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Cowboys Go All Defense With Five Seventh-Rounders


IRVING, Texas – It was all about the defense in the seventh round.

The Cowboys went into the draft with six seventh-round picks. They used their first in a trade up in the fifth round for Pittsburgh wide receiver Devin Street, before spending their five remaining seventh-round picks on two defensive linemen, a linebacker, a safety and a cornerback.

Here's more on the five seventh-round picks:

  • No. 231 overall – Stanford DL Ben Gardner

The first pick of the seventh-round went to a Stanford team captain in Gardner, who made the All-Pac-12 first team and was a member of the Bronko Nagurski, Bednarik Award and Rotary Lombardi Award watch lists.

A torn pectoral forced Gardner out after nine games last season, but he said he should be ready to roll for rookie minicamp. Gardner, who racked up 7.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks in 2013 and 14.5 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks in 2012, can contribute at multiple spots.

"I think I can do a little bit of everything," Gardner said. "I think I'll probably spend most of my time at end, be a physical presence on the outside, collapse the pocket and bring pressure. But I think one of my strengths is my ability to rush the passer from the inside, and I think in certain situations I'll be able to kick down to a three-tech and bring pressure from the middle."

Gardner's upset the injury cut his senior season short and made him miss out on the NFL Combine and Senior Bowl, but there's no hiding his excitement to get back on the field.

"Now I'm fully healthy and just ready to play football again," he said. "It's been a long time since I've been able to hit somebody."

*What Jason Garrett said: "*We see him as a left defensive end as a starting point, but again, also position flex to possibly move inside. We considered him a makeup guy, really the right kind of guy. He has measurable and traits that we think, combined with the way he plays the game, gives him a chance to really develop."

  • No. 238 overall – Texas Tech LB Will Smith

The Cowboys took the first of two seventh-rounders who played their college ball in the state of Texas in Smith.

He also happened to be a giant Cowboys fan.

"This is a dream come true – my whole life I wanted to be one," Smith said. "My dad grew up a Cowboys fan and he put me on it. It's pretty surreal right now."

Smith played in all 13 games last season, racking up 120 total tackles, including 86 solo stops. He also had 10.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks. The Texas Tech product, who said he looked up to Dat Nguyen and studies Sean Lee, believes his impact will come at weak side linebacker and on special teams.

"That just means a lot," Smith said. "Like I keep saying, this is unreal. To have your favorite childhood team and then you get drafted. It's a blessing."

What Garrett said:"Will Smith is a run-and-hit linebacker from Texas Tech… A guy who we think can fit in our scheme and compete at one of those off-the-ball linebacker positions."

  • No. 248 overall – Baylor S Ahmad Dixon

It was immediately apparent just how much it meant to Dixon to get drafted by the hometown Cowboys.

Many expected the Baylor safety, who recorded 288 tackles during his career and picked off four passes, to go earlier in the draft. But once the Cowboys called his name, the timing of his selection didn't matter anymore.

"Watching the Cowboys is pretty much how I learned to play football – watching the Cowboys every week," Dixon said. "It's a blessing to be a part of this team. My late grandmother – she was a diehard Cowboys fan and I know right now she's in heaven going crazy.

"It's a blessing to me, because I've been through so much in life. I've always been counted out. Everybody always looked over me. So now I'm here to show the world. I'm ready to show everybody who labeled me as a bad guy and this kid who wasn't going to make it. I've had teachers, coaches, all kinds of people tell me to my face that I wasn't going to be nothing. That I was just going to be a statistic. All I've ever had my whole life was family and to be close to my family, the closest team to my family means that I've got my backbone. I couldn't ask for a better situation."

What Jason Garrett said:"Really fast, hard-hitting safety, a guy we think can come in initially and really contribute on special teams, but also the right kind of guy to develop and compete as a position player."

  • No. 251 overall – Northern Illinois DT Ken Bishop

The Cowboys always had their eye on Bishop.

The Northern Illinois defensive tackle was one of the pre-draft visitors of the Cowboys, and his presence further bolsters the Cowboys' interior of the defensive line.

"After going on my visit, [the Cowboys] were the team that drew my attention the most, especially with the 4-3 defense," Bishop said. "Knowing the history of Dallas and that they are America's Team, that was the team I really wanted to go to."

Bishop was a consensus first-team All-MAC selection last year, recording 70 stops at nose guard. He also had seven tackles for loss and two interceptions.

"On my visit, I was able to speak with all the coaches," Bishop said. "They told me they really liked me and I would really fit the system. I had a good feeling that I would have an opportunity, but I just wasn't sure." [embedded_ad]

What Garrett said:"We feel like he's a very good athlete for his size. We view him as a nose tackle candidate at the outset. We like his athletic ability and the bulk that he can provide inside. We feel like he has a chance to compete inside for one of those defensive tackle spots."

  • No. 254 overall – Oregon DB Terrance Mitchell

The Cowboys wrapped up their draft with their only cornerback selection in the group in Mitchell.

Mitchell (5-11, 192) said he didn't visit any teams and worked out for only the Colts and Raiders, but he had some slight contact with the Cowboys at the NFL Combine. The Oregon defensive back, who led the Ducks with five interceptions last year, said it was a dream to be selected.

"It was really hard, waiting, but I continued to have faith and continued to wait," Mitchell said. "It was like a roller coaster ride, honestly."

What Garrett said:"A big corner from Oregon, again a player we have highly graded on our board, interviewed him at the Combine. We had a good visit with him there. We feel like he has some traits to be a cover corner for us."

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