First Glance: Assessing The Cowboys' 2014 Draft Class
The 2014 NFL draft is over, and the Dallas Cowboys did pretty well for themselves.
After the Cowboys’ most highly-graded defensive players — DT Aaron Donald, DE/LB Anthony Barr and LB Ryan Shazier — slipped through their fingers, they displayed draft savvy by resisting the lure of Johnny Manziel. Their quarterback position is set; there was no reason to grandstand and play to the media. Also, Dallas wisely chose not to trade down from No. 16.
Then things got dicey.
Many have lauded the selection of Notre Dame OT Zack Martin as a best-available pick, citing last year’s criticism and subsequent emergence of Travis Frederick as a tale-telling analogy. Others have pointed to Tony Romo’s age and potentially worsening back problems as a rationale for taking a lineman. Those are valid points. The pick was smart. But under the circumstances, the Cowboys would have better benefitted their team as a whole by taking a safety.
It’s a simple argument. The Cowboys turned in a historically bad pass defense last year. The lion’s share of the blame for that lies with the cover game of the secondary. Alabama S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix was taken by one of the smarter franchises around: Green Bay Packers. Passing on him was akin to last year’s dismissal of LSU S Eric Reid, who posted a Pro Bowl rookie season in the league’s toughest division.
‘Bama and LSU are known for defensive backfield talent. The Cowboys have gone two full seasons without a competent second safety. If J.J. Wilcox is the answer, he has to expedite his learning curve in 2014. Barry Church was healthy and productive last year, but he’s among the many Cowboys starters with troubling injury histories.
I trust the team’s eye for offensive lineman. Martin will pan out and be an asset, whether at right tackle or right guard. But the O-line didn’t need a game-changing player, the secondary did.
Good moves prevailed beyond that. I’m a tad skeptical on whether the second-rounder, Boise State DE DeMarcus Lawrence, was worth giving two high-round picks to a division rival. But better safe than sorry when it comes to the D-line. Lawrence is billed as a pure quarterback rusher with long arms, polished techniques and a good first step. He’s precisely the kind of player they need. And if Anthony Spencer and Tyrone Crawford can both return to 2012 form, the Cowboys will have done a commendable job re-patching their defensive front.
Iowa LB Anthony Hitchens, taken in the fourth round at No. 119 overall, is my pick of greatest intrigue. At 240 pounds, he seems to be a run-stopper and a fifth pass rusher — cover skills are needed more with the Dallas linebackers. The extent to which Hitchens’ cover game develops and to which he competes with Carter at the Will spot are interesting offseason focal points. On paper, he represents more quality depth at linebacker alongside Kyle Wilber and DeVonte Holloman.
As for the team’s fourth pick, Pittsburgh WR Devin Street, three of the last four receivers drafted have become regular contributors. At 6-foot-2 with 4.5 speed, he could be a nice replacement in the slot for Miles Austin.
The combined effect of taking five defensive players in the seventh round deserves a touch of praise as well. Though its impact will be minimal, it never hurts to air out the competition after an ugly year on defense.
No draft pick is ever a guarantee. It’ll be a long time before we know just how successful or unsuccessful the 2014 draft was. But for now, the Cowboys have some new pieces to be happy about.
Final Draft Grade: B+