Cowboys 2008 Draft Class – Gold or Pyrite?


There is a duality in nature.  Yin/Yang.  The glass is half empty/full.  It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.  The Dallas Cowboys 2008 draft is the very embodiment of this duality.  Players have simultaneously been amazing and awful all within their short careers.

We’ll review the 2008 draft to see whether the choices made by the Cowboys were the correct ones or whether the Cowboys missed horribly.  Unfortunately, the answer may be a yes to both depending upon your viewpoint.

1st round Felix Jones at 22

Pro-Bowl: No

Starter: No

Still on the team: Yes

Player(s) you could have had instead:  Rashard Mendenhall, Chris Johnson, Matt Forte, DeSean Jackson, Ray Rice

Analysis:  The 2008 NFL draft will be considered the year of the running back.  With several 1000 yard backs and one 2000 yard back in the draft class, the Cowboys seemingly made a less than ideal decision taking Felix Jones.  My criticism at the time of the draft was that you don’t take a complementary player when there is a do it all back available.  Jones’ 40 time was comparable to several running backs in the draft to include Mendenhall.  Jones was slower than Chris Johnson who ran a 4.2 40 time.  However, Jone was explosive in 2008 with an average yards per carry of 8.9.  That has since decreased to 5.9 and 4.3.  The Cowboys offensive line may be partly to blame, but it does not appear that Jones will be able to carry the entire offensive load that Mendenhall does for Pittsburgh, or be the truly explosive presence that Chris Johnson is for the Titans.

At the time of the 2008 draft, the Cowboys were considering Mendenhall.  They were concerned that he was not as effective in a two back system, whereas Jones was productive and effective at Arkansas with Darren McFadden.  This swayed their decision and Jones was the pick.  Considering Mendenhall’s statistics, you cannot say that they were prescient with their analysis.  Mendenhall was injured in 2008.  In 2009, he ran for over 1000 yards behind a much maligned offensive line with an average of 4.6 yards per carry.  In 2010 he averaged 3.9 yards per carry for 1200+ yards.  He had a good season until he fumbled the ball in the Super Bowl.

Outside of a running back, the Cowboys wanted a playmaker on special teams.  It is a broken record with the Cowboys.  They draft a multi-purpose talent in the first round only to minimize their contribution on special teams.  The franchise has done this with Terrance Newman, Felix Jones, and now Dez Bryant.  The Cowboys management either has no gumption, or no direction in this regard.  The point being is that DeSean Jackson would have fit the role of offensive weapon and special teams dynamo.  Jackson reportedly failed his drug test at the combine which then caused the Cowboys to take him off of their board.  Jackson has not had any reported instances of failed drug tests since, however, he has had bouts of immaturity on the field and off.

Considering the potential productive talent available at the time of this pick, the Cowboys cannot have a high grade.  Jones has been productive in stints.  Behind a rebuilt offensive line, he may have a breakout season.  However, Jones looked slow last year, rarely made any defender miss, and is at best an explosive complementary player.  Cowboys management seemingly will force him into the role of an every down back, which will probably fail.

2010 20/20 hindsight grade: C-

1st round Mike Jenkins at 25th overall (original pick 28)

Pro-Bowl: Yes

Starter: Yes

Still on the team: Yes

Player(s) you could have had instead: Antoine Cason, Kenny Phillips, Brandon Flowers, Tracy Porter

Analysis: Jenkins in his rookie year struggled to outplay 5th round pick, Orlando Scandrick.  In his 3rd year, Jenkins became lazy and was notorious for pass interference penalties.  In between those years, he played at a pro-bowl level making it to his first pro-bowl.  Jenkins is talented and capable of being a very good corner.  Outside of Tracy Porter’s Super Bowl clenching interception, the alternative players available have not had astonishing careers.  Jenkins would still be the hindsight pick today, though Cason would not make the decision a hands down decision.

2010 20/20 hindsight grade: B+

2nd round Martellus Bennett at 61st overall

Pro-Bowl: No

Starter: No

Still on the team: Yes

Player(s) you could have had instead: Kevin Smith, Jacob Hester, Jamaal Charles, Tom Zbikowski, Steve Slaton, Jermichael Finley

Analysis: Martellus Bennett is often viewed through the prism of his antics.  Marty B’s Youtube channel sparked debate over his efforts to be funny.  Who Wants to be Hood Rich and Black People Olympics would be great concepts if performed by legitimate comedians like Dave Chappelle.  With Bennett, they fell flat and had the ring of racism.   Even recently, Bennett suggested there should be an open contest between Tony Romo and Jon Kitna for the starting QB role.  While competition can be good for a player and a team, there is little question that Romo is a better quarterback than Kitna.

Nonetheless, Bennett is a better player than he is given credit.  He is an exceptional blocker for a tight end and he is an athletic freak.  In his rookie season, he hurdled defenders and showed very little regard for his bodily well being.  His production, however, has been limited by the presence of Jason Witten.  Additionally, Bennett has dropped balls that hit his hands which fans the flames of whether his on field performance is worth tolerating his off-field antics.

In years to come, Bennett’s biggest problem will stem from comparisons between himself and Jermichael Finley.  Finley was injured for much of the 2010 season after a productive 2009 season where he caught 55 balls for over 600 yards.  Finley is expected to be the next great tight end in the league.  Every touchdown and catch will be compared to Bennett’s effort.  To be fair to Bennett, Finley would probably not start ahead of Jason Witten either.

Additionally, there were reports that the Bengals were interested in trading for Bennett and were willing to give up a 1st day pick.  With the revamping of the 2010 NFL draft, the first day pick could only be a 1st round choice (I personally believe that was a misstatement by Jerry Jones because I find it hard to believe any team would give up anything greater than a 2nd round pick for Bennett).  Consequently, Bennett is not simply compared to the talent that was available in the 2008 draft, but the talent that was available in the 2010 draft after pick 21.  Many Cowboys fans would prefer to see Bryan Bulaga, Devin McCourty, Rodger Saffold, or Nate Allen in Cowboys blue rather than Bennett.

2010 20/20 hindsight grade: C (incomplete)

4th round Tashard Choice at 122nd overall

Pro-Bowl: No

Starter: No

Still on the team: Yes

Player(s) you could have had instead: Jacob Tamme, John David Booty, Ryan Torain

2010 20/20 hindsight grade: A+

Analysis: Many fans believe that Choice is the most complete back on the Cowboys roster.  In three years, he is averaging 4.8 yards per carry, and when given a multitude of carries (17+), he has performed quite well.  Against Indianapolis in 2010 he had 19 carries for 100 yards; against Carolina in 2009 he had 18 carries for 82 yards; against Pittsburgh (a historically good defense) in 2008 he had 23 carries for 88 yards along with 5 receptions for 78; and against Baltimore in 2008 he had 17 carries for 90 yards.  Without a doubt, Choice was a solid pick in the 4th round.

Unfortunately, that simply further shines a light on the Cowboys questionable decision to force Felix Jones into a greater role in the offense.  It has been said that Choice is unimpressive in practice.  This may be true, but there as Allen Iverson has been quoted saying, “Practice, what are we talking about? Practice?”  Choice appears to be a gamer who plays big with the lights are on.

5th round Orlando Scandrick at 143rd overall

Pro-Bowl: No

Starter: Not really

Still on the team: Yes

Player(s) you could have had instead: Dennis Dixon

2010 20/20 hindsight grade: B+

Analysis: Scandrick has played well above his 5th round grade.  He came into camp in 2008 with a chip on his shoulder and he outplayed Jenkins for much of that year.  When given a chance to start in 2009, he did not fair well; however, he has been a solid productive 3rd CB who has been a great value in regards to salary and draft status.  Scandrick and the Cowboys would a higher grade if he were a full-time starter, but it should be noted that the Cowboys (stemming from Parcells) believe the 3rd CB is practically a starter considering the amount of passing in today’s NFL and with teams playing nickel coverage for over 30% of the defensive snaps.

6th round Erik Walden at 167th overall

Pro-Bowl: No

Starter: Yes

Still on the team: No

Player(s) you could have had instead: Pierre Garcon, Peyton Hillis,

Analysis: Walden gets the tourist award.  In three years he has played for four teams: Dallas, Kansas City, Miami, and Green Bay.  With the spathe of injuries the Packers suffered, Walden found a role as a starter along the Packer defensive line.  During the playoffs he had 3 starts, 9 tackles, and 1 sack.  The Cowboys cut Walden in his rookie year with the hopes of signing him to their practice squad.  Productivity and starts from a 6th round pick warrant the above average grade.

2010 20/20 hindsight grade: B+

Danny Amendola, undrafted

Pro-Bowl: No

Starter: Yes

Still on the team: No

2010 20/20 hindsight grade: B+

Analysis: While I normally do not include undrafted players in the grading process, the Cowboys should receive extra credit for identifying a young raw talent like Amendola.  Amendola was a fan favorite and a darling on the HBO series, Hard Knocks.  Many fans lament cutting Amendola considering his productivity in St. Louis (85 receptions for nearly 700 yards in 2010).  But it should be asked, where would he fit in with the talent presently on the Cowboys roster?  He would be well behind Austin, Williams, and Bryant.  Many would have had him behind Patrick Crayton before the 2010 season.  Amendola 4th on the depth chart would leave him feeling as frustrated as Sam Hurd is presently.

Final analysis: The perfect draft would have been Chris Johnson and Mike Jenkins in the first, Jermicheal Finley in the 2nd, Tashard Choice in the 4th, Orlando Scandrick in the 5th, and Pierre Garcon in the 6th.  Garcon may be a product of playing with Peyton Manning, however.  The Cowboys are much maligned when it comes to their ability to draft quality players.  It seems it is more a factor of reputation than reality when you consider the number of productive players in the 2010 draft.

Final grade based on all of the above:  B+.  The grade would be higher if the Cowboys organization would find away to make Jones a productive piece to the puzzle and not simply increase the role of round peg into a square hole.

Tags: Antoine Cason Brandon Flowers Chris Johnson Danny Amendola Dennis Dixon DeSean Jackson Dex Bryant Erik Walden Felix Jones Jacob Hester Jacob Tamme Jamaal Charles Jermichael Finley John David Booty Kenny Phillips Kevin Smith Martellus Bennett Matt Forte Mike Jenkins Orlando Scandrick Peyton Hillis Pierre Garcon Rashard Mendenhall Ray Rice Ryan Torain Steve Slaton Tashard Choice Terrence Newman Tom Zbikowski Tracy Porter

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