After three full months of allowing our knee jerk reactions to calm, let’s have an open and honest look back at the Dallas Cowboys 2013 draft. First, let us begin by saying a draft cannot be fully “graded” until three or four years after it happens. But that does not stop us from having a guide of what to look for when grading a particular draft.
In my eyes, the three biggest needs for the Cowboys in the draft were safety, offensive line, and defensive line. The goal of a draft is not to select players strictly for need, but to stockpile your team with as much talent as possible. With the Cowboys draft, everyone (myself included) cursed owner and general manager Jerry Jones for the first round pick. What I want to discuss in this article is what it’s going to take in order for center Travis Frederick to be a successful first round pick. And here’s a spoiler: it is out of his hands.
How can the success of one player be out of his hands, you ask? By looking at what could have been. Dallas could have very easily drafted Frederick in the third round. Centers are not highly drafted and if you look at the deeper into the 2013 NFL Draft you’ll see that the next center was not taken until the 4th round at pick 107 (a full 76 picks after Frederick) by Tennessee. This is all to say that Frederick would have been available in the third round.
Looking back at the entire draft, the Cowboys did well, (outside of not finding any defensive line help) but that Frederick pick left a bad taste in my mouth. Here is where the problem lies and where the future will tell if he was a bad pick: J.J. Wilcox. Yes. The third round pick out of Georgia Southern holds the fate of Frederick’s draft grade. Now, let’s take Frederick and move him to the third round, in place of Wilcox. Which, in turn, leaves the first round pick vacant. Looking at who was best available and also fit a need, the choice at #31 becomes clear: safeties Jonathan Cyprien or Matt Elam. The players chosen right after Frederick. Sidenote: Since Matt Elam was not on Dallas’s board, according to the guys over at Blogging The Boys, we are going to eliminate him from the discussion.
Regardless of whether Frederick becomes a year one starter and a future pro bowler, the truth remains: he could have been had later. So the small school safety must perform at the same level as Cyprien to prevent the Frederick pick from being a reach. Yet again, this is not just a rookie year evaluation. Cyprien should start for the Jacksonville Jaguars from day one; Wilcox, on the other hand, is in a log jam to start come Week One. But if in a couple years, Wilcox can perform close to or beyond that of Cyprien, the Travis Frederick pick will not be a complete reach.
Before we go any further, please don’t feel like this is an article to bash Frederick. Because it’s not. Even he admitted he thought he would be drafted later. I like him and I think he will be successful. But in my opinion, (and the opinion of everyone else who follows the draft closely) Frederick would have been available later. He filled a huge need and improved the line. But a similar upgrade could have been made much later in the draft.
Now, we are going to leave the 2013 draft and talk about a trend Dallas must change. The Cowboys have long searched for decent safety play with free agent reaches (Ken Hamlin) and stop gaps like Gerald Sensabaugh. All while we allow young safeties to develop. Herein lies the Cowboys’ biggest problem with finding former safety and Cowboy great Darren Woodson’s replacement: the small school safeties…
Since Woodson retired after the 2003 season, here are the Cowboys draft choices at safety in Rounds 1-4. (where you can hope to land a future starter):
2010 4th Round: Akwasi Owusu-Ansah, Indiana (PA)
2012 4th Round: Matt Johnson, Eastern Washington
2013 3rd Round: J.J. Wilcox, Georgia Southern
In the past ten drafts, Dallas has selected just three safeties in rounds 1–4. This for one of the most consistently weak positions on the team in the past decade. Unacceptable. If the lack of quantity wasn’t bad enough, quality is also lacking. Two 4th rounders and a 3rd rounder. None in the first two rounds. All three are from small schools outside of the power conferences. “AOA” was a complete waste and the Cowboys even tried to switch him to wide receiver to salvage something of value out of him.
While the jury is still out on the other two, I like both Johnson and Wilcox. But both were drafted as projects. Johnson missed a lot of development time because he spent his entire rookie season hurt. While Wilcox played one single season at safety in college.
For such a weak group for the past decade, you must grab as close to a “sure thing” as possible. Even though there are plenty of busts from big schools in power conferences (cough, cough Taylor Mays), picking a player who plays against NFL talent on a weekly basis would be a nice change of pace from what Dallas has done in recent years. Hopefully Johnson or Wilcox can step up and become a stud. But Jerry and company need to change up their strategies and go grab more of a sure thing. That is if things don’t pan out with one of these two project players. How about drafting a safety in rounds one or two? At least they’d bring in some experience against top level competition for a change.
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