When the Dallas Cowboys selected Anthony Hitchens in the fourth round of the NFL Draft, I know many of you were flipping through your draft magazines vigorously to find a scouting report or you scoured the web for anything on the Iowa linebacker. Most websites and draft publications had Hitchens as a late round pick and this infuriated fans, especially with more well known players such as Telvin Smith from Florida State still available. And when Jerry Jones said that Anthony Hitchens will start his career out on special teams, Dallas Cowboys fans couldn’t have been more upset. They wanted a starter in the fourth round. Let’s talk about that.
In 2013, there were 35 fourth round draft picks. nine of them never played a snap in their rookie year (25.7%). 14 of them played less than four games. And out of 35 players, only two of them started for most of the season. One was a fullback and another was an offensive tackle who was forced into the lineup due to injuries. And even a few of these players were cut by their own teams before the season started.
I’m not sure where the idea came from that a fourth round pick should be a starter. If a fourth round pick can make the 53 man roster and contribute in some capacity in year one, that’s a win for your team. I’m not sure where this preconceived notion came from that fourth round picks should be immediate starters, but it’s not realistic.
To me, there’s no doubt that Anthony Hitchens will help the Dallas Cowboys in 2014. For one thing, Hitchens will contribute right away on special teams as he did at Iowa. And for many fourth round picks, that’s where they will have to start. But taking a big picture look at the selection of Anthony Hitchens, the pick makes a lot of sense. The Cowboys starting linebackers in 2013 weren’t bad. When Sean Lee, Justin Durant, and Bruce Carter played together, the defense played fairly well.
The biggest problem was that the unit had no depth. And nothing against Ernie Sims or Cameron Lawrence, but anytime either of those players were in the game, you needed to brace yourself for a shootout. The first game I watched of Hitchens was against Nebraska on draftbreakdown.com and I’m going to show you quite a few GIFs from that game on things that intrigued me. So pardon me if this article is too GIF heavy, but I think you will enjoy it. I won’t even breakdown the plays as I will allow you to make your own judgement on the player:
(Anthony Hitchens is #31, making the tackle on this play)
(Hitchens drops in coverage and makes the interception)
(Hitchens comes off the edge for the hit on the QB)
(Hitchens #31, makes the tackle on the quarterback)
Do I expect Anthony Hitchens to become the next Sean Lee? No. But do I expect him to contribute to the Cowboys in 2014 and make plays? Yes. Hitchens is tough, smart and versatile. It’s not hard to see why Rod Marinelli and Matt Eberflus fell in love with this kid. He just makes plays. Too many people have already written off Hitchens as a bust, partly because they have never seen him play before. Let’s see him in camp before we rush into any judgement on Hitchens.