Dallas Cowboys relying heavily on rookies

IRVING, Texas -- This draft class, the Dallas Cowboys told us in late April, would make major immediate contributions.

Sure enough, the Cowboys are counting on their top four picks to play significant roles.

“The jury is still out on every one of these guys,” coach Jason Garrett said. “We’re three games into this thing, but they’ve responded well to the opportunities we’ve given them. You want to give those guys more and more opportunities.”

Here’s a look at the opportunities presented to the four players the Cowboys selected in the top 80 picks of the draft:

Travis Frederick: The 31st overall pick arrived at Valley Ranch as the starting center. He’s one of the reasons that Garrett believes the Cowboys’ interior offensive line is the best it’s been during his three-year tenure as the head coach. Frederick certainly hasn’t been flawless -- he was dominated by Kansas City nose tackle Dontari Poe in Week 2 -- but his grasp of the intellectual complexities of playing the position is especially impressive for a rookie.

“He’s responded the right way,” Garrett said. “He’s just one of those guys that it doesn’t seem too big for him. He understands that he’s not going to win every time, but he’s going to keep bringing it every snap. He’s a smart player, he’s a physical player and he’s getting better and better.”

Gavin Escobar: The lanky tight end out of San Diego State, selected 47th overall, has been the most criticized pick in the Cowboys’ draft class. He needs at least one offseason to fill out his frame before he can block well enough to be a consistent complement to Jason Witten. For now, Escobar is splitting time with 2012 sixth-round pick James Hanna as the second tight end, but the 6-foot-6 rookie has emerged as a key part of the Cowboys’ red zone packages. Tony Romo has already targeted Escobar three times in the end zone, including a 24-yard touchdown catch on a seam route against the St. Louis Rams. His height, hands and ability to adjust to the ball and fight for it in traffic make him a mismatch player who can line up in several different spots.

“He’s made some contested catches,” Garrett said. “He’s demonstrated some toughness. It doesn’t seem to be too big for him and I think he’s growing and growing in his confidence each and every week so you want to keep giving a guy like that chances. He’s avery natural pass-catcher.”

Terrance Williams: The receiver from Baylor, who the Cowboys considered a steal with the 74th overall pick, could see his role increase significantly on Sunday. He’s been the Cowboys’ third receiver the first three weeks, catching five passes for 60 yards, but Williams might need to play almost every snap in San Diego with the statuses of Miles Austin (hamstring) and Dwayne Harris (hip) uncertain. Williams’ most memorable moment so far is running the wrong route on Romo’s lone interception of the season. Is he ready for a starting role?

“You always want to be careful and understand what you’re asking guys to do and if he’s a younger player, make sure he’s capable of doing it and he has a comfort level doing it,” Garrett said. “But we have a lot of confidence in him. He’s been a Day 1 starter for us, if you will, in the [three-receiver] personnel group and really responded well to everything we’ve asked him to do.”

J.J. Wilcox: The 80th overall pick was the Cowboys’ most impressive rookie in Oxnard, Calif., before he left midway through training camp to be with his mother before she passed away. He missed the next week and a half but still earned a starting job by the third game. Wilcox, an offensive player until his senior year at Georgia Southern, has to do a lot of learning on the fly. But you can’t teach the combination of athleticism and toughness he possesses. He looked like he belonged during his starting debut last week.

“He played good out there,” fellow safety Barry Church said. “His communication was great. I felt like we were on the same page a lot of the game. They took his interception back, which was kind of messed up, but his communication was great. I look forward to future games with him back there.”