IRVING, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys’ selection of Iowa linebacker Anthony Hitchens caused a lot of head scratching.
The Hitchens fans among the media draft analysts gave him a sixth-round grade. Many had him as a seventh-rounder or undrafted free agent.
The Cowboys took him in the middle of the fourth round with the 119th overall pick. What did Dallas’ scouts see in Hitchens that others might have missed?
“We saw a guy who could run with size, and we saw one of the few inside linebackers that we thought could come in here and help us if we lost Sean Lee,” said owner/general manager Jerry Jones, whose widely criticized first-round selection of center Travis Frederick last year worked out well. “So we saw a guy who could definitely improve us from where we were last year when we lost Sean Lee. Probably, for me, the most important thing is how much of a hitter he is. He blows them up. So we sat there with him and used a fourth-rounder.
“With all due respect to the other evaluators, I would say that there is a lot of difference in a lot of players when you start getting in that fourth round between this player or that player and whether we would have taken him. We literally had him – as we’d been sitting there all day long – we had him there, too. We didn’t have him there in the third, we had him there in the fourth. We sat there all day long with him as one of the guys that we would use our fourth pick with at that time. I’d say that’s the difference in the eye of the beholder.”
The Cowboys raved about the “run-hit factor” with Hitchens, but he was clocked at 4.74 seconds in the 40-yard dash, a mediocre time for a middle linebacker. His 1.62-second 10-yard split, however, is more impressive than his 40 time.
The 6-foot, 240-pound Hitchens played weakside linebacker at Iowa, where he racked up 226 tackles over the last two seasons, and the Cowboys believe the converted high school running back has some position flexibility. But they drafted him to be a solid backup for the injury-riddled Lee and a core special-teams player.
“We just feel like we needed linebacker depth,” coach Jason Garrett said. “We’ve had different injuries at the linebacker position the last couple of years, and that’s the nature of the league. Guys get hurt. You want to make sure you have enough numbers there, enough competition there so if something does happen to one of your top-flight players, you can survive, function and even thrive. That’s where we feel like Hitchens fits in.
“Really productive player at Iowa. He was their defensive MVP this year, and they had a good defensive group. We feel like it was a real quality player at a position of need for us. We just felt like it was a good pick for us at that time. He is going to help our football team.”