IRVING, Texas –Early in the draft, players are picked not only for their skills and talent, but also for their abilities to contribute early.
Later in the draft, teams aren't worried about roles as much and more concerned about acquiring players with traits that can be developed down the line.
For the Cowboys, they've got nine draft picks who will be on the field come Friday for the team's rookie minicamp. With that in mind, the staff of DallasCowboys.com tried to determine specific roles for each player and outlined their chances of making the team.
Zack Martin 1st round, G, Notre Dame
This guy will step right in and start at one of the guard spots this year, presumably the right side for Mackenzy Bernadeau, who probably handles the backup roles at both guard and center. There has been talk of Martin returning to his collegiate position of tackle at some point, maybe in Year 2 when he gets stronger and more established in the league. But, he currently has the size and makeup of a guard and that's probably where he'll end up for most of his career.
Demarcus Lawrence 2nd round, DE, Boise State
Unlike most draft classes, there could be more eyes on the second-round pick than the first. What the Cowboys had to give up (a third-round pick) to move up 13 spots in the second and take Lawrence will put some added pressure on him. The fact that he's replacing DeMarcus Ware's position and has the same name won't help matters either. But the Cowboys don't have a lot of options for a right end and while he might start out on the second team behind the likes of Anthony Spencer or Jeremy Mincey, if Lawrence meets expectations, he'll take over sooner rather than later.
Anthony Hitchens 4th round, LB, Iowa
Right away, the Cowboys have a plan to play Hitchens as the backup to Sean Lee at middle linebacker. For that specific spot, it could be a big role for Hitchens, considering Lee's injury history and the fact he's coming off a neck injury that sidelined him for the last three games in 2013. Considered more a "thumper" linebacker who likes to mix it up and hit, Hitchens could get some work at outside linebacker, but don't be surprised if he steps right into a MLB role.
Devin Street 5th round, WR, Pittsburgh
The Cowboys were pretty excited to land Street, a player with a third-round grade that they liked enough to move up in the fifth. What the club likes the most about Street is his knowledge of a pro-style offense. He already knows all of the positions, which will give him a big advantage in adjusting to the NFL. He could use a little upper-body strength and that might plague him all year. But his build is similar to Terrance Williams' last year and they share similar on-field traits in their size and ability to get behind defenders. Street might start out as the fifth receiver, but an injury to Williams or Dez Bryant probably moves him into the No. 2 role.
Ben Gardner 7th round, DE, Stanford
A pectoral injury cut his senior season short and consequently hurt his draft stock. Gardner was a tenacious college player who has a high motor. If that translates well to the NFL, he could garner some playing snaps even as a rookie. The Cowboys have quite a few defensive linemen, so the players who stay healthy and take advantage of limited reps will get the biggest boost. Gardner must shine in fourth quarters of preseason games to stick around.
7th Round, OLB, Texas Tech
Like any player drafted this late, Smith's primary task to start out will be on special teams. Aside from that, the Cowboys view him as a guy who can add depth and create competition in the linebacker corps during training camp. Smith was a tackling machine at Texas Tech, racking up 120 tackles from the weak side last season. Smith said that the "Will" linebacker spot is his specialty, and if he adapts well he could push Bruce Carter for playing time. We saw this same story play out just last year, when DeVonte Holloman joined the team in a special teams role and finished his rookie season with two starts. It remains to be seen whether Smith can follow suit. [embedded_ad]
Ahmad Dixon 7th Round, S, Baylor
It's easy to write off anyone drafted just eight spots away from the end of the draft, but the lack of an established starting free safety has to be encouraging for Dixon. The Baylor veteran looks like more of a run-stopper than a ballhawk – he managed just four interceptions, compared to 288 tackles, in three years as a starter for the Bears. But again, it's not like Dixon's competition is that steep. The other contenders to start opposite Barry Church are a pair of second-year players in J.J. Wilcox and Jeff Heath, and a third-year player with no career appearances in Matt Johnson. If there's one position on the Cowboys' depth chart where a seventh-round pick could make some serious headway, it's probably safety. As usual for late picks, special teams duty is a given as well.
Ken Bishop 7th Round, DT, Northern IllinoisBishop was among the 30 players who visited the Cowboys back in April and the club was happy to see the lineman fall to them. He could very well end up getting playing time right off the bat. The active defensive tackle made 70 tackles last season, which is somewhat ridiculous considering he played nose guard. The Cowboys valued the lineman from the start, and as the only defensive tackle chosen by the team in the draft, he should get more opportunities than the typical seventh-round pick to stick around. Bishop likely starts out at the 1-technique in this defense, rotating with guys such as Nick Hayden and perhaps Terrell McClain.
Terrance Mitchell 7th Round, CB, Oregon
It didn't sound like Mitchell realized the interest the Cowboys had in him prior to the draft, but they liked him enough to snag him before someone else could in free agency. The Cowboys' final pick has some size for his position at 5-11, 192, and some nice stats, starting every game last season and notching five picks for the Ducks. He was clocked among the quickest defensive backs at the NFL Combine in the 3-cone drill and 20-yard and 60-yard shuttles. The Cowboys didn't take another corner in the draft, which gives him a better shot to stick around, but they added a couple as undrafted free agents. Mitchell will need to show off that quickness and some special teams skills early on to earn a permanent spot on the roster.