7th Rounders: What 2013 Tells Cowboys To Expect From 2014


Dec 26, 2013; San Diego, CA, USA; Utah State Aggies quarterback Darell Garretson (6) is sacked by Northern Illinois Huskies defensive tackle Ken Bishop (93) and defensive end Perez Ford (44) in the first half during the 2013 Poinsettia Bowl at Qualcomm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

The Dallas Cowboys just missed the playoffs in 2013, boasting the league’s fifth-ranked scoring offense and 26th-ranked scoring defense. It was commonly thought the team would use the 2014 NFL draft to bolster a defensive unit that yielded a franchise-record 415 yards per game, and indeed the team used seven of their nine draft picks on defense.

But five of those defenders were taken in the seventh round. With the Cowboys needing help on defense now, what can we expect those seventh rounders to contribute during their first year in the league?

One way to predict future performance is to look at prior production. In 2013, 48 players were drafted in the seventh round. Cobbling together 2013 player data from Pro Football Focus, Pro-Football Reference, and NFL.com, we can examine the performance of last year’s seventh-round draft class, and set some tentative Year 1 expectations for this season’s bounty of final round picks.

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Nearly two thirds of last year’s seventh rounders either never saw the field, or played very sparingly without contributing on special teams. Only about one out of three made any kind of real contribution, and the majority of those made their mark on special teams.

Just four of 48 players earned any meaningful playing time. New York Jets fullback Tommy Bohanon and Oakland Raiders defensive end David Bass each crested 300 snaps in their rookie campaigns, adding value as rotational or situational contributors.

The Seattle Seahawks may have hit on a quality offensive tackle in Michael Bowie, who was active for 10 games, made nine starts, played over 600 snaps and earned a +4.0 overall rating from Pro Football Focus. The San Francisco 49ers tried to stash rookie cornerback Marcus Cooper on their practice squad, but the Kansas City Chiefs claimed him and made him active for Week 1. Cooper remained active the entire year, starting six games, playing 722 snaps and notching three interceptions for the league’s fifth-ranked defense.

The odds of hitting on something more than a special teams contributor in last year’s seventh round were about 1 in 12. Many of these seventh rounders may develop into fine pros in years to come, but that potential didn’t help their teams last year. And the Cowboys are in need of impact players on defense today, right now, as you read this.

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If the Cowboys war room and assistant director of player personnel Will McClay is as good as advertised, the Cowboys may hit on one of the five seventh rounders this year. If they’re really good and really lucky, they may find two rookie contributors.

Don’t count on it, though. The way the 2014 draft played out, defensive improvement (for this season at least) more likely lies in the elevated play of veterans: The successful recovery of defensive tackle Henry Melton and defensive end Anthony Spencer, who are each coming off a lost season due to knee injury; the emergence of injured young defensive linemen Tyrone Crawford and Ben Bass; the sustained health of linebacker Sean Lee, who’s missed 15 games the past two years; the development of young safeties J.J. Wilcox and Jeff Heath; the fulfillment of potential from linebacker Bruce Carter and cornerback Morris Claiborne.

Any one of the Cowboys five seventh rounders could develop into an impact player, just probably not this year. As such, the Cowboys find themselves in a familiar predicament, with the fate of 2014 falling on the shoulders of some familiar names.