The draft is always an exciting time for us fans because our team will see an influx of new players with great potential. Hopefully, some of the names called over the last weekend will become key contributors. With a little luck, a few will become franchise cornerstones.
For some players, the 2014 rookie class brings the promise of an improved team performance that could see the team make the playoffs and the veterans receive individual accolades and post-season honors. For others, the new players are an immediate threat to their job security. Who were the biggest winners and losers from draft weekend?
Winner - Tony Romo
Sometime early in 2009, Jerry Jones coined the phrase "Romo Friendly Offense." At the time it was thought to mean the Cowboys would employ a high-percentage passing game with multiple targets.
Helped by a quarterback who has suffered a fractured clavicle, a punctured lung, a broken pinkie, a severe hand contusion and repeated back problems that ultimately culminated in a herniated disk and back surgery, the Cowboys came to the belated realization that when other teams are trying to sack your QB, it may be a good idea to try and stop them from doing it. As a result, 'Romo-friendly' today also includes the fairly novel concept of offering Tony Romo some protection from opposing pass rushers. The Cowboys have now drafted three offensive linemen with their first pick in the last four drafts to provide that protection.
After the Cowboys selected Travis Frederick last year, Tony Romo called Jerry Jones and said, "Thank you for my extra half second," Jones recounted at last year's press conference. Zack Martin further beefs up the protection for Romo, and it's not out of the question that the O-line as currently constructed could extend Romo's playing time by a couple of years.
The Cowboys almost drafted Ryan Shazier with their first pick, and Shazier would have replaced Carter as the Will linebacker. If your team thinks it needs to invest a first-round pick at the spot you're playing, you're definitely in trouble. Sure, Jerry Jones is confident that Bruce Carter can still be outstanding, but they also drafted Anthony Hitchens (LB coach Matt Eberflus: "Hitchens knocks people back. His instincts are real good. Has position flex. That's what we need on this defense.") specifically because of the versatility he offers. Over Carter?
Winners - The safeties
The Cowboys did not take a safety until the seventh round. They did like Jimmie Ward of Northern Illinois, who went late in the first round. "After that, we felt like we were getting a lot of what we had," executive vice president Stephen Jones said. Now we need to hope that what the Cowboys have this year is better than what they got last year.
Losers - Wide receiver depth guys
After their rookie seasons, Cole Beasley and Dwayne Harris may have harbored hopes of moving up the depth chart. But in 2013 the Cowboys drafted Terrance Williams, who was immediately slotted into the third wide receiver spot.
After their sophomore seasons, Cole Beasley and Dwayne Harris may have harbored hopes of moving up the depth chart after Miles Austin was released. But in 2014 the Cowboys drafted Devin Street, and he's already penciled in as the third receiver.
Dwayne Harris is one of the best special teamers in the league, and with 25 snaps a game on special teams, he probably won't average more than 10 or 15 snaps on offense per game. But Slot-meister Beasley may face steep competition for a roster spot.
Winners - Running backs
Like Tony Romo, the running backs got help in the form of Zack Martin, who is bound to open up even more running lanes in the ground game. But look closely at the number of running backs drafted by the Cowboys with their nine draft picks. There are none.
Sure, the Cowboys brought in running backs Ben Malena (Texas A&M) and Glasco Martin (Baylor) as undrafted free agents, and are giving Josh Harris (Wake Forest) a tryout. And perhaps one of those guys could make the roster as the fourth back. But the top three guys are set, and barring injuries won't face much competition for a spot.
Losers - Linebackers
The Cowboys started last year with six linebackers on the roster. Before the draft, they already had nine linebackers on the roster (Lee, Carter, Wilber, Durant, Holloman, Wilson, Lemon, Lawrence, Stewart) and added two more in the draft with Anthony Hitchens and Will Smith, and another two in UDFAs Keith Smith and Dontavis Sapp. That's going to be a crowded linebackers room. [EDIT: Stewart was released today. Toldya.]
Winner - Will McClay
Jerry Jones gave Cowboys Assistant Director of Player Personnel Will McClay an "A" for the draft. Ultimately, that's an assessment that we'll make a few years down the road, but once all the hyperventilating over the trade-up for DeMarcus Lawrence is over, we may one day take a closer look at this draft class, and notice that
1. The Cowboys did not draft a single small-school prospect as they've frequently done in the last few years. Instead, all nine picks hail from BCS programs. Seven of the nine picks are from the Big 6 conferences (SEC, AAC, ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-12 + Notre Dame). Of the two remaining guys, DeMarcus Lawrence (Boise State) didn't exactly play at a small school, and Ken Bishop (Northern Illinois) played in the BCS-eligible Mid-American Conference.
2. Seven of the nine players selected have not missed a single game due to injury over the last two years. Ben Gardner missed four games at the end of the 2013 season with a torn pectoral muscle, Devin Street missed three games with elbow and shoulder injuries. That's it.
3. Five of the nine selections were team captains in college (Martin twice, Hitchens, Street, Gardner, Dixon)
I don't care what anyone says about the offseason workouts being voluntary, and I don't care that this is not immediately related to the draft, but the Cowboys have always prided themselves in exemplary attendance during their offseason activity. Hard to see a scenario where Orton stays in Dallas for the 2014 season.
Winners - Late-round and UDFA defensive linemen
This may sound strange at first glance, but hear me out. In most cases, when teams bring in new guys at any given position, those new guys are expected to compete against the incumbents at the position. But in the Cowboys' case, there may be fewer 'incumbents' on the D-line than anywhere else in the league. Consider the following table, which shows how many snaps each defensive lineman has played for defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli in Dallas and elsewhere:
|Player||POS||College||Snaps for Rod|
|In Dallas||In Chicago|
|Melton, Henry||DE||Texas||- -||1,780|
|Hayden, Nick||DT||Wisconsin||843||- -|
|Selvie, George||DE||South Florida||762||- -|
|Rayford, Caesar||DE||Washington||147||- -|
|Spencer, Anthony||DE||Purdue||38||- -|
|McClain, Terrell||DT||South Florida||- -
|Lawrence, Demarcus||DE||Boise St.||- -||- -|
|Crawford, Tyrone||DE||Boise State||- -||- -|
|Mincey, Jeremy||DE||Florida||- -||- -|
|Gardner, Ben||DE||Stanford||- -||- -|
|Bass, Ben||DT||Texas A&M||- -||- -|
|Bishop, Ken||DT||Northern Illinois||- -||- -|
|Whaley, Chris||DT||Texas||- -||- -|
|DT||Northern Illinois||- -||- -|
||DT||Arizona State||- -||- -|
This is going to be a heck of a competition for 8-9 roster spots. And an argument could be made that outside of perhaps Melton, Lawrence, and Selvie, and probably Crawford, nobody is a roster lock.
Who are your winners and losers?