With the 2014 NFL Draft coming to an end, fans have either rejoiced or denounced their team's selections.
Now, the biggest question for the Dallas Cowboys is whether they did enough to improve upon their 8-8 season and make the playoffs this year.
The Cowboys have drafted nine players (two on offense and seven on defense) and have signed 24 undrafted free agents, according to Blogging the Boys. The hope is that most of the drafted players and a couple of the undrafted free agents can make some immediate impact, not to mention a big one in the future.
|Zack Martin||Notre Dame||1||Guard|
|Demarcus Lawrence||Boise State||2||Defensive End|
|Anthony Hitchens||Iowa||4||Inside Linebacker|
|Devin Street||Pittsburgh||5||Wide Receiver|
|Ben Gardner||Stanford||7||Defensive End|
|Will Smith||Texas Tech||7||Outside Linebacker|
|Ken Bishop||Northern Illinois||7||Defensive Tackle|
Did the Cowboys improve their team with their draft selections? Owner Jerry Jones definitely thinks so, per their official site's Nick Eatman:
“Yes, we are better,” Jones said. “There’s no question about that. Relative to where we played last year, we’ve had a very impactful draft. We actually have had an impactful offseason, relative to the way we play.
“We’re better. And consequentially, when I look over at the offense, we haven’t taken a step back on offense at any place and matter of fact, without being trite, we’ve gained on it in my opinion. For me, I feel better tonight than I did when we quit playing last year. To me that isn’t just optimism for me. I do, factually, can look down here and say we’re a better team than we were this time last year as reality would have it.”
While it's usually foolish to expect a team's draft class to have a sizable immediate impact, the Cowboys are in a situation where they need their draft class to do just that. With Jason Garrett entering the final year of his contract and Tony Romo turning 34, the Cowboys need to win now or risk the necessity of a rebuilding period.
In the first round the Cowboys selected Notre Dame's Zack Martin. Initially, Martin will most likely start at guard. He will immediately improve the Cowboys' interior offensive line. Martin is a very smart player who knows how to handle twists and stunts from opposing defenses and has the power to be a force in the running game.
Martin's biggest impact will come in the passing game. While the Cowboys' interior offensive line was abysmal at pass-blocking in 2013, Martin thrives in this aspect. The addition of Martin will hopefully help Romo remain on his feet far more often than in 2013.
Both players have the versatility to play as a slot receiver along with the X- and Y-receiver positions. While it is unlikely that either makes a huge impact in their first year, they can both make impacts as a slot receiver and on special teams. Both players have great height (Street is 6'3"; Washington is 6'4") that can be great in the red zone.
Going into the draft, the area that needed the biggest improvement was their defense. The Cowboys ranked dead last in total defense, 26th in points and 25th in sacks, according to NFL.com.
This was evidenced by the fact that seven out of the nine players drafted by the Cowboys play defense. Boise State's Demarcus Lawrence was the biggest name the Cowboys selected. They seem to expect a big impact from Lawrence because they traded up 13 spots and gave up their third-round pick to select him.
Lawrence should be immediately plugged in to start at weak-side defensive end while helping the Cowboys' pass rush immediately.
However, with fourth-round pick Anthony Hitchens slotted as Sean Lee's backup and the rest of the selections on defense coming in the seventh round, it is unlikely that they will make any discernible impact other than as rotational players in 2014.
However, some of them have the potential to develop into key contributors in the future. Stanford's Ben Gardner, Northern Illinois' Ken Bishop, Oregon's Terrance Mitchell, Texas' Chris Whaley and Arizona State's Davon Coleman all have the potential to develop into good players for the Cowboys in future years.
Overall, the Cowboys have improved their interior offensive line, pass rush, defensive line rotation and wide receiver depth for the immediate future, while hoping that more holes will be filled when the players develop.
The Cowboys should see improvement from players on their own roster as well.
They will be getting key contributors like Tyrone Crawford and Anthony Spencer back on the defensive line, and J.J. Wilcox should be better with another year of safety experience under his belt. Plus, Dallas has taken steps to help prevent the rash of injuries throughout 2013.
Even though its still early and a lot of things can still happen, the Cowboys look to be an improved team in 2014. With the selection of Lawrence, the signing of Henry Melton and the returns of Crawford and Spencer, they should significantly improve on defense. Martin will further improve the play of the offensive line, and Washington or Street will give the Cowboys another option of offense.
Before the draft, the Cowboys looked to have little chance to be a playoff team in 2014.
However, coming out of the draft, they have an improved defense and an even more potent offense that should place them in the thick of the playoff race once again.