Dallas showed that it was serious about getting better by overpaying for Demarcus Lawrence, a defensive end with good hands and lots of sacks against less-than-stellar offensive tackles.
Can Lawrence translate his skills to the NFL? The Cowboys certainly think so, as they gave up their third round selection to find out. I don’t dislike this pick, I just dislike what the Cowboys had to give up. This was the deepest draft in recent memory — is Lawrence really the only lineman Dallas liked that much?
Pick 119: LB Anthony Hitchens, Iowa
After what must have been a restful Friday night, the Cowboys went back to work Saturday and immediately surprised the NFL community by taking Hitchens, a scrappy but undersized linebacker. Not only was linebacker not considered the most pressing need, but Hitchens was projected by most to go later — like, a lot later — in the draft.
Clearly the Cowboys saw something here that they really liked. Marinelli must believe that Hitchens is a perfect fit for his Tampa 2 defense who can seriously challenge Bruce Carter for the starting WILL spot. Still, the Cowboys passed on a lot of talent to grab Hitchens here.
Pick 146: WR Devin Street, Pitt
The Cowboys finally got in on the wide receiver action by trading up and taking the relatively unheralded but toolsy Street. Street will compete with Devin Harris and Cole Beasley for playing time, but is the tallest of the three and has perhaps the largest upside.
There were many wide receivers Dallas could have targeted, but they obviously believe Street’s skill set and physical makeup are the best fit for their offense. With picks to spare, going up to get him may prove to be well worthwhile.
Pick 231: DE Ben Gardner, Stanford
Dallas knew that the seventh round wasn’t the time to find Jason Hatcher’s replacement, but after going through so many linemen last season, Gardner’s selection seems more than reasonable.
Physically, Gardner was seen as a bit of a linebacker-end hybrid, but the Cowboys will develop him solely on the line to see what he can add to their oft-injured equation.
Pick 238: LB Will Smith, Texas Tech
Surprise! Another linebacker to the Cowboys. Smith is a lifelong Cowboys fan who played on the weakside for the Red Raiders and was good against the run.
That said, Smith’s pass defense needs a lot of work. I’m not sure he’s a great fit for the scheme, and he probably wasn’t the best talent still available despite what the Dallas big board may have said.
Pick 248: S Ahmad Dixon, Baylor
Dixon, along with Lawrence and Street, comes with his own off-the-field issues, but the Cowboys proved this year that they’re willing to take a chance on talent they believe in. In Dixon’s case, it’s all about backing up Barry Church, the former sole inhabitant of the strong safety position in Dallas.
Pick 251: DT Ken Bishop, Northern Illinois
It took Dallas much longer than expected to address the interior defensive line in this draft, and they may come to regret this if projected starters Henry Melton and Terrell McClain go down. Bishop may one day be a serviceable NFL backup, but the Cowboys need him ASAP.
Pick 254: CB Terrance Mitchell, Oregon
Mitchell, apparently, was just as highly rated on the Cowboys board as he was on many others — CBS had Mitchell as a projected 4th-round pick. That kind of upside likely made this decision easy for Dallas, who’ve struggled with inconsistent cornerback play for years. The Cowboys will give Mitchell every chance to succeed and make this roster.
The Cowboys have entered phase two of their offseason workouts, and these rookies should be joining the team soon for their own minicamp and development program. With so many roster holes, don’t be surprised to see most of these guys on the roster come opening day in September.
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