Dallas Cowboys Draft: Analyzing the First 4 Picks and How they FIt

First Pick Zack Martin

First Pick Zack Martin

In the 2014 draft, Dallas started with 11 picks and finished with 9 players. Seven of those nine picks were on the defensive side of the ball but 5 of their 9 picks weren’t taken until the 7th round.

In a separate blog, I will look at all those 7th round picks but in this one, I want to focus on the players they selected through the first 5 rounds. The players that Dallas will look to impact their team in 2014. A look at their skills, areas that need improvement, and how they may fit with the Cowboys 2014 team.

OL Zack Martin 6-4. 308
-Martin played tackle at Notre Dame but has the tools to move to offensive guard in the NFL and be successful.
-Good feet and athletic.
-Like how he blocks on run plays particularly. Gets to the next level nicely and blocks both linemen and LBs.
-Able to adjust quickly when pass blocking. Good pocket awareness.
-Aggressive and looks for people to hit until the whistle. Good effort.

Areas to Improve:
-While pass blocking, I saw Martin struggle with bull rushes by Alabama Defensive linemen. That can become more of an issue when he moves from tackle to guard especially at the NFL level with stronger DTs.
-Martin’s short arms are well documented and they are why he is moving from tackle to guard.
-Stands straight up at times when pass blocking which can get him off balance.
-Pass blocking in general could be better for NFL level and his short arms could limit his ability to play right tackle.

How he Fits:
Martin is expected to be a day one starter at guard for the Cowboys. Much like the first round rookie pick Frederick started at center for Dallas last season. It’s not clear which guard he will play but I suspect he will replace Bernadeau at right guard with Leary remaining at left. I believe Martin will quickly become the best guard on the Cowboys roster.

The Cowboys run game should see improvement with Martin next to center Frederick on the offensive line.

Tackle? In 2015, Dallas may look to have Martin move to right tackle in place of Doug Free. It remains to be seen if he can make that move successfully and I suspect they will like him at guard so much, they may want to just leave him at guard instead.

Player Comparison: Tackle Doug Free and/or Guard Kevin Gogan
At tackle, Martin reminds me of current Cowboy RT Doug Free in how he moves. At guard he may be similar to former Cowboys guard Kevin Gogan who successfully made the switch from tackle to guard and became an all pro guard.

DE DeMarcus Lawrence 6-3, 251
-Lawrence is very quick off the snap of the ball.
-One of the better pass rushers available in the draft. Productive in college with 34 TFL and 20 sacks in two seasons.
-Athletic, good balance, and displays natural pass rushing instincts.
-Pursues the run from the backside with a sense of urgency. Able to chase play down from behind.
-Can beat tackles to the edge.

Areas to Improve:
-At only 251 lbs., a smaller DE by NFL standards.
-Teams may be able to run effectively at him due to lighter size. Needs to bulk up some in weight room.
-Doesn’t appear to be a classic 4-3 DE and may lose containment at times. Will need to adjust to the position.
-As a run defender, will need more development.
-Has been in trouble multiple times in college and may present character red flags. DeMarcus says the “childish behavior” is behind him.

How he Fits:
The Cowboys invested a 2nd and 3rd round pick in Lawrence because they expect him to provide an immediate impact to the pass rush and specifically he was drafted to play the right DE. In his rookie season, Lawrence may not play every single down at DE, but I do expect him to be in the game when the other team is passing. Capable of double digit sacks in his first season.

Player Comparison: DE Jerry Hughes -Buffalo Bills
Hughes was a smaller DE like Lawrence at 6-2, 254, who has developed into an effective NFL pass rusher. In 2013, Hughes had 10 sacks for the Bills. Hughes was drafted in 2010 out of Texas Christian as the 31st pick in the draft similar to Lawrence who was picked at 34 by Dallas.

LB Anthony Hitchens 6-0, 240
-Hitchens was the leading tackler for Iowa in 2013.
-Durable and a physical tackler. “HIT-Chins” can bring the wood when tackling. YOUTUBE of Hitchens blowing up an Indiana receiver.
-Strength to take on blockers.
-Appears to have a good nose for the ball in diagnosing plays.
-good athlete who was a productive running back in HS.

Areas to Improve:
-short height liability in pass coverage. Needs to improve pass coverage over all.
-Has been benched before for missed assignments. Inconsistent play.
-Often tackles helmet first and may draw flags at NFL level.
-Often looks for the big hit and may miss tackles at next level.
-Average speed at the position with a 4.74/40 time.

How he Fits:
The Cowboys made a bit of a reach to take Hitchens in the 4th round so they see something they like here. He played weakside LB at Iowa but evidently Dallas expects him to backup Sean Lee at the middle LB spot.
“So we saw a guy who could definitely improve us from where we were last year when we lost Sean Lee.” Jerry Jones said of the Hitchens selection.

I don’t look for him to start in 2014 as he was picked to provide depth but to secure a roster spot, it may be important for Hitchens to find a way to contribute on special teams covering kicks.

Player Comparison: LB James Harrison
Watching Hitchens in Iowa’s black and gold running around blowing up ball carriers, reminded me of the former Steelers LB James Harrison. Also he is the same size as Harrison when he came out of college. Physical tackling style like Harrison too.

WR Devin Street 6-3, 198
-Team captain at Pitt.
-Tall and I really like the way he catches the ball at its highest point making the most of his height.
-Catches the ball with his hands and not his body. Good fundamentals coming out of college.
-Effective route runner.
-Panthers leading receiver in 2013.
-Appears slippery to would be tacklers. Able to slip out of tackle for additional yards.
-Runs slant particularly well.

Areas to Improve:
-Lacks bulk and strength to be an effective blocker on run plays. Needs to add bulk.
-Had a shoulder and elbow injury last year so presents a minor reason for concern next season. Says he is 100%.
-While possessing decent speed, lacks a sudden burst to pull away from defenders.

How he Fits:
Dallas is moving on from WR Miles Austin so Street will get an opportunity to compete. He can play both the wide out and slot receiver making him able to provide depth for all receiver positions. Provides a good option at receiver if Dez or Williams were to get injured. His height and ability to catch the ball away from his body, make him a good target near the goal line.

Street may not be a starter at the beginning of the season, but I do look for him to be worked into the offense more as the season progresses similar to Williams last season. And when injuries occur to starters, he will be a solid option.

Player Comparison: WR Andre Holmes
Street compares to former Cowboys WR Andre Holmes who is now with the Raiders. Both have a long, wiry frame with a track and field back ground. Able to go up over defenders and make the catch. Street does bring more polish to his game upon entering the NFL, than the undrafted Holmes did.

In first four picks of the 2014 draft, Dallas picked up a starter on offense in Martin, and an instant impact player on defense in Lawrence. But I’m not convinced they found a solution at any other defensive positions with those picks other than adding depth to LB. While they appear to have found more help on offense than expected, they may have added less help on defense than needed.