When Notre Dame tackle Zack Martin was drafted with the 16th overall pick last season by the Dallas Cowboys, no one was overly emphatic. First, the fans and the team were hungry for talented defensive players coming off the worst defensive performance in franchise history. Second, offensive lineman aren’t sexy–especially on a team where two other first round picks reside.
Fast forward 11 months, and the Martin pick looks like it could be among the best in franchise history. The rookie who switched to guard started all 16 games and earned his way onto the Pro Bowl and All-Pro rosters. The addition of Martin took the offensive line from good to great, along with the Cowboys running game. It is utterly eerie how close the Martin pick came to not happening. However, the pick gives testament to the Cowboys new draft process.
The Dallas front office will tell you that they had their eyes on defensive players who they would have undoubtedly taken over Martin. A conversation about whether that would of worked out or not is for another day. However, they were eyeing UCLA pass rusher Anthony Barr, Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald, and Ohio State linebacker Ryan Shazier. They had higher grades on those players than they had on Martin.
Once Shazier was taken by the Pittsburgh Steelers one pick ahead of the Cowboys while they were on the phone with his agent when their pick came in, Dallas was forced to take action. Their first choice may have actually been to trade out of the pick and target defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence who they eventually drafted in the second round. The Cowboys took the clock down within one minute before turning the Martin selection in.
After not trading out and unfortunately not getting any of their defensive prizes, the Cowboys “settled” for Martin. A strong drafting process with discipline and a strong voice from assistant director of pro player personnel Will McClay paid off in a big way. Instead of panicking and looking at the next defensive player on the board, they selected the player with the high grade.