With the draft officially less than one month away (twenty-seven days away to be exact), it’s time to focus on the most important event of the off-season. If free agency represents the sexy allure of the quick fix, the draft is the steady, solid way to build your team properly. The opportunity to add young, talented players at a fraction of the cost that free agency can cost is extremely important to the longevity of success. As draft day gets closer, I will continue to focus on what to look forward to as the big day finally comes. Today’s column, the first of four draft-centric posts, will focus on how Dallas has fared in past drafts.
It cannot be overstated that the biggest reason for the Cowboys mediocrity of late is attributed directly to the draft. Not counting last year’s draft, of the last five drafts, only nine out of Dallas’ thirty-two draft choices are still on the team. Five of those came from the 2011 draft which means that 2008-2010 were complete train wrecks when it came to adding talent. Let’s examine what went right and what went wrong in each of those drafts starting with 2008.
In 2008, the Cowboys had not one but two first round draft choices. With the 22nd pick, Dallas chose Felix Jones and three picks later, the added corner Mike Jenkins. Both guys were allowed to leave after the first contract expired this year to become free agents. That alone should say enough, but there is more to the story than that. Whether or not those positions were the right ones to attempt to improve, Dallas just flat out missed. After Jones was taken by Dallas, Rashard Mendenhall, Chris Johnson, Matt Forte, Ray Rice and Jamaal Charles were all still on the board. I think it’s safe to say that was a huge miss. The worst of those other options would arguably be Mendenhall, who has a Super Bowl ring and career totals of over 800 yards and 18 touchdowns more than Jones. The disparity in choices for defensive backs is not as pronounced, however Brandon Flowers of the Chiefs, Tracy Porter of the Saints and Thomas DeCoud of the Falcons were all available after the 25th pick.
If 2008 was bad, 2009 may go down as one of the worst drafts in the history of the draft. First and foremost, Dallas mortgaged first, third and sixth round picks in the draft to acquire the incredibly overrated Roy Williams. Epic fail. Not to be outdone, Dallas also dumped it’s second round pick to Buffalo for the Bills’ third and fourth round selections which Buffalo used to pick G Andy Levitre. (Wouldn’t he look nice on the line right now?). Two picks later the Eagles drafted Cowboys’ killer LeSean McCoy to add salt to the wounds. So with thirteen draft picks including five in rounds three and four, Dallas has zero players from the draft currently on the roster. Zero. The draft was so horrible, not only does Dallas have nothing to show for the draft, neither does any other team as only three of those guys are still in the league. Players drafted in rounds three or later from this draft include Mike Wallace, Henry Melton, Brian Hartline and Arian Foster. This paragraph almost had me reaching for the liquor cabinet.
The black clouds that were the two previous drafts started to clear with the 2010 draft. This draft produced what you would hope for your draft to bring. In round one, Dallas took a chance on a “questionable” character guy in Dez Bryant, capturing Jerry’s white whale that Randy Moss represented. With the next pick, the Cowboys obtained their starting middle linebacker for the next ten plus years in Sean Lee. Although it is hard to fault this draft for those two picks alone, the Cowboys did miss in rounds 4-6 as talent such as Kam Chancellor, Arthur Jones and Antonio Brown were all passed up by Dallas. All was not lost though as Sean Lissemore was added in round seven.
Things continued to improve for Dallas as 2011 rolled around. This drafted gave the Cowboys three more pillars to their core. Two players, Tyron Smith in round one and DeMarco Murray in round three were the best possible choices at their respective positions in the entire draft. Dallas was able to add speed and skill again to their linebacking unit by choosing Bruce Carter in the second round. Hard to fault those choices. The Cowboys were also able to pluck one more decent player in the sixth round by picking Dwayne Harris in an otherwise talent devoid draft.
Because I feel you need a minimum of two years to truly assess a draft, the picks from the 2012 draft are still in a probationary phase. Another reason for this is that three of the Cowboys draft choices were injured all year so we have no idea what those players could be. The one jewel for Dallas in this draft came in the form of cornerback Morris Claiborne. The only question regarding Claiborne would be whether Dallas gave up too much to get him, surrendering their second round pick to acquire the LSU product.
From this information it seems as though the Cowboys have improved their ability to evaluate talent. This should give fans a glimmer of hope as they anticipate who will be the next first round choice to be added to the roster.