IRVING, Texas – The Cowboys’ post-draft hype focused on how much this class would help immediately.
“We’ve got here seven players of what I think are going to start, compete, be productive for our football team this year,” player personnel director Stephen Jones said. “I don’t think any of these guys we’ve drafted come to mind, or when we look at them here, that they all can’t potentially be a starter on our football team.”
That statement was made with a loose definition of starter that includes the second tight end, second running back, third receiver and slot cornerback. Still, it’s pretty bold to predict that seven rookies will step right into significant roles with a team that has playoff aspirations.
How realistic is it? Let’s take an optimistic look at the impact each draft pick can make as a rookie:
Wisconsin C Travis Frederick (No. 31 overall): Jerry Jones has already anointed him as the “foundation” of the interior offensive line. He has significant experience at guard and center, but all signs are that he’ll be the starting center when the Cowboys opened organized team activities in May. The expectation is that Frederick will help give Romo “an extra half second,” as Jones keeps saying, and give a running game that ranked last in the NFC a major boost. Offensive coordinator Bill Callahan has compared him to Nick Mangold, a four-time Pro Bowler whom Callahan coached with the Jets.
San Diego State TE Gavin Escobar (No. 47 overall): He’s not going to take Jason Witten’s job any time soon, but the Cowboys are committed to featuring Escobar in multi-tight end packages immediately and using those personnel groups often. He’ll line up all over the field, particularly flexed in the slot and split out wide, as the Cowboys try to create mismatches. The Cowboys are confident that Escobar will be a better receiving threat than Martellus Bennett ever was. The preferred comparison at Valley Ranch is New England’s Aaron Hernandez, who had 45 receptions for 563 yards and six touchdowns as a rookie.
Baylor WR Terrance Williams (No. 74 overall): The third receiver job is his for the taking. That would allow the Cowboys to continue using Miles Austin in the slot in three-receiver sets, as they have the last three seasons. The third receiver in this offense can get a lot of action, especially if the durability issues of Austin and Dez Bryant rear their ugly head again. Remember Laurent Robinson’s career year in 2011 (54 catches for 858 yards and 11 touchdowns)? Williams, who led the NCAA in receiving yards last season, has the same kind of frame and a knack for making plays downfield.
Georgia Southern S J.J. Wilcox (No. 80 overall): Can he step in as a starter after playing safety for only one season in college? He’ll have the chance to compete for a job, with Barry Church coming off a torn Achilles tendon, Matt Johnson having yet to play an NFL snap and stopgap veteran Will Allen signing for less guaranteed money than last year’s camp cut Brodney Pool. The Cowboys love the Senior Bowl star’s athleticism (4.51 40 and 35-inch vertical), intelligence and toughness.
William & Mary CB B.W. Webb (No. 114 overall): He’d need to be spectacular in training camp and preseason to beat out incumbent slot corner Orlando Scandrick. Webb should be the fourth corner and contribute on special teams this season. Ideally, he’ll perform well enough as a rookie to make the Cowboys comfortable clearing out some cap space by cutting Scandrick.
Oklahoma State RB Joseph Randle (No. 151 overall): Randle arrives at Valley Ranch as the No. 2 running back behind DeMarco Murray, and the Cowboys need him to be an upgrade over former first-rounder Felix Jones. There’s no reason Randle, whose Big 12 numbers compare favorably to Murray’s, shouldn’t be able to rush for 500 yards and add another 200 receiving as a rookie with a handful of touchdowns. If Murray misses any time due to injury, the Cowboys are counting on Randle to be the workhorse.
South Carolina OLB DeVonte Holloman (No. 185 overall): The Cowboys didn’t make much of a commitment to Justin Durant (two-year, $2.365 million contract), so it’s not as if the SAM linebacker starting job is all locked up. It’s a stretch, however, for a sixth-round pick who was a safety until his senior year of college to be an immediate starter at linebacker. Holloman needs to be a special teams force this season.