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NFL Draft

Cowboys 2018 Draft Needs: Wide Receiver

Jess Haynie

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Terrance Williams
Scott Boehm via AP

After last week's stunning release of Dez Bryant, the receiver position has become the primary focus of the Dallas Cowboys 2018 draft analysis. There is no guarantee that they will use their first-round pick there, but it's looking like a pretty safe bet.

Even if Dez had stayed in town, a young receiving talent was being targeted in the early rounds. Now the Cowboys may need this rookie to contribute immediately, which makes waiting even until the 50th pick (2nd round) a dangerous proposition.

You can read plenty of content about 2018 receiver prospects and how they may fit for the Cowboys elsewhere on our site. For this article, we're going to focus on the guys currently on the team and how their presence impacts the need for a receiver in the draft.

Here are the receivers currently signed to the Dallas roster:

  • Terrance Williams (6th year)
  • Allen Hurns (5th year, new to Cowboys)
  • Cole Beasley (7th year)
  • Deonte Thompson (7th year, new to Cowboys)
  • Ryan Switzer (2nd year)
  • Noah Brown (2nd year)
  • Lance Lenior (2nd year)
  • KD Cannon (2nd year)

Of these players, the only one who's ever come close to putting up numbers like Dez Bryant is Hurns. In 2015, Allen had 1,031 yards and 10 touchdowns for the Jacksonville Jaguars.

That said, Hurns was the second receiver in the Jags offense with Allen Robinson doing even bigger and better things. With Robinson missing nearly all of 2017 with an injury, Hurns' per-game production only saw a minor increase from the year before. The Jacksonville offense, despite their playoff success, was not its strong point.

Terrance Williams

Dallas Cowboys WR Terrance Williams

Receivers who've proven unable to step into the lead role is the big issue for the Cowboys. For five years, Terrance Williams has shown he's nothing more than a secondary player. You can count as many blunders as highlights over his career, and even when Bryant's been injured he hasn't shown he can respond to more opportunities.

This is one of the reasons that Dallas let Brice Butler walk in free agency. Like Terrance, Brice showed he could make the occasional play but was not consistent enough to be trusted with more responsibility.

Cole Beasley was the Cowboys' leading receiver in 2016, when they went 13-3 and the future looked bright. He caught 75 balls on just 98 targets, a staggering level of efficiency, and has by far shown the most chemistry with Dak Prescott so far.

But Beasley isn't going to stretch the field or keep defenses honest. Last year, realizing that Cole had become the bigger concern than Dez Bryant, opponents took him out of the game and forced Prescott to go to his other guys.

Of course, this was helped by the absence of Ezekiel Elliott during his suspension. But even when Zeke was on the field, the Cowboys offense rarely looked the same as 2016. This had a lot to do with the strategic elimination of Beasley from the receiving game.

Cole Beasley

Dallas Cowboys WR Cole Beasley

We can expect things to stay the same as the 2018 season opens. Until one of them proves otherwise, Allen Hurns or Terrance Williams aren't going to scare anybody. Teams will still focus on Beasley as Dak's favorite receiver until another receiver starts to take advantage of that.

Hurns is a far more proficient route runner than Bryant, and still just 26 years old, so there is hope that he could bring a little more juice to the offense. Perhaps that addition, plus Elliott's full-time return, will open things up for Beasley and Prescott to get back to their 2016 form.

But as we said before, Hurns hasn't shown he can play big without a true franchise receiver across the way.

Dallas also added veteran Deonte Thompson in free agency, but he's essentially a Brice Butler replacement. He won't be higher than fourth on the depth chart and bring a vertical threat, but isn't expected to take on a major role.

This is a key reason that Dallas will be looking at receivers early in this 2018 draft. There is no guarantee that any of their current players can command enough respect from defenses.

In that situation, what you hope is that you have enough talented guys out there to give your QB options. A rookie receiver isn't likely to step into leading role this season anyway, but he might provide enough spark that everyone benefits.

And even if 2018 concerns weren't enough, a long-term view also makes receiver a top priority. The Cowboys need to invest now to prepare for the future at the position.

Calvin Ridley

Alabama WR Calvin Ridley (Butch Dill/Getty Images)

Cole Beasley's contract expires in 2019. Depending on how next season goes, Terrance Williams and Allen Hurns could be released for salary cap savings. Deonte Thompson is on just a one-year deal.

If nothing else, the Cowboys are going to need more guys to play receiver in years to come. But bodies aren't enough; they need a young guy to form the complete the offensive nucleus of the team with Prescott and Elliott.

Nobody expects Ryan Switzer or Noah Brown to emerge as the next franchise receiver, and it would be foolish to do so. But if the Cowboys can land a Calvin Ridley or D.J. Moore now, that player might be ready to step into the top spot in 2019 and for future seasons.

Clearly, for both immediate and long-term reasons, Dallas will be focused on the WR position in this draft.

Still, it may not be the first round. Depending on who's available at the 19th pick, Dallas may decide they'd rather grab a new starting guard, defensive tackle, safety, or linebacker. The current front office is loath to draft solely for need.

But if all things are even on talent, there is an easy case to be made for receiving being the team's greatest need in this draft.

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Other 2018 Draft Needs articles:


Cowboys fan since 1992, blogger since 2011. Bringing you the objectivity of an outside perspective with the passion of a die-hard fan. I love to talk to my readers, so please comment on any article and I'll be sure to respond!

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14 Comments
  • Chuck Wright CLU

    If Dallas takes Ridley or Moore at 19, good to go. but there are some options in round 2 and maybe 3.

    Realize everyone has their favorites. Top of the 2nd round group to me is James Washington, very productive in college, runs good routes, has the speed and talent to get separation then make teams pay when he catches the ball. Great locker room guy.

    Of course there is Anthony Miller, Cain from CLemson, Hamilton PSU DJ Chalk LSU and a guy who would be great in the slot, big upgrade over what we have now, Donte Pettis.

  • Chuck Wright

    More good stuff. Clearly WR a bigger need. Ridley or Moore in Round 1. They could hang to round 2 and select from James Washington (would be my choice), Cain from Clemson, Hamilton PSU or Anthony Miller Memphis or Donte Pettis. Frankly would not be opposed to seeing them take a chance on a kid like Foutain from N Iowa and land 2 WRs.

    • Jess Haynie

      Thanks for reading!

  • Russ_Te

    Aikman remarks on Dez and Dak;

    “Take Dez out of the picture. If I was a quarterback, I’d expect a
    receiver to run the route the way it’s supposed to be run and be where
    he’s supposed to be. Whether I have Brett Favre as my quarterback or
    someone who’s able to improvise and run around is irrelevant. If you’re
    going to have a successful passing game, you have to have receivers who
    understand how to run routes, how to beat defenders, how to win
    one-on-one matchups and how to do it within the framework of what the
    design of the route is.”

    https://sportsday.dallasnews.com/dallas-cowboys/cowboys/2018/04/16/troy-aikman-no-1-factor-will-determine-whether-dez-bryant-succeeds-without-cowboys

    • Jess Haynie

      Bad enough when a HOF QB says it. Even worse when fellow receivers like Shannon Sharpe are calling Dez out for his lack of technical skills. I wish the fans would get on board with what most of the football community seems to get.

  • Russ_Te

    All I want for camp is a fast WR… ;^)

  • Russ_Te

    2 project WR’s down this draft who ran 4.3 at the combine. Make sure to take one of those. With Dez out it’s probably WR in the first also. It has to be a guy who can beat NFL corners. Don’t f*ck it up…

  • Russ_Te

    Williams got reps while Butler sat. Will not be surprised if he has a big year in AZ.

  • Sean Grubbs

    Hey Jesse, I was really interested in
    reading this article in the beginning …You wrote more about 2 college players in your article than 2 guys already on the team that were not even given a chance to shine last year! Give some props and a little tip of the hat to Switzer & Brown. The team hasn’t even touched the tip of the iceberg on what those 2 can and can not do on the football field. Your talking about next year /the future (2019) with a draft pick ?? THAT’S foolish!! You be lucky if you could tell me 4 = #1 draft picks at WR that have made an impact in their 1st year in the NFL and are still dominating now ( last 10 years of #1 WR draft picks)

    • Jess Haynie

      Appreciate you reading commenting, Sean. But let’s think about what you said for a minute. On the one hand, you’re telling me that it’s foolish to hope in 1st-round draft picks at receiver. You’re right that the history hasn’t been good lately.

      But on the other hand, you’re telling me that I should put my faith in Switzer (4th round) and Brown (7th round). If first-round talents haven’t been working out, how much more likely is it that mid and late-round guys will?

      See the inconsistency in your logic?

      • Sean Grubbs

        Inconsistency in logic?! I just believe we need to make a solid pic at #19 on defense, preferably linebacker (God bless Jaylen and Sean but with injuries and future production, we are in real libo here) I just think #19 is really high for a wide receiver but then I guess we said that with Randy Moss a couple years ago. I don’t think any of them are the specimen he was!!!!! I was just saying I would have liked to have read a little bit more on other wide receivers already on the squad that were not even given a chance last year. They both were drafted for a reason… please don’t tell me we wasted a 4th round pick on a guy to receive kickoffs and punts! Ryan was explosive in college (esp. YAC) he lost reps to struggling Beasley for whatever reason. I wasn’t in the film room or on the practice field, maybe he just wasn’t getting the offense/playbook down?! Brown?? so what I have read he was drafted not only for his high ceiling but Zeke championing for him? For whatever reason our coaching staff didn’t make adjustments last year, made me want to throw up so many times. I just felt those two guys were drafted, they should have had more opportunities. T. Williams is a cap causality next year unless he finally shows up and truly balls out!!!

  • EverybodyTalks

    The knee-jerk reaction to the Dez cut is that the mocks are all saying WR in the first 2 rounds. I’m not so sure…maybe, maybe not. I would much rather see the Cowboys go with defensive picks. The first 3 picks being DT, LB and S. Before you say this is messed up, then let me say that we only need to the Smeagles and ask a couple of questions.
    Who was their “X” and how much of an impact was he? Were the WRs of the Eagles head-n-shoulders above the current Cowboys – Torry Smith/Mike Wallace vs. Deontae. Alshon Jeffreys vs. Hurns. Agholor vs. T-Will. I just don’t see it. So why are we in such a hurry to draft a WR? Most WRs never make an impact in their rookie year anyway.
    The reason to draft a WR should be more for next year than this year. Beasley’s contract is done after 2018 and T-Will’s dead money will be down significantly in 2019. I want to see what Sanjay Lal can do with a Noah Brown (Who has the Dez build) before we dismiss him. Hopefully, we can change it up with Switzer and Beasley out there together. Get them more involved.

    • Jess Haynie

      I wouldn’t call it a knee-jerk reaction given that most had Dallas taking a WR that high even before Dez was released. More may be leaning that way now, but it was already one of the leading projections.

  • Corey

    I agree that Dez wasn’t a good route runner and threw little fits on the sideline, but it would also have been nice if there had been a true no. 2 opposite him. Brice Butler was a joke. He did great in preseason, but then during the regular season he faded into the back ground. The same with Terrance Williams, that guy couldn’t catch anything. No wonder defenses tee’d off on Bryant, there wasn’t anyone on the other side to worry about

NFL Draft

Cowboys 2018 Draft Needs: Safety

Jess Haynie

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Xavier Woods, Rams

The Dallas Cowboys have some intriguing young talent at safety. But with Byron Jones returning to the cornerback position, a starting spot is open and more talent is needed. As such, safety should be high on the team's draft priorities in the 2018 NFL Draft.

Right now, Dallas has returning starter Jeff Heath and two exciting prospects in Xavier Woods and Kavon Frazier. Could a good starting pair and solid depth option be found out of that three? Sure. Maybe.

That "maybe" is the issue, and one the Cowboys may not want to live with in 2018. If they can go from "solid" to "strength" at safety with a high draft pick, it could make a significant impact on the defense now and for years to come.

Remember, those three guys we named are two sixth-round picks (Frazier, Woods) and an undrafted player (Health). While that certainly doesn't preclude them from becoming stars, it doesn't give you great odds.

At this point, we know what Jeff Heath is. While he has a knack for making the occasional interception, he's not a consistent threat and can be a liability at times in coverage. For all the "G.O.A.T." jokes we love to make on Twitter, he's certainly a guy who could be upgraded.

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Dallas Cowboys safety Kavon Frazier (Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports)

Ideally, that upgrade would come from within. But both Xavier Woods and Kavon Frazier seem more like hard-hitters you want playing closer to the line of scrimmage. Neither may be the center-fielder who can really round out the defensive backfield.

The desire for that rangy, play-making threat is what has many Cowboys fans clamoring for the team to trade for veteran All-Pro Earl Thomas from Seattle. A discussion that goes back to last December, Thomas put himself on the Dallas radar by finding Jason Garrett in the locker room and imploring the Cowboys to try to acquire him following a Cowboys-Seahawks game.

Dallas could certainly use a player like Earl Thomas, but at what cost? And is he really worthy that price?

Thomas turns 29 in May and expects to be paid like one of the best safeties in the game. His current deal, which expires in 2018, paid and average of $10 million each year. He's going to want at least that going forward.

That's a lot of money to tie up in a guy who's about to turn 30, and just signing him as a free agent would be concerning. The prospect of also having to send a high draft pick creates even more worry.

Even if the Cowboys could get Thomas for a 2nd, is that the best return for that pick.

Let's say Dallas could draft a top name like Derwin James or Minkah Fitzpatrick in the first round. That player should provide an immediate upgrade while also making a rookie's salary. And unlike Earl Thomas, they should be in their prime for at least another 7-8 seasons instead of maybe another 2-3 years.

Not every high pick turns into an Earl Thomas, though, and that's the debate for what makes the most sense. Do you take a proven elite at a higher salary and with a shorter shelf life, or do you gamble on a rookie?

We don't know how realistic a Thomas trade is at this point. If Seattle won't budge on their first-round pick demand then it's a moot point. But if they do come down to a second, Dallas may have a tough decision to make.

If that doesn't happen, Dallas may very well use their 19th overall pick at safety.

~ ~ ~

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NFL Draft

Cowboys 2018 Draft Needs: Cornerback

Jess Haynie

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Has CB Jourdan Lewis Earned A Starting Role?
Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

For years, cornerback has a problem position in Dallas. But after two years of strong drafting and other moves, the CB group looks as solid as it has in some time. As such, it is one of the lower priorities for the Cowboys in the 2018 NFL Draft.

As currently constituted, the cornerbacks are young and deep. Last year's second and third-round picks, Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis, had strong rookie seasons and will be given even more responsibility now.

Anthony Brown, a sixth-round pick in 2016, remains a solid depth option who has already started 19 games in his short career. He's overachieved for his draft position and will contend for a starting job this year.

Also competing will be Byron Jones, the team's first-round pick in 2015. After two years at safety, Jones is moving back to the corner. It's the position he played in college and his first year with the Cowboys.

Just this week, it was announced that Dallas picked up Jones' first-year option on his rookie deal. This means all four players we've discussed are under contract through next season as well.

Indeed, these are great options. Dallas felt so good about it that they were willing to make veteran Orlando Scandrick a salary cap casualty this offseason. In just two years, the Cowboys have totally made over the position from the days of Scandrick, Brandon Carr, and Morris Claiborne.

Duke Thomas

Dallas Cowboys CB Duke Thomas

Even the bottom of the cornerback depth chart has some intrigue. Duke Thomas was emerging in last year's camp and preseason before a foot injury landed him on injured reserve. He'll be just 24 in May and back to compete for a roster spot.

Also returning is Marquez White, a sixth-round pick last year, who spent the season on the practice squad. There wasn't enough room for him on the 2017 roster, but White will hope to follow in the footsteps of Anthony Brown and Kavon Frazier as late-round selections who've emerged as contributors.

Assuming Thomas or White earns a roster spot, that's already five CBs for your 2018 roster. Given that, Dallas can afford to not spend any draft picks at the position if they choose.

That doesn't mean the Cowboys won't add a talent if they like somebody in those later rounds. Even with their current stockpile, they'll draft a kid if they think he can compete for a roster spot.

If a cornerback is drafted, the fifth round is the highest I could see it happening. And even then, it would have to a real value.

More than likely, if any CBs are selected at all, it will be in those final two rounds. It's a luxury the Cowboys can finally enjoy thanks to their successful drafting in recent years.

Hopefully, that trend continues this week.

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Cowboys Draft: Grading “Hit Rate” During the Jason Garrett Era

John Williams

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DeMarcus Lawrence, Aaron Rodgers, Packers
Mike McGinnis/Getty Images

With the NFL Draft coming Thursday, I thought it would be good to take a retrospective look at how the Dallas Cowboys have done in the NFL Draft during the Jason Garrett era. Garrett certainly isn't the sole decision maker when it comes to the draft, but he has a big say in who the team selects over draft weekend.

I'll admit off the top that determining whether they hit on a prospect is a very difficult and subjective thing to do, but I'm going to try anyway.

The way I would define whether a player was a hit would be to define if that player had an impact relative to their draft position.

If we look to before the Jason Garrett era, at a player like DeMarcus Ware, it's obvious that he was a hit. He's a future Hall of Famer. Marcus Spears, taken a few picks after Ware, I'd argue was a miss. He was a good player for Dallas as a 3-4 defensive end, but never produced like you hoped a player taken with the 20th overall pick would, recording only 10 sacks in his 124 game career. Chris Canty and Jay Ratliff, taken in the same 2005 draft, I'd consider hits as they were selected in the 4th and 7th rounds respectively. Ratliff in particular was a tremendous nose tackle for the Dallas Cowboys before moving on to play for the Washington Redskins.

We'll start with the 2011 draft, since that was the first season of Jason Garrett's head coaching tenure.

Cowboys Place LT Tyron Smith On IR Before Week 17

Dallas Cowboys OT Tyron Smith

2011 Draft [Players: 8 / Hits: 3 / Hit Rate: 37.5%]

The 2011 draft marked the first time under the Jerry Jones regime that the Dallas Cowboys spent a first round pick on an offensive lineman, drafting Tyron Smith ninth overall out of the University of Southern California.

Tyron Smith has long been regarded as one of the best left tackles in the NFL and has Pro Bowl and All-Pro selections to prove it. If the end of 2017 is any indication, Tyron Smith could be the most valuable player on the Dallas Cowboys. Smith stepped in right away at RT his rookie year before taking over at LT his second year and has been dominant ever since.

DeMarco Murray, to me was a hit, though his time with the team was short-lived. Anytime you can turn a third round pick into the league's leading rusher, I'd say he made a contribution relative to his draft status.

Murray averaged 4.8 yards per carry during his time with the Cowboys. His rookie season he ran for almost 900 yards on 164 carries and had 1,000 total yards on only 180 touches. His second season, he only played 10 games and his production dropped. In 2013 he had his first thousand-yard season before leading the league in 2014. Even though the Cowboys declined to offer him a second contract, there's no doubt that he contributed far beyond what you would hope for a third round pick.

The other hit of the 2011 draft was WR/KR Dwayne Harris. He never really had much of a role on the offense, but his return ability in addition to his play on the coverage teams was valuable. He had two punt returns for touchdowns in his time with the Cowboys and in 2013 and 2014, had more than 1,100 all-purpose yards.

The major let down from this draft was the Bruce Carter selection. There was always a lot of hope for Carter in the Monte Kiffin/Rod Marinelli defense, but he never quite fit. They tried him at WILL, now manned by Sean Lee, thinking his athleticism and ball skills would make him a natural fit, but his performance was generally underwhelming.

Cowboys DL Tyrone Crawford "Good to Go" for Week One

Dallas Cowboys DT Tyrone Crawford (Tom Fox/The Dallas Morning News)

2012 Draft [Players: 7 / Hits: 3 / Hit Rate: 42.9%]

In 2012, the Dallas Cowboys used their second rounder to move up to number six overall to select cornerback Morris Claiborne out of LSU. At the time they told us there hadn't been a corner in the draft as good as Claiborne since Deion Sanders.

Can we stop comparing draftees to Hall of Famers, please?

Pretty much everything that ensued in Claiborne's career with the Dallas Cowboys was a let down.

Claiborne couldn't stay healthy enough to be on the field and eventually lost his job to 2008 fifth-round pick Orlando Scandrick. When he played, he was a good player, but he was never on the field consistently enough or good enough when he was on the field to justify being taken sixth overall.

The three players I'd argue they hit on in this draft are Tyrone Crawford, Kyle Wilber, and James Hanna.

You're going to tell me that Tyrone Crawford is a bad player, and I'm going to argue that he isn't a bad player, he just has a bad contract. Crawford has been a steady player who has moved all over the defensive line and constantly played in roles that didn't necessarily fit him the best. He's been a stand-up teammate and has been productive for this team. Playing out of position as the right defensive end last season, Crawford had four sacks for the Cowboys. That's not nothing. Over the last four years, he's averaged four sacks a season. Again, not spectacular, but steady. He was the team's third round pick in 2012, and though he didn't start a game in 2012 and didn't play in 2013, the last four years have been good, even if they haven't matched his contract.

Kyle Wilber, the team's fourth round pick in 2012, wasn't a diamond in the rough, but like Crawford was a steady and solid player for the team, especially on special teams. On the team's coverage units, he became one of the better special teams players in the league while also providing some nice situational pass rush and was good depth at linebacker.

James Hanna, who just retired because of a knee that wasn't getting better, was a sixth round pick and as Jason Witten's backup for much of his career was a dependable player. The team began to rely upon his blocking ability when they would go with multiple tight end sets. Though he only caught one touchdown in his career, he did catch 37 passes in his 78 game career. When you're a backup to a future Hall of Famer who never comes off the field, a reception every other game from a sixth round pick is a contribution.

Because of the failure of Morris Claiborne and because they had to use a second round pick to move up and get him, this draft has to be categorized as a failure, despite the solid contributions from Crawford, Wilber, and Hanna.

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Dallas Cowboys C Travis Frederick (AP Photo/James D Smith)

2013 Draft [Players: 7 / Hits: 2 / Hit Rate: 28.5%]

Proclaimed a reach on draft day by analysts around the NFL world, the Dallas Cowboys smartly traded back in the 2013 NFL Draft, picked up a 3rd round pick and selected Travis Frederick out of Wisconsin. He has been everything the Dallas Cowboys have hoped for and more, like Tyron, racking up Pro Bowl appearances and All-Pro selections.

The other hit in this class, though he's been a frustrating player at times, is Terrance Williams. Yes, I know, you want your wide receivers to go for 1,000 yards and double-digit touchdowns, but if you have that expectation of a third round wide receiver in a run-first offense playing third fiddle to Dez Bryant and Jason Witten, then you have unrealistic expectations.

Williams has had consistency issues, but he's made some plays.

NFL 2014 Cowboys at Seahawks Romo to Williams

Cowboys Playing Seahawks, they are down by 3 points in the 4th quarter with 4:55 left. It is 3rd & 20 when Tony Romo Scrambles out of a jam and throws a 22 yarder to Williams on the sideline. What a catch and obviously the Cowboys go on to win!

Gavin Escobar, Joseph Randle, and JJ Wilcox were the other notable players from this draft. Randle, you know his issues. They hoped he could take the reins in 2015 after letting DeMarco Murray walk in free agency, but he couldn't keep himself out of trouble.

Wilcox had his moments, but was inconsistent. His angles in pursuit and his less than stellar pass defense are just as memorable as the big hits he produced from time to time.

Gavin Escobar was supposed to be the Aaron Hernandez -- on the field only -- to Jason Witten's Rob Gronkowski as the Dallas Cowboys tried to emulate the New England Patriots by becoming more of a 12-personnel team (two tight ends). Though he was a nice red zone target, he wasn't utilized by the coaching staff. It's debatable whether that's on him or on them, but one thing for sure is they didn't get the return you'd expect from a second round pick. Since he left Dallas, he's struggled to catch on with a team.

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Dallas Cowboys G Zack Martin (AP Photo/James D Smith)

2014 Draft [Players: 9 / Hits: 3 / Hit Rate: 33.3%]

Though they selected nine players in this draft, it's notable that the Dallas Cowboys used five of those selections on seventh-round picks and used their third rounder to move up in the second to select DeMarcus Lawrence.

These three are obvious to me and hopefully to you as well. Zack Martin, DeMarcus Lawrence, and Anthony Hitchens.

What really needs to be said about Zack Martin is, just like Tyron Smith and Travis Frederick before him, he's been as good as gold. He's been an All-Pro player every year since entering the league and combined with Smith and Frederick to become the best offensive line in football. He's lived up to his draft billing.

DeMarcus Lawrence, though he's struggled with injuries, has been a force at defensive end. After not registering a sack during the regular season of his rookie year, Lawrence came up big on back to back plays in the final minute of the playoff game against Detroit in 2014. In 2015 he continued to show promise in the last half of the season, recording eight sacks, but 2016 was marred by back injuries and he registered only one sack. 2017 showed what we hoped he would be, as he registered 14.5 sacks. The Dallas Cowboys gave him the franchise tag this offseason and hope to sign him to a long-term deal.

Anthony Hitchens, the team's fourth round pick, struggled with injuries at times and became a vital player on the team's linebacker depth chart, especially in 2017. As mostly a part-time player for the Cowboys, he never registered fewer than 70 combined tackles when playing all 16 games. In 2017 in particular he showed his worth while Sean Lee was on the shelf and turned that into a big contract with the Kansas City Chiefs. Hitchens is what you hope for out of your fourth round and later draft selections - someone who can be a vital depth chart piece, a rotational player, and start if you need him to.

While the number of hits they made looks low, if you took out the seventh rounders, who typically have a hard time making a roster, then the hit rate goes up to 75%. Pretty good.

Dallas Cowboys 3rd Safety Spot Remains A Concern 2

Dallas Cowboys DB Jeff Heath, DB Byron Jones (Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports)

2015 Draft [Players: 8 / Hits: 3 / Hit Rate: 37.5%]

This wasn't a great draft for the Dallas Cowboys as they've received zilch from their second and third round picks, Randy Gregory and Chaz Green.

You know Randy Gregory's issues by now and hopefully the man is getting his life together and is in a good place. Anything from him on the football field at this point is gravy.

Chaz Green nearly got Dak Prescott killed during the Atlanta Falcons game in 2017. His inability to block Adrian Clayborn was the low-light of that season. There's a good chance he's off the roster when preseason cut down day approaches.

Where they did hit was on Byron Jones, though they've not done him any favors by switching him back and forth between safety and corner. He hasn't been a superstar like the first rounders before him, but as the 28th overall pick, he's been good. He's been a lock down cover player on opposing tight ends and has made it difficult for teams to take the top off the Dallas Cowboys defense with his length and athleticism. Being moved back to cornerback, I think we are about to see the best version of Byron Jones yet.

Damien Wilson, though a frustrating player at times, has been a steadfast presence as the SAM linebacker and on special teams. A former fourth round pick who doesn't play a lot, Wilson has become a solid edge-setting presence on running downs. Again, not spectacular, but when you ask him to defend the run, he's been really good.

The final hit from this class is tight end Geoff Swaim. Yes, he hasn't made much of an impact, but he's done enough to make the roster and has nine catches for 95 yards in his career. Like Hanna, when you play behind the greatest tight end to ever play the game, you aren't getting a lot of opportunities to showcase your receiving ability. He's been steady in the run game and the team likes him as a depth tight end piece.

A Fully Focused Ezekiel Elliott can Carry the Cowboys into 2018 Playoffs 2

Dallas Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott (Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports)

2016 Draft [Players: 9 / Hits: 5 / Hit Rate: 55.5%]

Let me preface this by saying, we still need more information to truly determine whether a player has been a hit for a team or not. So, we will review this again next year. That being said, I think they knocked the ball out of the park with this class.

The biggest hits so far are obviously Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott. What they did in their rookie years, going 13-3, Elliott leading the league in rushing, Prescott being in MVP conversations, is hard to top for first-year production.

Dak is in a bit of a prove it year, though, after the second half of his 2017 season fell flat. I still believe he's the future of this franchise and will lead them to the promised land, but he has to prove it.

Elliott's only issue was the railroading provided by Roger Goodell and the NFL's league office. When he's on the field, he's an electric and physical presence that has shown an ability to take the ball for a score every time he touches it.

Maliek Collins had an excellent rookie year as the 3T defensive tackle, recording six sacks and providing consistent pressure down the stretch. In his second year, he played out of position as the 1T and wasn't bad, but sacks are a little less likely when getting double teamed every play.

Anthony Brown, selected in sixth round, has been a really good player for the Dallas Cowboys. In 2016 when injuries to Orlando Scandrick and Morris Claiborne forced him into action, he played really well and gave the front office confidence that they could move on from Brandon Carr and Claiborne that offseason. He had a down start to the year in 2017, but rebounded in the second half and was a solid depth piece for the team. As the Cowboys fourth cornerback and hopefully operating mostly out of the slot, he can be a really good player for Dallas.

Kavon Frazier has shown flashes of being a physical presence in the secondary for the Dallas Cowboys defense. Another sixth round pick, he'll get the chance to expand his role this season under new defensive backs coach Kris Richard. As the tone setter in the secondary, he's already become a valuable piece to Rod Marinelli's defense.

The verdict is still out on Jaylon Smith, only because of his draft position, but with a solid 2018 campaign, we could move him into the hit column. Health will be key for Smith, and it appears there is good news on that front.

Rico Gathers and Charles Tapper haven't really had a chance to showcase what they could be because of injuries, but if they can get on the roster and contribute, then there's a good chance this turns into a 100% hit rate class. Both Tapper and Gathers have the potential to be good depth for the Dallas Cowboys.

Will Chidobe Awuzie's Return Benefit The Cowboys Defense?

Dallas Cowboys DB Jourdan Lewis, DB Chidobe Awuzie, DB Xavier Woods (AP Photo/Ron Jenkins)

2017 Draft

Like 2016, we still need more information to fully assess these players as hits, but the early returns are very promising for players like Chidobe Awuzie, Jourdan Lewis, Ryan Switzer -- as a returner -- and Xavier Woods.

Taco Charlton showed something in the last half of the 2017 season to be hopeful about his 2018 prospects. However, he needs to become more than just a rotational player for his selection to be viewed as a hit.

The team thought enough of Noah Brown at the end of training camp in 2017 to keep six wide receivers on the roster. He didn't get many opportunities to play, but has some potential to be a solid fourth or fifth receiver for the Dallas Cowboys. They currently have a bit of a log-jam on the WR depth chart, but given opportunities, he has the athleticism and hands to be an effective player in the NFL.

Marquez White is still a bit of an unknown with being relegated to the practice squad in 2017, but he'll have a shot to earn the fifth cornerback spot in training camp.

✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭

So, only factoring in the draft classes from 2011-2016, giving the 2017 class a bit more time to marinate, Jason Garrett has led the Dallas Cowboys to a hit rate of 38.8% on 49 players drafted. If you take out the tremendous success of the 2016 class you're looking at a hit rate of 35.9%.

The rate could go down if players from the 2016 class don't maintain their current trajectory, or if Byron Jones takes a step back in his move to cornerback. But it still has a chance to go up depending on what Jaylon Smith and Randy Gregory do this year.

On average, this team adds about three players per draft class who end up making contributions to the team relative to their draft position. The Dallas Cowboys have gotten pretty good at this over the last several years and have a great chance to make several more key additions to the roster in the 2018 NFL Draft.

This doesn't even include the contributions made by undrafted free agents like Cole Beasley, La'el Collins, Dan Bailey, Chris Jones, Cooper Rush, and Jeff Heath.

Though we may feel one way or the other about the group of players that gets selected this weekend, only time will tell if the team hit on them or not. What we do know is that three or four players from this weekend's draft class will make contributions.


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