IRVING, Texas – Early in the draft, players are picked not only for their skills and talent, but also for their abilities to contribute early.
Later in the draft, teams aren’t worried about roles as much and more concerned about acquiring players with traits that can be developed down the line.
For the Dallas Cowboys, they’ve got nine draft picks who will be on the field tomorrow (Friday) for the team’s rookie minicamp. With that in mind, let’s examine specific roles for each player and outlined their chances of making the team.
Zack Martin | 1st round, G, Notre Dame
This guy will step right in and start at one of the guard spots this year, presumably the right side for Mackenzy Bernadeau, who likely handles the backup roles at both guard and center. There has been talk of Martin returning to his collegiate position of tackle at some point, maybe in Year 2 when he gets stronger and more established in the league. But, he currently has the size and makeup of a guard and that’s probably where he’ll end up for most of his career.
Demarcus Lawrence | 2nd round, DE, Boise State
Unlike most draft classes, there could be more eyes on the second-round pick than the first. What the Dallas Cowboys decided to give up (a third-round pick) to move up 13 spots in the second and take Lawrence will put some added pressure on him. The fact that he’s replacing DeMarcus Ware’s position and has the same name won’t help matters either. But the Dallas Cowboys don’t have a lot of options remaining for a right defensive end. He he might start out on the second team behind the likes of Anthony Spencer or Jeremy Mincey. If Lawrence meets Marinelli’s expectations, he’ll take over sooner rather than later.
Anthony Hitchens | 4th round, LB, Iowa
Right away, the Dallas Cowboys have a plan to play Hitchens as the backup to Sean Lee at middle linebacker. For that specific spot, it could be a big role for Hitchens, considering Lee’s injury history and the fact he’s coming off a neck injury that sidelined him for the last three games in 2013. Considered more a “thumper” linebacker who likes to mix it up and hit, Hitchens could get some work at outside linebacker, but don’t be surprised if he steps right into a MLB role.
Devin Street | 5th round, WR, Pittsburgh
The Dallas Cowboys were excited to land Street, a player with a third-round grade that they liked enough to move up in the fifth. What the club likes the most about Street is his knowledge of a pro-style offense. He already knows all of the positions, which will give him a big advantage in adjusting to the NFL. He could use a little upper-body strength and that might plague him. His build is similar to Terrance Williams last year and they share similar on-field traits in their size and ability to get behind defenders. Street might start out as the fifth receiver.
Ben Gardner | 7th round, DE, Stanford
A pectoral injury cut his senior season short and consequently hurt his draft stock. Gardner was a tenacious college player who has a high motor. If that translates well to the NFL, he could garner some playing snaps even as a rookie. The Dallas Cowboys have quite a few defensive linemen (now), so the players who stay healthy and take advantage of limited reps will get the biggest boost. Gardner must shine in fourth quarters of preseason games to stick around.
Will Smith | 7th Round, OLB, Texas Tech
Like many players drafted this late, Smith’s primary task (to start out) will be on special teams. Aside from that, the Dallas Cowboys view him as a guy who can add depth and create competition in the linebacker corps during training camp. Smith was a tackling machine at Texas Tech, racking up 120 tackles from the weak side last season. Smith said that the “Will” linebacker spot is his specialty, and if he adapts well he could push Bruce Carter for playing time. We saw this same story play out just last year, when DeVonte Holloman joined the team in a special teams role and finished his rookie season with two starts.
Ahmad Dixon | 7th Round, S, Baylor
It’s easy to write off anyone drafted just eight spots away from the end of the draft, but the lack of an established starting free safety has to be encouraging for Dixon. The Baylor veteran looks like more of a run-stopper than a ball hawk – he managed just four interceptions, compared to 288 tackles, in three years as a starter for the Bears. But again, it’s not like Dixon’s competition is that steep. The other contenders to start opposite Barry Church are a pair of second-year players in J.J. Wilcox and Jeff Heath, and a third-year player with no career appearances in Matt Johnson. If there’s one position on the Dallas Cowboys depth chart where a seventh-round pick could make some serious headway, it’s probably safety. As usual for late picks, special teams duty is a given as well.
Ken Bishop | 7th Round, DT, Northern Illinois
Bishop was among the 30 players who visited the Dallas Cowboys back in April and the club was happy to see the lineman fall to them. He could very well end up getting playing time right off the bat. The active defensive tackle made 70 tackles last season, which is somewhat ridiculous considering he played nose guard. The Dallas Cowboys valued the lineman from the start, and as the only defensive tackle chosen by the team in the draft, he should get more opportunities than the typical seventh-round pick to stick around. Bishop likely starts out at the 1-technique in this defense, rotating with guys such as Nick Hayden and perhaps Terrell McClain.
Terrance Mitchell | 7th Round, CB, Oregon
It didn’t sound like Mitchell realized the interest the Dallas Cowboys had in him prior to the draft, but they liked him enough to snag him before someone else could in free agency. The Cowboys final NFL Draft pick has some size for his position at 5-11, 192, and some nice stats. Starting every game last season and notching five picks for the Ducks. He was clocked among the quickest defensive backs at the NFL Combine in the 3-cone drill and 20-yard and 60-yard shuttles. The Cowboys didn’t take another corner in the draft, which gives him a better shot to stick around, but they added a couple as undrafted free agents. Mitchell will need to show off that quickness and some special teams skills early on to earn a permanent spot on the roster.
INSIDE THE 2014 PLAYBOOK: Dallas Cowboys offensive coordinator Scott Linehan sees strength in running | More deep shots downfield will stretch defenses
Scott Linehan is known for directing pass-heavy offenses. During his previous five seasons as Detroit’s offensive coordinator, no team threw the ball more. Over those 80 games, the Lions averaged 40.7 pass attempts per game, four more than the Dallas Cowboys averaged during that time.
So, it was somewhat surprising to hear the new Dallas Cowboys offensive play-caller talking on the radio about how Pro Bowl running back DeMarco Murray and the Dallas running game would be the team’s strength this season.
“Things that were done last year in the running game with DeMarco, the running style that was created here is really a good fit,” Linehan said recently on 105.3 The Fan. “That’s going to be our strength, being able to lean on that running game a little bit more than the past.
“Obviously, with this offensive line, this is going to be something that’s going to help our passing game. The looks that Dez [Bryant] started to get as the year went on, people started giving him the attention that Calvin [Johnson] and Randy Moss would get as far as getting those double coverage’s. You need to have those other facets of your offense as far as your running game.”
Linehan also mentioned how an increased emphasis on running the ball could lead to the Cowboys using a fullback more often than they did in 2013.
Four-year veteran Tyler Clutts is the only fullback on Dallas’ current roster. LSU fullback J.C. Copeland was one of 24 undrafted free agents signed Tuesday by the Cowboys. Copeland was considered one of the top blocking fullbacks in college football.
“The No. 1 goal, and I told Jason [Garrett] this when I came here, is to keep a lot of things the same,” Linehan said. “It’s a lot easier for the players to not have to change how they call things. To the naked eye, they’ll be similar.
“I just want to be an asset and bring some ideas that maybe haven’t been implemented that I can add to current things that were done well in the systems I’ve been around.
“Jason and I have a good background. … There are a lot of similarities. It’s just the language. I just basically made the commitment to transfer over what I’ve called things, the way people call things to keep it consistent for the players so they can step on the field and be ready to go from the get-go of OTAs.”
Historically, the Dallas Cowboys’ new offensive play-caller has never been afraid to stretch a defense by taking deep shots downfield.
He did it with Calvin Johnson and Randy Moss. Expect him to do the same with Dez Bryant in Dallas.
“That’s a big part of what I grew up in or believe in,” Linehan recently said. “It’s going to be our philosophy to do those kinds of things maybe a little more. I think we have the personnel for it, for sure. It’s a way to get people backed up a little bit and also create big plays.
“Everybody says it’s a low percentage play. Depending on the look, it’s a high percentage play, as long as you got weapons on the outside part of the field. I really believe we have that. We also have some big targets with our tight ends. Having the talent, the speed and the length we have at our skill positions I think it’s something you got to implement, and that really helps open up things for your running game as well.”
Going deep wasn’t a large part of the Dallas Cowboys offensive attack in 2013. Tony Romo ranked 17th in the NFL last season in pass attempts of 21 or more air yards.
“One of the most intriguing things for me coming here was we got some great weapons on offense,” Linehan said. “Obviously we’ve built a heck of an offensive line. Tony’s a proven player that I’ve always been a big fan of throughout his career. We’ve got a pretty decent receiver [Bryant] and a pretty decent tight end [Jason Witten]. Those guys are pretty good.”
Williams played in all 16 games, starting eight as the team’s No. 2 receiver last season. The third-round pick caught 44 passes for 736 yards and five touchdowns. Escobar, a second-round pick, was used sparingly, catching nine passes for 134 yards and two touchdowns from the tight end position.
“The Escobar kid … is a guy that’s kind of somewhat untapped at this point,” Linehan said. “It’s not because he doesn’t have the ability to do it. We really liked him [in Detroit] last year coming out in the draft. I followed him when he came here. Now that I’m working with him, I’m really excited to see what he can do for us, too