This will be the fourth season for players from the 2014 NFL Draft. That means expiring rookie contracts for most, which often comes with a referendum on how that player has lived up to their draft status. It's a little difficult for the Dallas Cowboys, though, as surprisingly few players remain from their 2014 draft.
Indeed, only three of the nine players drafted by the Cowboys that year remain on the team. Fullback Keith Smith was an undrafted free agent that year and has stuck around, though that still leaves six guys who didn't make it.
That number may surprise you in this new era of Cowboy draft management. We now think of Dallas as a strong draft performer thanks to the rise of Will McClay in the front office and the influence of Stephen Jones and Jason Garrett. I wouldn't have guessed so many players from that 2014 class were gone given other recent history.
One big reason that we may not think poorly about the 2014 class is that the first-round pick worked out so well. Zack Martin may be the best guard in all of football and is about to get a major contract extension. Even though Dallas had already found great offensive linemen in Tyron Smith and Travis Frederick, adding Martin immediately made it the best line in football.
The next pick has been a disappointment, but at least he's still with the team. DeMarcus Lawrence took up our second and third-round picks in 2014 as Dallas moved up to select him. He has had strong moments but injuries and a suspension have held back his full potential. As I wrote about recently, this contract year will be huge for Lawrence's future with either the Cowboys or another team.
Fourth-round pick Anthony Hitchens has been a steady, versatile performer who has done more than his fair share since joining the Cowboys. He may get pushed out this year by the debut of Jaylon Smith and continued development of Damien Wilson, but there's no question that Dallas got a good return on their draft investment with Hitchens.
Later Picks Lacked Staying Power
Of the six guys drafted after Anthony Hitchens, none are still in Dallas and only two currently have NFL jobs. None of emerged as any sort of significant contributor for a team.
WR Devin Street lasted two years in Dallas and was mostly known for some bad drops. He was released at final cuts before the start of 2016 and has since bounced around the AFC with the Patriots and Colts practice squads. Street has recently signed with the Jets and anxiously awaits to find out who might be throwing him the ball.
Ben Gardner was looking like a potential boost to the defensive line before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury. He came back in 2015 but couldn't make the team. He has spent some time with the Chargers practice squad over the last two years but is currently a free agent.
Linebacker Will Smith couldn't make the team as a rookie and took so many good “Fresh Prince” and “Wild Wild West” jokes with him. He is currently signed with Winnipeg Blue Bombers in the CFL.
Ahmad Dixon flashed as a hard-hitting playmaker in his rookie preseason but had a problem showing up on time to practice and meetings. Dallas didn't keep him past final cuts and Dixon quickly bounced between the Vikings, Bears, and Dolphins during that same season. He has not been in the NFL since 2014.
Like Smith, defensive tackle Ken Bishop is currently gettin' jiggy in the CFL. He was with the Cowboys for a year and half but got released midway through 2015 to make room for Greg Hardy. No other NFL team signed him before the made his way up to Canada.
The last guy drafted in 2014, cornerback Terrance Mitchell is actually doing the best of this bunch. He didn't make it with Dallas as a rookie but has since caught on with Kansas City. He started two games last season and is expected to compete for a starting role in 2017.
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Anyone drafted in the fifth round or lower is hardly guaranteed to become a significant player, or even make your squad as a rookie. However, losing on six spins at the roulette wheel is bad for any NFL team regardless of the rounds. You'd like to think that at least one guy like Anthony Brown would emerge from the pack.
This year's draft class features players like safety Xavier Woods and receiver Noah Brown who many hope will be late-round studs like Anthony was in 2016. Unfortunately, the 2014 class is a reminder of just how hard it is to make it in the NFL.