There are many ways to look at draft classes in the NFL, most of which are fairly irrelevant until you can see how the players you are looking at work out over the long term. Of course, I tend to be more favorably inclined to evaluations that tell me good things about the Dallas Cowboys, like the very interesting and original post Crunchberry did showing that they actually have one of the highest quality groups in the league this year, based on not one but two major outside sources and how they rated all the prospects pre-draft.
What I really am anxious about is how the group drafted will help the team, and how immediate that help is. By those standards, I am very disappointed in the 2012 class. Morris Claiborne became a game one starter, and Tyrone Crawford made some contributions as a key backup, but the rest of the class was pretty much put on hold due to injury. We may get some major contributions from them this year as the "redshirt rookies", as OCC has termed them, but for their initial season in the NFL, the other members of that class were pretty much MIA.
Things will hopefully be different this year. The only injury concern as we approach the rookie minicamp is Joseph Randle's thumb, which will require him to wear a Sean Lee style killer Q-tip club. It will limit his work catching passes, but indications are that he will be able to participate fully in running work.
So if the health of the newest draftees holds out, where will they fit on the team, how quickly will they be likely to play a significant role, and what players are they pushing down or off the roster?
Travis Frederick. Jerry Jones talked about him starting, and then backed off. He should have let this one stand. The Bearded Badger is going to start, probably at center, his best position. He will displace Phil Costa, and there will be a free-for-all cage fight among the remaining C/G candidates for the starting guard positions and the backup roles. I could see a variety of outcomes here, but I think Nate Livings is the player whose spot on the team is most at risk. However, it could be almost any other interior lineman who gets cut as a result of Frederick.
Gavin Escobar. Whether he is a starter on day one is as much a matter of terminology as anything else. If the team bases the starting lineup on a 11 or 21 set, then Escobar is the backup to Jason Witten. But if the team goes to the 12 set as the primary alignment as Jason Garrett and others are indicating, Escobar becomes a starter by default. He will keep James Hanna in a definite backup role, but will not threaten Hanna's roster spot. The team has plenty of need for three tight ends and, with increased use of a 13 set also anticipated, probably will look to add a fourth TE, likely more of a run blocker since the current trio are all primarily receivers.
Terrance Williams. Almost certainly becomes the third receiver to open the season, and much like Escobar, declaring him a starter or not is largely a matter of terminology and how you announce your lineup. Pick an 11 set, and he starts. He is not a threat to Miles Austin. Yet. He will push Dwayne Harris down the depth chart. If I hazard a guess, I am expecting the team to go with six receivers, and everyone after Harris is going to have to earn their way onto the final 53, including Cole Beasley and 2012 draftee Danny Coale.
If you notice, that is three starters or quasi-starters in the first three rounds. If that pans out, the 2013 class would be seen as a success no matter what happens with the remaining four picks. It may seem overly optimistic, but OCC has joined Crunchberry in pointing out that all seven of Dallas' draft picks have been rated as second or third round talents by NFL.com. This is a talent level coming out of college that would lead you to expect about a 50/50 chance of starting as a rookie, so this is not really expecting too much.
Now, for the rest:
J.J. Wilcox. Will be competing for a starting job, most likely with Matt Johnson, another of 2012's walking wounded. Probably will become the backup for Johnson or Barry Church, depending on how the staff feels he best fits, but with the lack of quality depth on the roster, he is just about certain to be above special teams ace Danny McCray, and will likely be seen in some situations very early in the season. Most likely impact: Free agents Charlie Peprah and Eric Frampton can forget any hopes of getting called to sign a new deal.
B.W. Webb. May get a look as a possible quasi-starter ahead of Orlando Scandrick at slot corner, but I think he is more likely to be the fourth corner on day one. His only real competition at this point are the UDFA corners signed by the team. Even if one of them has a stellar camp, they are likely not much of a threat to Webb's job, since the team would prefer to have five or even six corners on the roster, anyway. Will most likely see action very early in the season in dime packages, and may get into the nickle packages before too long. Also a very good return man, and likely to get playing time that way.
Joseph Randle. He will back up DeMarco Murray, will probably get snaps from the first game, and can expect to have to fill in for Murray at some point this season. Not a threat to Lance Dunbar, who will take Felix Jones' role as the change-of-pace back. Dunbar would have to be replaced by a UDFA to lose his job. Randle instead is Phillip Tanner's likely replacement. I don't see Tanner staying on the roster unless the team carries four running backs, and even then Tanner is very vulnerable. Randle is not. He stays healthy, he will be active the first week.
DeVonte Holloman. Dallas' sixth rounder and final selection of 2013, he is actually the one draftee this year that I see in a pitched battle for a starting job. He will have to beat out Justin Durant for the starting SAM linebacker position. Every player drafted before him is already naturally slotted as either a starter or backup, but Holloman is not only going up against Durant but may have to worry about the three UDFA linebackers as well. He is the one draftee I see at real risk of not making the final roster.
But that is not bad. You can't expect to hit on every pick in the draft, particularly those third day ones. And Holloman is far from out of the running. He will have a leg up to at least be the backup SAM. Overall, this could be a very good class in its ability to contribute immediately to the team. That is a much needed change from how things have gone the last few years.