IRVING, Texas – Former Baylor receiver Terrance Williams was in the mix after the Cowboys traded down from No. 18 to No. 31 on the draft's first day. One day later and two rounds later, he was still there for the Cowboys to grab as the 74th overall pick Friday night.
The Cowboys selected another player high on their list in 6-foot-6 pass-catching threat Gavin Escobar, a tight end from San Diego State, with their second round pick at 47th overall. As the draft played out, Williams stayed on the board.
They snagged the Baylor receiver with their first pick in the third round and answered a need at safety with J.J. Wilcox with their second pick in the third round. In Williams, the Cowboys grabbed college football's leading receiver from last season, edging out the next best receiving threat in USC's Marqise Lee by 111 yards.
Head coach Jason Garrett said one of the biggest jumps for college receivers going to the NFL is getting accustomed to the physical side of the game, since many of them are used to making catches out in open space. But Garrett isn't worried about how Williams will adjust.
"The size and strength you need to go along with the quickness and speed is critical, getting off of press and making contested plays at the top of the route," Garrett said. "He's demonstrated all that and we feel like he has a tremendous upside."
The trade back with the 49ers on the draft's first day was largely criticized for not yielding enough return with a late first-round pick and a third-round pick. But the Cowboys seemed more than content to take the combination of center/guard Travis Frederick and Williams in exchange for any of the players that were available at pick 18.
"We were going to take Frederick there, because that lets us start the foundation for really what we think to build our offensive line," said owner/general manager Jerry Jones. "The fact that we got a three and it ends up being Terrance Williams, who turns out was way back up the board from where we took him, was a major plus."
The Cowboys drafted based on their board rankings throughout the day, which made sense considering tight ends and receivers didn't seem like glaring needs compared to other spots. They couldn't pass on taking a player they think could be the best pass-catching tight end in the draft.
If nothing else, Escobar should be able to help the Cowboys near the goal-line, where they've struggled to score in recent years. They finished the 2012 season with just a 51.02 red zone conversion percentage and a 57.89 goal-to-go conversion percentage. Escobar, who entered the NFL Draft after his junior year, scored a combined 13 touchdowns his final two seasons and is just as comfortable in the slot as he is on the line.
"Any pick that we can get to improve on our red zone scoring percentage, we're obviously excited about," said tight ends coach Wes Phillips. "He's one of those guys. He made some plays down the field as well, but he was a big red zone threat for them."
Escobar's presence will allow the Cowboys to use the "12" personnel with two tight ends or the "13" personnel with three tight ends, including James Hanna, whom head coach Jason Garrett said would still be involved in the offense after growing throughout the course of last season.
The three offensive picks in this draft add more weapons and time for quarterback Tony Romo, who also offered his positive opinion to the Cowboys' front office on the initial picks. After giving the franchise quarterback some help, the Cowboys turned to the defense for the first time by selecting Wilcox.
The Georgia Southern safety's athleticism and potential had secondary coach Jerome Henderson enthralled, despite the fact that Wilcox has only played one full season at safety in college.
"When you watch him tackle, he has no fear," Henderson said. "Most guys with an offensive background feel their way at first. This guy just runs up in there and destroys anyone in front of him."
Wilcox played on the other side of the ball as a running back and receiver during his college career. Henderson commended Wilcox's knack for adjusting to the safety position so quickly. Even if Wilcox doesn't earn a starting job immediately, he'll contribute on special teams.
Jones said the Cowboys wouldn't use a third-round pick on a player they didn't see starting at some point in time. Garrett shared the same excitement as Henderson and Jones on Wilcox, who finished with 88 tackles and two interceptions last year.
"If you watch him play, he leaps off the screen at you," Garrett said. "He's physical, he can run, he loves to hit and he just plays with great explosiveness. What we were impressed by, for a guy who hadn't done this since high school, he really seemed to pick up the position well."
The Cowboys will have one pick in each of the next three rounds at No. 114, No. 151 and No. 185 overall on Saturday.