With the NFL Draft four months away, the Dallas Cowboys must use every second leading up to their first through last picks to positively impact next season. The team should begin by taking notes from their 2011 draft.
The Cowboys had eight picks total during this draft, and four have shown incredible promise and ability thus far in their short careers. Here are those four picks from the 2011 draft:
Round 1 (Pick 9): Tyron Smith, T, USC
Smith made an immediate impact with the team—both positive and negative.
During his rookie campaign, he was the youngest player in the league, yet started every game at right tackle. He played beyond his years but still committed rookie mistakes and penalties.
Smith was then shifted over to left tackle last season and struggled with the change. According to footballdb.com, Smith was tied for third in the league with 11 penalties committed during the season.
The youngster still showed incredible promise and upside. He has quick, athletic feet and is extremely durable. In his first two seasons, Smith has started 31 of 32 total games. He is young but a tremendous asset to the Cowboys' line. Most importantly, he's a smart pick for years to come.
Round 2 (Pick 40): Bruce Carter, OLB, UNC
Bruce Carter was fairly quiet his rookie season. He did not start a single game and silently watched as his teammate and fellow linebacker Sean Lee took the league by storm.
Then last season, Carter received his opportunity to shine.
Lee was placed on IR six games into the season, and the entire Cowboys' organization panicked—except Carter.
He stepped into the role of defensive captain and delivered a monster season. Carter totaled 51 tackles and 19 assists (per pro-football-reference.com) in just 11 games before requiring season-ending elbow surgery.
He left his mark on the field and proved to be an emotional and physical team leader. The combination of a healthy Lee and Carter is going to be scary for opponents. This was another smart pick, where the team provided insurance for a glaring weakness of depth on the roster.
Round 3 (Pick 71): DeMarco Murray, RB, Oklahoma
What a gem Murray has panned out to be for the Boys.
After Marion Barber's quick decline, the running game has been a question mark for a number of seasons. The Cowboys were leaning on a fragile and under-achieving Felix Jones to pave the running attack, but an injury during the 2011 season forced Murray into the starting role. And like Carter, Murray made the most of an opportunity.
In his first start against the St. Louis Rams, Murray rushed for 253 yards, setting a Cowboys' franchise record (per The Huffington Post). Murray was crucial to the success of the Boys' offense and took some pressure off Tony Romo.
Also like Bruce Carter, Murray's season was cut short due to a leg injury but not before finishing with 897 rushing yards in eight starts. Murray was named the full-time starter last season and had an injury-filled season, missing games six through 11, but he did show glimpses of his incredible ability.
He will most likely remain the starter but needs to stay healthy and contribute to the Cowboys' offense for an entire season. Murray has the potential to be a star in the NFL and was an excellent pick at No. 71 in the draft.
Round 6 (Pick 176): Dwayne Harris, WR, East Carolina
Harris is my personal favorite pick of the draft.
Primarily used for punt and kick returns, he played no role on offense for the Cowboys during his rookie season. The Cowboys entered last season with two legitimate starters at receiver—Miles Austin and Dez Bryant—with the third receiver spot up for grabs.
In the very first game of the season, receiver Kevin Ogletree shined with a two-touchdown 114-yard game against the New York Giants (per ESPN). It appeared Ogletree would claim the third WR spot, but his play quickly cooled.
Harris continued to play special teams and quietly did his job. Then in Week 9 at Philadelphia, Harris made a name for himself. During a tie game in the fourth quarter, Harris returned a punt 78 yards to the house. He went on to fill in as a third receiver and even second—when Austin was hurt—making electric plays when given the opportunity.
Down the homestretch of the season, the Cowboys realized they needed to get the ball in his hands more and more. Finally, in Week 16 against the New Orleans Saints, Harris scored his first receiving touchdown.
There is no doubt Harris will compete for the third receiver spot next season and continue to be a threat on special teams. He is a special player with dazzling skills and more talent to unveil in the league. Not bad for pick 176.
Now this brings us to the Cowboys' upcoming draft this April.
Dallas does have specific needs to address, specifically offensive line, defensive line, safety, running back and even quarterback. I also understand that hindsight is 20/20, but if the Boys can find at least four players who could show potential within two years of being drafted, it would be considered a success.
Research, smart moves and a bit of luck will go a long way in this draft. Jerry Jones and his merry men must leave this draft feeling confident, or else the team will suffer another mediocre season.