Some (including me to a degree) have criticized the Cowboys for selecting players at certain positions, even if those prospects were the highest on their board at the time.
Second-round pick Bruce Carter is a highly talented player, for example, yet there’s really no doubt that the Cowboys could have secured a player at the No. 40 overall selection who will contribute more in 2011 than Carter. Clearly the organization though Carter’s long-term value was enough to bypass more immediate value.
We could debate the efficiency of this strategy all day, but regardless, I wanted to take a look at the potential impact of the Cowboys' 2011 draft class this season and beyond.
- Tyron Smith, OT, USC
2011 Impact: Smith will immediately start at right tackle, where he played the last two seasons at USC. I think this is the right move to allow Smith to get accustomed to the NFL, while also giving Doug Free the opportunity to continue his development on the left side. Smith is a huge upgrade over Marc Colombo.
Best-Case Long-Term Scenario: The sky is the limit for Smith. He has the natural talent and athleticism to be a Hall of Fame player. I’m not saying that is what he will be, but he’s one of the best tackle prospects I have ever seen. Certainly Smith will need to work hard to become elite, but being a hard worker was one of the reasons Dallas drafted him.
Most Likely Scenario: You can never project a guy to make the Hall of Fame, but I don’t think it is outrageous to suggest it is likely that Smith will be a Pro Bowl player. As long as he remains healthy, I simply can’t see how Smith isn’t a multiple-time Pro Bowler. That stems more from confidence in his work ethic than his ability—and his ability is off the charts.
- Bruce Carter, LB, UNC
2011 Impact: There is concern about Carter’s knee health, but he should be ready for training camp. The Cowboys will still bring him along slowly. Carter will play primarily on special teams in 2011, with the possibility of receiving some snaps in nickel packages. I’d love to see him beat out Bradie James for the nickel job alongside Sean Lee, providing him with experience and James with much-needed rest.
Best-Case Long-Term Scenario: Smith is widely considered a first-round talent, so his upside is tremendous for a second-round pick. First-round players are supposed to be able to make Pro Bowls.If everything goes as planned, Carter will be a Pro Bowl player three or more years down the road. Health will be key.
Most Likely Scenario: The most likely scenario is that Carter takes over the starting inside linebacker gig in about two years, supplanting James. I’d place his chances of making a Pro Bowl at about 30 percent—he’s a great talent, but he has a long way to go.
- DeMarco Murray, RB, Oklahoma
2011 Impact: I think you’ll see Murray almost immediately supplant Tashard Choice as the No. 2 back (assuming Marion Barber is cut). I’m not saying that is what I want to happen, but I have a hard time believing Jason Garrett is going to give a ton of snaps to a player he clearly doesn’t care for (Choice) over the first skill position player he ever drafted as a head coach (Murray).
That means Murray will probably receive around 25 percent of the touches among running backs, including plenty of receptions. He is also the leading candidate to return kickoffs and, if he can learn to do so, punts as well.
Best-Case Long-Term Scenario: The ultimate goal is probably to have Murray become a feature back, or at least a 1B-type player alongside Felix Jones. I think he has that potential, but will he be able to hold up? He’ll never be a true workhorse back, but those are few and far between nowadays.
Most Likely Scenario: Murray will probably see a role similar to that of Jones. He will receive a modest number of touches as a rookie and play special teams. That role will gradually increase as he gains more experience. Like Carter, health is the main concern with Murray.
- David Arkin, G, Missouri State
2011 Impact: Arkin will not start in 2011. At best, he will be the primary backup guard, although even that is a stretch. He will take 2011 as an opportunity to learn behind veterans.
Best-Case Long-Term Scenario: Arkin has the potential to be a starter, perhaps as soon as 2012. With starters Kyle Kosier and Leonard Davis on their last legs, the future belongs to Arkin and Phil Costa.
Most Likely Scenario: I would say it is likely that Arkin will be a starter at some point in his career. I don’t see Pro Bowl potential in him, but I think he can be a solid player in the mold of Kosier.
- Josh Thomas, CB, Buffalo
2011 Impact: Special teams. Thomas may be inactive a large portion of the time, but his best bet to get playing time is as a returner. Punt returns and solid play as a gunner and on kickoff coverage are how he can get noticed in his rookie season. He won’t see time in defensive packages unless there is an injury.
Best-Case Long-Term Scenario: I really, really love Thomas’ upside, and I think he has starter potential. He’s obviously nowhere near that yet, but he possesses the size, speed and work ethic to make it on the outside.
Most Likely Scenario: Perhaps more likely than becoming a shutdown guy is playing in nickel packages. While I think Thomas will surprise a lot of people within a few years, the odds are still against him being a top-flight cornerback at this point.
- Dwayne Harris, WR, East Carolina
2011 Impact: This is tough. Harris will have to prove he is superior on special teams to players like Sam Hurd, Jesse Holley and Kevin Ogletree (the latter shouldn’t be too difficult). His return ability will help, but he will also have to fight off fellow rookies Murray and Thomas (as well as second-year player Akwasi Owusu-Ansah) to garner return duties.
He’s the Cowboys’ only “true” slot receiver, but he won’t see many offensive snaps outside of Roy Williams being released. I don’t think that will happen.
Best-Case Long-Term Scenario: At best, Harris will be an effective slot receiver. He doesn’t have the ability to play outside, but that doesn’t mean he can’t have a major impact on offense. Wes Welker’s impact from the slot is monumental, and I see a bit of Welker in Harris’ game.
Most Likely Scenario: I’ve heard Patrick Crayton comparisons, and I think they’re valid. Crayton should have been in the slot from the beginning. If true, a Crayton-like career isn’t bad for a sixth-round pick.
- Shaun Chapas, FB, Georgia
2011 Impact: Chapas is probable to make the roster either in place of current fullback Chris Gronkowski or alongside him. I think it should be the former, as Chapas is a better lead blocker. I don’t put much stock in receiving ability for fullbacks—they just need to blow people up.
Best-Case Long-Term Scenario: What’s the best-case scenario for any fullback? A long career? You normally wouldn’t say a seventh-rounder has Pro Bowl potential, but so few are selected that the round is really irrelevant. They’re all low-round draft picks, if they get drafted at all.
Most Likely Scenario: As long as he makes the roster, Chapas should be in Dallas for a few years. You know the coaching staff likes him.
- Bill Nagy, C, Wisconsin
2011 Impact: Nagy’s main concern should first be making the roster. In my initial 2011 53-man roster projection, I predict he will. He will almost certainly be inactive on game day if he makes the team.
Best-Case Long-Term Scenario: The best-case scenario for Nagy is to be a starter. There aren’t many expectations for a seventh-round pick, so Nagy has an opportunity to fly under the radar, especially as an interior lineman.
Most Likely Scenario: In my opinion, Nagy will probably be released within a few years. I know that’s pessimistic, but he’s a seventh-round pick without a ton of upside. His best bet is to work at center and hope to eventually replace Andre Gurode.