Earlier this offseason, we took a look at the trends and tendencies of how the Cowboys approach draft season. Now, let’s take a look at the results of those plans and preparations. Are there any trends as far as favoring offensive or defensive players early in the draft? What about the later rounds? Does Dallas dip into the small-school well too frequently? What positions have the Cowboys paid little attention to? Here, we’ll examine the draft hauls Dallas has reaped over the last five seasons.
While not a perfect cutoff, the 2010 season is a solid line of demarcation for the current Cowboys era. Entering that season, Jason Garrett was already three years in as offensive coordinator under Wade Phillips, and took over for the defensive mastermind as head coach midway through that floundering season.
|2010-2014||Rounds 1-3||Rounds 4-7||Overall|
|ALL OFFENSIVE PLAYERS||53.85%||34.78%||41.67%|
|ALL DEFENSIVE PLAYERS||46.15%||65.22%||58.33%|
|"Power 5" Conferences||69.23%||60.87%||63.89%|
|"Other 5" Conferences||23.08%||8.70%||13.89%|
Since 2007, the Cowboys operated under the separate-but-equal philosophies of a Garrett-led offense and a Phillips-led defense. That gives us insight into an additional three seasons of offensive team-building philosophy. However, in this look of what we might glean from past Cowboys drafting, we will only go back to 2010. Again, this isn’t perfect, as Dallas is on their fourth defensive coordinator over six seasons, in the second year of Rod Marinelli. A change is defense obviously affects the players one uses to play it, but we can still glean how much importance is placed on the defense by way of the picks used on it.
We can also see how the Dallas brass has approached building other positions on the roster. Shaped by players with Pro Bowl and even Hall of Fame caliber talents, the Cowboys roster-building ways have some interesting intricacies. The below listing includes the publicly confirmed names for 2015 visits; there are several names that will appear over the next week (or not) who are also on Dallas’ in-depth radar.
Could this be the year? The Cowboys haven’t just been avoiding drafting someone to become Tony Romo’s successor, they’ve basically been sitting on the fence in drafting a successor for Troy Aikman. The only quarterback Dallas drafted in the last 11 years was Stephen McGee, lowest total in the league. Even Jacksonville has drafted at least two over that time frame. Dallas has shown some interest in Baylor’s Bryce Petty, showing they might finally be admitting that Romo’s time will eventually come to an end. One day, hopefully not soon. Only the Bears, Saints and Texans have also eschewed the opportunity to draft a QB in the first three rounds over the last 11 years.
Another position the club has decided against investing heavily in over the last half-decade. This number would be even lower if FB Shawn Chapas wasn’t included in the total. Since drafting two backs in the same 2008 draft, Dallas has shied away… a trend unlikely to continue with this stocked draft class.
Per starting positions, the offensive position most attacked by Dallas. With an incomplete grade on Devin Street, the Cowboys definitely hit more than they missed here at WR. Despite a creeping worry that Bryant might not be with the team past a second franchise tag in 2016, the return on investment here is great. He’s one of the league’s Top 3 receivers and combines with Terrance Williams for the most touchdowns from a WR duo in the league (including playoffs). Dwayne Harris has moved on, but his worth as a Specials Teams ace made his 6th round pick well worth it.
Lots of complaints about a position that’s only been tapped twice, less than any other on the team except for quarterback. Gavin Escobar has shown flashes but has yet to come into his own, but that has a lot to do with the eventual Hall of Famer who keeps trucking every time it appears he might slow down. Of course fan frustration stems from beyond the five-year window, as failed second round picks Anthony Fasano and Martellus Bennett (who has done well with greater targets elsewhere) keep the Escobar pick floating in their wakes until he produces.
Arkin is the only player on this list that isn’t from a Power 5 (or Independent) school. Dallas has attacked this area of their team in the first three rounds more than any other position, with three first round picks turning into three Pro Bowlers. Still though, Dallas is far behind the league leaders in OL selections. Baltimore and Philly average two OL per draft over the last several seasons. Fortunately, hitting home runs with three picks mitigates the need for such dousing.
Dallas does solid work in both the early and latter stages of the draft when it comes to the defensive trenches. Two of their 13 “First 3 Rounds” picks are on the DL in Crawford and Lawrence and both of those players are expected to be long-term solutions on the line at the two key positions (RDE and 3T) down the line. Lissemore was a solid contributor while in Dallas, and brought back a draft pick in a trade to San Diego when the team switched to a 4-3 defense for 2013. Bishop and Gardner are part of the 2015 depth equation trying to fight for snaps. Wilbur not defining himself is the only bad mark on this ledger. So far, though, there hasn’t been a single standout guy drafted on the line in the last 5 years. Yet.
Over the last 11 years, only two teams (Pittsburgh, San Diego) have drafted more linebackers in the first three rounds than Dallas’ 7. Of course, all three played a 3-4 defense for the majority of that time frame, leading to a larger need. Still , Dallas has been able to draft quality talent but gotten limited returns for various reasons. With Carter’s departure and Lee’s injury history, most signs point to Dallas once again investing a quality resource in the position in 2015.
Dallas simply doesn’t prioritize the safety position the way most Cowboys draftniks would like them to. They aren’t the only team that chooses to ignore the position, but you’d think a team that spends so much time in zone defense and single-high looks would be hard pressed to find a prototypical centerfield, free safety. Nope. Not too many teams would take Eric Reid over Travis Frederick, but the player Dallas traded away from (after Vacarro was taken) does have 7 interceptions and back-to-back seasons of “74 passer rating” against’s. The defensive position Dallas addressed the least over the last five years.
The crux of the problem. In a league where you can never have enough corners, Dallas has avoided the position in the early round, unless you count the fact they spent two premier picks on Claiborne, who hasn’t come close to living up to first round expectations. Over 25% of the league has spent more resources on corner in Rounds 1-3 than they did in Rounds 4-7. Not Dallas, not even close. To make matters worse, Dallas has failed to find a single serviceable corner in the second part of the draft, with the only keeper being Thomas who was cut in camp and latched on with another NFL franchise. Remember, this goes back to the 2010 draft. Brandon Carr wasn’t selected until 2012.
Note: 11-year averages and totals for the other 31 teams include data compiled by Joey Vitolli of NationalFootballPost, here.