NFL draft: Look for Bryant and Lee to contribute for Cowboys
By Gerry Fraley
The Dallas Morning News
IRVING, Texas — Quality again trumped need for the Cowboys on Friday. And for the second consecutive day, they used their lone pick in the NFL draft on a player who probably will not come in as a Day 1 starter.
In Thursday's first round, it was Oklahoma State's Dez Bryant, who could have more of an impact as a kick returner than a wide receiver this season. In the second round Friday, it was Penn State inside linebacker Sean Lee, who fully expects to sit, watch and learn.
"I'm going to relish it and try to learn from them as much as possible," Lee said of working with the veteran linebackers.
The Cowboys gave up two fourth-round picks to get in position to take Bryant and Lee. Both players were selected among the top 55 overall.
Owner-general manager Jerry Jones said the Cowboys rated both among the top 16 available. He started the day trying to trade into the second round's top eight to get Lee.
"A lot of work for a player," Jones said.
And for all of that, the Cowboys did not get an immediate starter and still have nagging needs at free safety and offensive line.
It all makes perfect sense. If the draft is about improving the talent level of the roster, the Cowboys accomplished that.
"It's a case of doing what you should be doing," Jones said. "Looking at a real distinctive player as opposed to possibly trading down."
The draft picks have a ripple effect on the lineup.
Doug Free is secure as the new left offensive tackle. The Cowboys probably will look for a veteran free agent such as Mike Gandy to be the backup, but the job goes to Free. The Cowboys would be open to the deposed Flozell Adams returning as the backup at a backup's salary, but he has shown no interest in that possibility.
The Cowboys will continue to look at free agency for a potential starter at free safety. If no appealing possibility arises, they will let Michael Hamlin, from last year's draft class, Alan Ball and Patrick Watkins compete for the job.
The draft offered lesser talents at each position. The Cowboys preferred the high-upside player, even if that means coach Wade Phillips and his staff will have to be creative in finding ways to get Bryant and Lee onto the field.
Bryant will be a kick returner and likely third receiver. Lee has the speed and savvy to be used in "nickel" pass defenses, which means former first-rounder Bobby Carpenter is probably finished. Lee could also spell Keith Brooking, who will be 34 on opening day this season, and play on special teams.
A year from now, Lee and Bryant could be starters. For the coming season, both will be contributors.
"They will play a lot of plays, and they will impact us winning games more than anybody else we saw," Jones said.
Bryant can be viewed as Jones' pick. Jones has always frothed over wide receivers with big-play potential.
Lee can be viewed as Phillips' pick. Lee comes from the Penn State linebacker assembly line: solid in the fundamentals; physical in his play.
Together, they make the Cowboys a better team.