How Will the Dallas Cowboys Use Their Rookies in 2014?
With the draft in the rearview mirror, the Cowboys now get to figure out exactly how their newly acquired players fit. After an 8-8 season, the team is hoping that these additions can come in immediately and make a huge impact.
After passing on Johnny Manziel, Dallas owner and general manager Jerry Jones proved that he's committed to winning the right way—by building up the trenches.
Although the team missed out on top targets like defensive tackle Aaron Donald and linebacker Ryan Shazier, they were able to land some great prospects who will have the opportunity to produce early.
Let’s take a look at the role each rookie will play in 2014.
Zack Martin, Offensive Lineman
Martin comes in and fits with other young first-round picks like Travis Frederick and Tyron Smith. The addition of Martin really ends a rebuild of a Cowboys offensive line obviously designed to keeping Tony Romo upright.
Martin will come in and be an immediate starter. It’s likely that he’ll first start out playing right guard. However, with Doug Free looking at free agency in 2015, Martin is the future at the right tackle position.
With Romo coming off of back surgery, the Cowboys needed to make a commitment towards protecting him, especially after signing their veteran QB to a six-year, $108 million extension. They did that by drafting Martin, and the hope is he’ll give the team an early return on its investment.
Rookie Outlook: Starter
DeMarcus Lawrence, Defensive End
The Cowboys traded up for DeMarcus Lawrence because they believed he could be the edge-rusher they need for their scheme.
After the release of DeMarcus Ware the Cowboys needed to add a serious pass-rushing threat. Lawrence is a fast, powerful pass-rusher, an athletic monster who will ravage quarterbacks in the NFC East.
Immediately, Lawrence will see action on passing downs. Once he proves that he can be a three-down player, he’ll be integrated more into the base defense. Nevertheless, Lawrence projects to be a huge part of the Cowboys defense and could easily amass 10 sacks his rookie season.
Rookie Outlook: Impact role player
Anthony Hitchens, Inside Linebacker
Hitchens was a surprise to many as he projected to be a sixth- or seventh-round pick.
Hitchens projects more as an inside linebacker in the mold of Sean Lee. He’s a strong tackler who pursues well and he appears to have a solid work ethic. Though he lacks the overall polish, elite measurables and the play-making ability that some top-level linebackers have, he’s could be reliable contributor on a limited basis.
Hitchens will find himself playing behind oft-injured Sean Lee, which may provide him opportunities to contribute early. However, outside of seeing Hitchens on special teams, fans should temper expectations for a player who initially may struggle to adapt at the next level.
Rookie Outlook: Special Teams Player
Devin Street, Wide Receiver
At 6’3” and 198 pounds, Street has the size to play both outside and in the slot for the Cowboys. The team liked him enough to move up in the fifth to get him and supposedly had a third-round grade on the player out of Pittsburgh.
After releasing wide receiver Miles Austin, the Cowboys were looking for someone to complement Dez Bryant and Terrance Williams. The hope is that Street, a long-armed receiver with reliable hands who swallows up everything thrown in his direction, can do that.
While he could afford to add more muscle and play tougher, he should prove to be a valuable weapon for an already loaded Cowboys offense.
Rookie Outlook: Role Player
The Seventh Rounders
Ben Gardner, Defensive End
Will Smith, Outside Linebacker
Ahmad Dixon, Safety
Ken Bishop, Defensive Tackle
Terrance Mitchell, Cornerback
With five seventh-round picks, the Cowboys added depth to a team that lacked it—specifically on the defensive line. While most of these players project to be special teams/developmental guys, you can’t discount their importance.
Most likely to contribute immediately is Ken Bishop who is a 1-technique defensive tackle who can clog running lanes. The Cowboy need a gap-filling player in the middle to increase the effectiveness of their pass-rush and linebacker play and maybe Bishop can help.
Another guy to watch is Terrance Mitchell who is a lengthy cornerback with great speed. His overall skill set makes him a good fit in a secondary that had its share of struggles on the outside.
Rookie Outlooks: Special Teams/developmental prospects.