Five years ago, the Dallas Cowboys landed two of their marquee talents in Guard Zack Martin and Defensive End DeMarcus Lawrence in the 2014 NFL Draft. Today, these players are arguably the team's best talents on each side of the ball. As we prepare for the 2019 Draft, it seemed a good time to look back on the overall success of the 2014 class.
After five years is a great point to reevaluate a draft. It tells you who landed a second contract with their original team, or found a new home in free agency after their rookie deal ended. It also shows who might not be in the league any longer.
We know Martin and Lawrence became major stars, but what about the other guys drafted in 2014? What impact did they have, if any?
We'll work our way down the line. To start, we get to bask in the glory of one of the Cowboys' best all-time picks.
1st Round - Zack Martin, G, Notre Dame
(16th pick overall)
This draft may always be remembered for the discussion around Quarterback Johnny Manziel and Jerry Jones' rumored infatuation with him. But with Tony Romo still firmly entrenched as the team's starter, the team wisely passed on Manziel and bolstered their offensive line with Zack Martin.
Five years later, Martin is generally considered the best guard in the NFL. He has been to the Pro Bowl every season, even as a rookie, and has been named to either the First or Second All-Pro Team every year.
Zack started every game for Dallas from 2014-2017, then missed just two last year for injury and veteran rest. He has been as durable as he's been outstanding.
Since Martin joined the Cowboys, a Dallas running back has led the league in rushing three out of five years; DeMarco Murray in 2014 and Ezekiel Elliott in 2016 and 2018. Elliott was on pace to lead again in 2017 if not for his suspension.
You could look back and say Dallas would've done well to trade up three spots and land DT Aaron Donald, or perhaps take LB C.J. Mosley, who went at #17 to Baltimore. But for where they got him and the player he turned out to be, Zack Martin gives no reason for regrets.
2nd Round - DeMarcus Lawrence, DE, Boise St.
(34th pick overall)
Dallas traded their 2nd and 3rd round picks to Washington to move up from 47th to 34th and draft DeMarcus Lawrence. One month earlier, the Cowboys had released veteran DeMarcus Ware in a cap-saving move.
Lawrence didn't fill Ware's shoes right away, struggling as a rookie, but he started to emerge with seven sacks over the team's final eight games of 2015. Suspension and injury hampered him again in 2016, but then DeMarcus broke out with 14.5 sacks in 2017 and a Pro Bowl trip.
Playing on the franchise tag last year, Lawrence posted 10.5 sacks and remained on of the top run defenders in football. He was named to the Pro Bowl a second-straight time.
Just last week, DeMarcus and the Cowboys agreed to a new five-year deal that makes him one of the highest paid defenders in NFL history.
While Lawrence didn't hit the ground running, he eventually found his stride. The end result has been exceptional value for a second-round pick; a defensive end that most teams would happily spend a Top-10 pick to acquire.
Washington used the picks Dallas sent them to take LB Trent Murphy and OL Spencer Long, who have been solid starters but hardly star players. Outside of a few of the 2nd round receivers such as Jarvis Landry or Allen Robinson, it's hard to put together any pair of picks that would equal what the Cowboys eventually got in DeMarcus Lawrence.
4th Round - Anthony Hitchens, LB, Iowa
(119th pick overall)
Dallas got considerable value out of this pick. Hitchens had to start 11 games as a rookie with Sean Lee missing the entire year and injuries to Justin Durant and Rolando McClain. He performed solidly despite his inexperience, helping the Cowboys get back to the playoffs for the first time since 2009.
Hitchens remained a key rotation player in 2015 and eventually became a full-time starter for his final two years in Dallas. He was never a dazzling play-maker but was one of the most reliable players on the defense during his tenure.
The Kansas City Chiefs thought enough of Hitchens to give him a five-year, $45 million contract in the 2018 offseason. In fact, Dallas was awarded an extra fourth-round pick in the upcoming 2019 draft thanks to Hitchens leaving in free agency and signing a lucrative deal.
The Cowboys got four years of strong play out of Anthony Hitchens and even got a fourth-round pick, the same round in which they'd drafted him, out of his departure. That's a fine outcome for any Day 3 selection.
One alternative; safety Tre Boston went nine picks after Hitchens to the Panthers in 2014. You can't argue that Hitchens was needed during his time, but landing Boston in the draft could also have been very useful for the Dallas defense.
5th Round - Devin Street, WR, Pittsburgh
(146th pick overall)
Sadly, this is where our success stories end.
Dallas packaged their original 5th and a 7th-round pick to move up and take Devin Street. He only got seven targets as a rookie and then was injured during the 2015 training camp, which cost him more opportunities to grow. He received just 13 targets that season.
Street didn't survive final cuts in 2016 and landed on the Patriots squad. He bounced around several teams that year and the following offseason, eventually being released by the Texans before the start of the 2017 regular season. He hasn't been signed with an NFL team since.
Had Dallas just stood pat at their original spot in that 2014 5th round they might've been better off. Detroit used their pick to take DT Caraun Reid, who ironically landed with the Cowboys last year and was a solid reserve. Dallas also could've taken Ricardo Allen, a solid defensive back, who went right after Street to the Falcons.
Another interesting potential pick would've been QB A.J. McCarron, who went later in the 5th round. If Dallas has been in the QB development business back then, McCarron would've had a year of grooming and then been on the roster for the disastrous 2015 season when Tony Romo was injured.
It could've led to a very different timeline for the Cowboys, one where Kellen Moore never gets signed and Dak Prescott never gets drafted. I'm not saying McCarron was going to become a star here, but he might've been solid enough that things would've turned out differently for several parties.
7th Round - Multiple
- Ben Gardner, DE, Stanford
- Will Smith, LB, Texas Tech
- Ahmad Dixon, S, Baylor
- Ken Bishop, DT, Northern Illinois
- Terrance Mitchell, CB, Oregon
Four of these give guys are no longer in the NFL. Only Terrance Mitchell remains, and he didn't find his stride until he wound up with the Kansas City Chiefs in 2016. Mitchell parlayed solid performances in KC into a starting role with the Chicago Bears last year, but was injured after four games.
None of these players finished out their rookie contract in Dallas. Gardner, Smith, and Bishop were all gone by 2016. Ahmad Dixon was cut before Week One of his rookie year after reporting late to a team meeting.
Coincidentally, undrafted linebacker Keith Smith wound up having more of an impact for the Cowboys than any of these 7th-round players. He was a special teams standout for four years and converted to fullback in 2016, helping block for the league's leading rusher in Ezekiel Elliott. When Special Teams Coach Bisaccia left for Oakland last year, he took Smith with him as a free agent.
~ ~ ~
Looking back, 2014 was nearly a textbook draft for the Cowboys. They got two franchise players with their first two picks, even if they had to sacrifice their third-rounder to trade up for DeMarcus Lawrence. They also landed a multi-year starter in Anthony Hitchens in the fourth round.
If just one or two of their seventh-round guys had amounted to anything, this would be one of the top draft classes in Dallas history. At least they found some value in Keith Smith among the undrafted free agents.
But even as it stands now, 2014 still goes down as a very solid performance by Will McClay and his crew. Five years later, Lawrence and Zack Martin are two of elite players on the Cowboys roster. A re-draft would have both of them in the Top 10 picks of this entire class.
We can only hope that the Cowboys will do as well in two weeks at the 2019 NFL Draft.
Brett Maher Named NFC Special Teams Player of Week 7, 2019
Brett Maher's 63-yard field goal last Sunday may have been a drop in the bucket on the scoreboard for the Dallas Cowboys. But the historical significance of that kick, and it's near record-breaking distance, helped Maher earn the NFC Special Teams Player of the Week award for Week 7 of the 2019 season.
Maher went 3/3 on the day as the Cowboys routed the Philadelphia Eagles. But it was the 63-yard FG at the close of the first half which brought Brett this latest accolade. He became the first kicker in NFL history have three career field goals of 60 yards or more.
1st player in @NFL history to have three career FGs of 60 yds or more ✔️ @brett_maher is your NFC Special Teams Player of the Week! → https://t.co/MFiAnAScrY
Maher's kick was one yard short of tying the record, 64 yards, set by Matt Prater in 2013.
It was weeks like this one which helped Brett Maher keep the Cowboys' kicker job this year despite mixed results in 2018. He won two Player of the Week awards last season and showed off his rare long-range ability, but was one of the least accurate kickers overall from shorter distances.
That same mixed bag has been seen this year. Despite his work on Sunday, Maher is at just 71% accuracy on his total field goal attempts right now.
Hopefully, Brett's big day over the Eagles will spark a hot streak. His range is an incredible weapon for the Cowboys; can he consistently prove that he's more of an asset than a liability?
Takeaway Tuesday: DeMarcus Lawrence Silences Doubters vs Eagles
Dallas Cowboys fans should be happy about the change of pace in the conversation surrounding America's Team. A week ago, the talk in Cowboys Nation was all about just how hot was Jason Garrett's seat. Three consecutive losses will do that to most fan bases. Fortunately, though, we can put a pin on that conversation for a while after the Cowboys handily defeated the Philadelphia Eagles 37-10 last Sunday Night.
It was a great team performance all around, but we should dive in to the specifics. Overall, it was a good win to claim the NFC East division lead as the Cowboys get ready to rest this upcoming bye week. Let's get to this week's takeaways!
Ezekiel Elliott Played His Best Game of the Year
The way Ezekiel Elliott ran versus the Eagles' defense reminded me of his rookie season. Elliott has had a pretty good season even though the Cowboys haven't leaned as much on the running game as they had the last few seasons.
Last Sunday, he accounted for 111 rushing yards and 36 receiving yards. But it wasn't about his total yardage. What was special was the way he juked defenders, broke tackles and fought for the dirty yards.
There was a fire about #21 and I'm sure Cowboys Nation is just as excited as I am to watch it. He truly was something versus the Eagles.
Ezekiel Elliott's best game of the season BY FAR. Look at this chart from Next Gen Stats. Green lines mean 5+ yards gained or touchdown.
Not to mention, Elliott was extremely effective as he found multiple ways to have 5+ yard run after 5+ yard run. Simply put, an impressive performance from the Cowboys superstar running back.
DeMarcus Lawrence Silenced Doubters
I don't know if it was his huge contract that turned many fans against DeMarcus Lawrence early in the season, but the Cowboys' defensive end managed to silence doubters against the Eagles. On his way to one sack and one forced fumble, Lawrence dominated in the trenches.
He was solid versus the run and kept pressuring Carson Wentz all game long.
The truth is that D-Law has played well this offseason, but constant double-teams and the lack help from the interior defensive linemen have kept his box score stats down. However, when you look at more advanced metrics such as pass-rush productivity, you'll notice Lawrence is still playing at a very high level.
His play versus the Eagles proved that to many fans watching at home.
I was intrigued by the Cowboys lining him up against the Eagles' LT, trying to exploit the fact that Jason Peters was out injured. I wonder if Rod Marinelli continues to look for favorable match-ups in the future and keeps moving him around occasionally.
Amari Cooper is Fine
After Amari Cooper's quad injury against the New York Jets, reports emerged on him being in "terrible pain." Many doubted he'd even play against the Philadelphia Eagles but he did, along other key players who were dealing with injuries too. In his return to the field, Cooper led the Cowboys receiving core with 106 yards in only five receptions (five targets).
Once again, his route running was on full display. He managed to burn a secondary that has been far from great this year. The Cowboys needed him to show up, and he delivered. He even caught a 44 yard pass when he absolutely destroyed Eagles DB Rasul Douglas on a double-move. Cooper would also have a diving jaw-dropping catch later in the game.
It's fair to assume he's healthy and ready to go for the rest of the season.
Cowboys Run Defense Still an Issue
Takeaways and a strong defensive performance against the pass secured the win for the Cowboys, but the run defense continues to be a problem for Rod Marinelli's unit. The Eagles running backs combined for 103 rushing yards and Dallas was beaten in the trenches a handful of times on this game.
The linebackers looked drastically better, and Leighton Vander Esch had his best half this season so far. Fortunately, it seems like his injury isn't serious enough for him to miss any additional playing time.
However, there were a handful of plays in which the Cowboys' defensive tackles were pushed around again. If I had to choose one position to upgrade, I wouldn't hesitate to address the interior defensive line. It's a problem.
This Defensive Drive Sealed the Game for the Dallas Cowboys
Things couldn't have started off any better for a Dallas Cowboys team that was desperately in need of a fast start in this pivotal week seven matchup with the Philadelphia Eagles. In the midst of a three-game losing streak, tied atop the NFC East at 3-3 with the Eagles, and hosting their division rival on Sunday Night Football, the Cowboys needed to put their best foot forward early in this game.
After a couple of fumbles recovered by the Dallas defense, the Cowboys jumped out to a 14-0 lead by the midway point of the first quarter. In a two-score hole early in this contest, the Philadelphia Eagles came out guns blazing on their third offensive series of the game and marched right down the field in seven plays, aided by a couple of personal foul calls, and brought the game to within a score.
At 14-7, the Dallas Cowboys offense was then forced to punt on the ensuing drive setting the Philadelphia Eagles up with an opportunity to tie the game in the second quarter if they were able to put a drive together. Getting the score even in the first half after pretty much gifting the Cowboys with a two-touchdown lead early would be a huge momentum swing in the game and provide the Eagles with a ton of confidence.
The Dallas Cowboys defense, however, wouldn't allow that to happen.
With the Eagles pinned back on their own 10-yard line after a Chris Jones punt, the Dallas Cowboys defense went to work with some excellent team defense and individual open field tackling performances on three plays that led to a Philadelphia Eagles three and out.
On first and 10 from their own 10-yard line, the Eagles attempted to run Jordan Howard through the right side of the line. There was nowhere to go on the play as Maliek Collins got excellent penetration into the left "A gap" making first contact behind the line of scrimmage and getting an assist from DeMarcus Lawrence to finish off the run stop for just a one-yard gain.
With a failed first-down run, the Eagles were set up with a 2nd and 9 at their own 11-yard line for the first play of the second quarter. Here they run Jordan Howard off of left tackle on a shotgun sweep handoff and he's able to pick up a nice bit of yardage to set up 3rd and 4.
To me, this was a huge third-down play for the Dallas Cowboys defense. On their previous drive, they had just given up a touchdown and needed to find a way to get of the field. If the Eagles are able to pick this up, it continues to put pressure on the defense and Philadelphia has some momentum.
Needing just four yards for the first down, the Eagles had both run and pass options at their disposal. As the Eagles are in have a tight bunch on the left side, the Cowboys have seven into the box to face six blockers, including the tight end who has a wider than normal split from the left tackle. Jeff Heath is the seventh man and on the snap is able to remain untouched as Carson Wentz hands off to Miles Sanders and snakes his way through the mass of humanity to stop the running back just shy of the first down.
They had the play fairly well blocked, but nobody accounts for Heath who is able to stay clean and track down Miles Sanders before he's able to get to the first down marker.
In a game that had a ton of highlights, this was a play that may go unnoticed when people talk about the outcome of this game but was huge given the current game situation. The Dallas Cowboys needed to get a stop on defense.
The Philadelphia Eagles attempted to attack the Dallas Cowboys' defense on the ground on this drive, which has been an area of vulnerability for the Cowboys in 2019. Their attempt to ground and pound in order to gain some momentum and reassert themselves in the game didn't come to fruition because the Cowboys defenders rallied well to the football on three straight running plays. The Dallas Cowboys turned a weakness into a strength on this drive and did their part to help the offense put the game away early.
After forcing the three and out, something the Dallas Cowboys defense doesn't do a lot of this year, the offense was able to take the ball and go on a 12 play, 71-yard drive for a touchdown that took nearly seven minutes off the clock. The Cowboys were able to go up two touchdowns again on their division rival and pretty much put the game out of reach, but it wouldn't have been so had the defense not stepped up and forced the three and out on this early second-quarter drive.
The defense played arguably their best game of the season on Sunday Night Football on a night where they desperately needed to play their best game of the year. There are still nine games to go and have a pretty rough seven-game stretch coming out of the bye starting with another divisional matchup on the road against the New York Giants in week nine. If the Dallas Cowboys defense can show this kind of consistency against the run moving forward, they'll be very difficult to beat.
Player News2 days ago
Cowboys Get Good News on Vander Esch, Quinn Injuries After Eagles Game
Dallas Cowboys1 week ago
Jourdan Lewis, the Change the Dallas Cowboys Defense Needs
Dallas Cowboys1 week ago
Kris Richard: Dallas Cowboys Defense is a “Work in Progress”
Star Blog2 weeks ago
QB Dak Prescott’s “Ups And Downs” Named Cowboys’ Biggest Disappointment
Star Blog1 week ago
Robert Quinn Continues Impressive Start to Cowboys Career
Star Blog2 weeks ago
Ezekiel Elliott’s Carries Have Decreased Three Straight Weeks, Here is Why
Dallas Cowboys5 days ago
Antonio Brown Could be the Bold Move That Saves the Cowboys 2019 Season
Dallas Cowboys1 week ago
Will, Should Jason Garrett be Coaching for His Job vs the Eagles?