Dallas Cowboys Rookies Forecast

By Charlie Campbell – @draftcampbell

Solid Starter

Zack Martin, OT, Notre Dame – Round 1
While Dallas has had some bad drafts in recent years with some dubious decision-making, Martin was a very solid pick for the Cowboys. He can step in immediately and start at guard. In a year or two though, Dallas can let Doug Free leave and move Martin to be the team’s starting right tackle. He could form an excellent tackle tandem with Tyron Smith.

The 6-foot-4, 305-pounder isn’t the biggest offensive lineman, but his technique is superb. Martin has great feet and hands to negate speed rushers. He also has a strong base to hold up against bull rushers. In the ground game, Martin is more experienced as a zone blocker, but he has the skills to function in a power-man scheme. The intelligent Martin is versatile enough that he could play center. Theoretically, this rookie could play any position on the offensive line.

The Cowboys are a competitor in the wide open NFC East. Dallas obviously has a weak defense and will have to outscore opponents in order to win. In order to win in shootouts, the Cowboys have to keep their gunslinger healthy. Having Martin inserted to guard will improve the protection for Romo in 2014 and in the future. Martin also gives Dallas a great option if one of the veteran tackles is injured. The Cowboys needed to upgrade their defense, but landing Martin with the 16th pick was good value, and he should be a good starter for a long time.

Most Likely To Bust

Anthony Hitchens, LB, Iowa – Round 4
I don’t typically go with fourth-rounders for most likely to bust because a wasted fourth-round pick isn’t a huge loss and after the second round the bust rate is high. However, Hitchens was the third player drafted by Dallas after the team gave up its second-rounder to move up for DeMarcus Lawrence. The Cowboys needed linebacker help, but Hitchens should get developmental time before being forced into the lineup.

At Iowa, Hitchens was part of a strong linebacking trio, but he wasn’t as big of a factor as the other two players – James Morris and Christian Kirksey. Hitchens recorded 112 tackles with 13.5 tackles for a loss, two passes broken up, one interception and two sacks in 2013. The 6-foot-2, 240-pounder didn’t impress with his speed at the Combine with a 40 time of 4.74 seconds. He was considered to be a late-round prospect, but Dallas took him in the fourth.

Hitchens is in the mix to be the Cowboys starting middle linebacker now that Sean Lee has been lost for the coming season. If Hitchens is forced into the lineup, it could be at his own peril as he needs to improve his pass coverage for the NFL. Hitches will be especially vulnerable given the Tampa 2 defense Dallas runs since the middle linebacker is called on to defend the middle seam. With athletic receiving tight ends being en vogue, Hitchens could be targeted as a mismatch routinely.

It wouldn’t be surprising if Dallas ruins Hitchens by playing him too early. If he plays and struggles, the Cowboys will most likely look to replace him after one season.

Potential Boom Pick

DeMarcus Lawrence, OLB, Boise State – Round 2
The Cowboys obviously loved Lawrence if they were willing to give their third-round pick to their division rival Redskins. Dallas had a dire need for a young pass-rusher to be the long-term replacement for DeMarcus Ware. Lawrence probably won’t be as good as Ware was in his prime, but Lawrence has a lot of potential to be an impact edge rusher. He offers the flexibility to get the job done as a 3-4 outside linebacker if Dallas decides to change its scheme.

As a rookie, Lawrence should factor into a rotation with George Selvie and Jeremy Mincey. Perhaps other players will get playing time as well, and it would make sense to keep Lawrence on the sideline in running situations. He should eventually develop into an every-down player.

Over two seasons at Boise State, Lawrence showed the ability to get after the quarterback. He had 9.5 sacks in his first year and followed that up with 10.5 sacks in 2013. Lawrence (6-3, 251) has good speed and athleticism off the edge. He just needs to get stronger and improve his technique. If the Cowboys can teach him more pass-rushing moves and Lawrence improves his ability to get off blocks, he could be the leading edge rusher for the team’s defense.

Future Depth Player

Ben Gardner, DE, Stanford – Round 7
On most teams a seventh-round pick is barely fighting to make the team, but considering the lack of talent on Dallas’ defensive line, Gardner could factor into the rotation quickly. At the very least, he should be a good backup. Gardner played defensive end for Stanford, but also rushed from defensive tackle at times. Gardner racked up 19 tackles, 7.5 tackles for a loss, 4.5 sacks and a forced fumble in 2013 before a torn pectoral injury robbed of the final half of the season. Gardner (6-4, 275) is a tough run-defender who is strong at the point of attack. He would have gone higher in the 2014 NFL Draft if it weren’t for the injury, and he should become a solid backup for Dallas.

Walt’s 2014 NFL Draft Grades:

16. Zack Martin, G/OT, Notre Dame: B Grade
So much for Johnny Manziel being the pick. He was never a realistic option, though this is a bit of an upset in that the Cowboys aren’t upgrading the third-worst defense of all time (according to yardage allowed). However, this pick still makes sense. The Cowboys needed a guard upgrade for 2014 and a future right tackle if they can’t retain Doug Free. Zack Martin was expected to go around the 12th pick, so there’s a decent amount of value here. Having said that, Jones may regret not upgrading his stop unit when the Eagles, Redskins and Giants all put up 30 on his team.

34. Demarcus Lawrence, DE, Boise State: C+ Grade
The Cowboys lost the trade because they gave up a valuable third-round pick to move up to No. 34. I guess they were concerned that the Falcons would select him. This pick obviously makes sense from a needs standpoint because Dallas is desperate at defensive end after losing DeMarcus Ware. He also fits the range. I’d like this pick a lot more if the Cowboys didn’t give up so much.

119. Anthony Hitchens, LB, Iowa: JOHNNY MILLEN Grade
And the first UDFA prospect is off the board. No surprise, given who’s making the pick. I heard zero buzz about Anthony Hitchens, so I’m sure many teams expected to sign him after the draft. Jerry Jones needs a GM.

146. Devin Street, WR, Pittsburgh: B Grade
Someone stop the presses because Jerry Jones didn’t reach for a change. The Cowboys wanted another receiver after losing Miles Austin-Jones, so this selection makes sense.

231. Ben Gardner, DE, Stanford: A- Grade
The Cowboys had to spend multiple picks on defensive ends, given the lack of talent they have at the position. Ben Gardner would have gone earlier if it wasn’t for an injury, so I like this value. It feels weird writing that about a Dallas pick.

238. Will Smith, OLB, Texas Tech: C Grade
And the Cowboys are back to picking undraftable players. It’s nice to know that hell hasn’t frozen over.

248. Ahmad Dixon, S, Baylor: A+ Grade
OK, so maybe hell has frozen over after all. Ahmad Dixon was viewed by some as a third-round prospect. I don’t understand how he and some others – Marcus Roberson, Christian Jones, Antonio Richardson – have lasted this long. But the Cowboys can’t complain because they’re getting a steal and potentially filling a position of need.

251. Ken Bishop, DT, Northern Illinois: B+ Grade
I was told Ken Bishop would generate some interest in Round 6, perhaps even the frame before that. With that in mind, the Cowboys are getting decent value at a position that absolutely needs to be strengthened.

254. Terrance Mitchell, CB, Oregon: A Grade
All eyes are on Michael Sam, but no one is paying attention to the fact that Jerry Jones is absolutely on fire in the seventh round. One team thought Terrance Mitchell would go in the Round 3-4 area, so Dallas getting him here is pretty amazing.

2014 NFL Draft Team Grade: C- . Follow Walter @walterfootball for updates.

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