At the conclusion of each NFL Draft, draftniks across the country give grades to each team’s completed draft. While you can have a decent feel about how the draft went for a respective team, you actually won’t know for several years later how the draft turned out for that team. Players in the NFL usually make their biggest improvements from year one to year two, and then year two to year three. Although players can still improve going into year four and deeper into their career, the biggest jumps usually take place during the aforementioned time frame.
In last week’s article “A Quick Look Back at the Dallas Cowboys 2012 Draft” I reviewed the 2012 draft class and looked briefly at how the rookies first season had went. I also had briefly touched on what kind of hope the Cowboys can have for each player’s future. To re-summarize, the Cowboys found one player that was a starter and had a bright future (at the cost of two premium draft picks). Unfortunately, the rest of the draft class looks filled with question marks and disappointments. With the most recent class having been reviewed, I want to look a little closer at the 2011 group that we now have a sample size of two seasons worth of play to evaluate.
Here is a summary of the Dallas Cowboys 2011 draft:
1st Round – Tyron Smith (9th selection overall)
Smith played very well during his rookie season at the right tackle spot on the offensive line. Smith and Doug Free switched places in the 2012 offseason as Smith was now seen as the cornerstone of the offensive line heading into the future. Smith’s sophomore season was more up and down as he was called for numerous penalties throughout the season. Nonetheless, Smith still looks to be a great piece and will only get better and is still only 22 years old.
2nd Round – - Bruce Carter (40th overall)
Due to a continuing rehab from a knee injury suffered during his senior season at North Carolina; Carter did not make his debut for the Cowboys until the second half of the 2011 season. Carter at this time was mainly used on special teams and in sub packages. Carter came into camp expecting to compete with Dan Connor for the inside linebacker spot next to Sean Lee. Carter not only won that competition, but played very well this year for the Cowboys. Carter totaled 70 tackles (51 solo, 19 assisted, 9 for a loss), and 2 pass deflections. Carter took over defensive play calling responsibilities after Sean Lee was lost for the season in Carolina. Carter came into his own during this period until he suffered dislocated left elbow during the Thanksgiving Day loss against the Washington Redskins.
3rd Round – - DeMarco Murray (71st selection overall)
Murray has been a great 3rd round find for the Cowboys and is the best back the team has had since Emmitt Smith wore the star. Murray gained national acclaim in Week 7 of his rookie season by breaking Smith’s club rushing record for a game running for 253 yards against the St. Louis Rams. Smith finished his rookie season with
897 yards and an average of 5.5 yards/attempt in 13 games played. In his second season, Murray rushed for a total 663 yards and an average of 4.1 yards/attempt in 10 games played. While durability has been an issue for Murray, the offense severely misses his presence when he is unavailable to play. His numbers suffered in the 2012 season, but the decline was due to playing through injury, a bad run blocking offensive line, and unimaginative play calling. Keeping Murray healthy will be key for Cowboys success in the future.
4th Round – - David Arkin (110th selection overall)
Arkin was drafted with an eye to the future. He was called “too weak” to contribute in the 2011 season. While he improved his strength some, he was used out of position during the 2012 preseason at center due to injuries to the team’s true centers. He was kept on the roster for the 2012 season as a back up with the hope he can continue to develop and contribute for the 2013 season. Arkin’s future is cloudy with team going forward. The Cowboys with likely draft at least one interior lineman and could possibly add one in free agency as well. If Arkin does not show growth, he may very well not be on the roster come the opening weekend of the 2013 season.
5th Round – - Josh Thomas (143th selection overall)
Thomas did not make the final roster cut down to the 53 man limit for the 2011 season. The Cowboys had hoped to sneak him onto the practice squad, but the Carolina Panthers squashed those plans by adding him to their active roster. Thomas has been a solid contributor to the Panthers in his two seasons playing in Carolina.
6th Round – - Dwayne Harris (176nd selection overall)
Harris made the roster as a rookie and survived the cut to 53 to open the 2011 season. Harris was then released in October, cleared waivers and brought back to the practice squad the next day. Harris was called back to the active roster in December to add to special teams. In 2012 Harris carved out a role on offense as the third receiver as well as the main option on returns on special teams. Harris ended 2012 with 17 receptions on 31 targets for a total of 222 receiving yards and a touchdown. Harris averaged 19.1 yards on kickoff returns and 16.1 yards on punt returns and brought one back for a touchdown. Harris looks to have a good future with the team going forward as he and Tony Romo displayed good chemistry in the stretch run of the season.
7th Round – -Shaun Chapas (220th selection overall)
Chapas was on the practice squad for most of the 2011 season and was called up to the active roster late in the season when Tony Fiammetta was having injury problems. Chapas did not make the final roster when the Cowboys cut down to 53 players for the 2012 season. Chapas was picked up on the Detroit Lions practice squad in September and added to their active roster this past December.
7th Round – - Bill Nagy (252nd selection overall)
Nagy was a good late round find for the Cowboys and earned a starting role for the 2011 team. He showed good versatility in camp with the ability to play both the center and guard positions. Nagy suffered a fractured ankle in October 2011 on the road against the New England Patriots. The Cowboys had hopes for him as either a starter or a backup for the 2012 campaign. Nagy proceeded to suffer a high ankle sprain in August 2012 on the same ankle injured the prior season and was put waived/injured list. The Detroit Lions then went ahead and claimed him the next day and stashed him on their season ending injured reserve. To this day, I still do not understand this decision by the Cowboys. For a team that has had trouble drafting/developing good offensive lineman, to cut one to save a small amount of money seems like a very short sighted move by the Cowboys.
So in review, the Cowboys with eight draft picks got the following:
Three great pieces in Smith, Carter, and Murray
One solid piece in Harris
One question mark in Arkin
Three players no longer with the team in Thomas, Chapas, and Nagy
This draft when compared to the 2012 draft was much better. The Cowboys basically hit on 50% of their selections in this draft which is adequate. If the team was able to have this type of success year after year, the talent level of the team would have more depth to it. It usually takes having a couple of good drafts in a row to truly stock a team with talent, and unfortunately the Cowboys haven’t had that type of success on a consistent basis. Next Thursday I will continue the evaluation of the past few drafts by looking at the 2010 draft. The 2010 draft class will now have three seasons played, and a complete grade can be given.
Follow Craig Cortemeglia on Twitter at @ccortemegliaTLH