Watching center Travis Frederick maul through two defenders and push fellow rookie Joseph Randle into the endzone for the game-sealing score in the Dallas Cowboys’ 31-16 victory Sunday night, it’s time to rethink the conventional wisdom that says Frederick was a “reach” in the first round.
Frederick has been a key upgrade in an interior offensive line that was completely remade this offseason. He is the centerpiece of a unit that one short year ago was an extreme liability, and today is emerging as a team strength.
For what it’s worth, Pro Football Focus has Frederick as the top-rated run-blocking center in the NFL this season, and the seventh-highest rated overall. Practically, he has done what first-round draft picks are expected to do – start and contribute at a high level as a rookie.
So we don’t have to guess anymore; Frederick’s play proves he was a first-round talent, regardless of what Mel Kiper Jr. might tell us about his draft grade.
No really one disputes this anymore, but many continue to make the argument that the Cowboys could have picked up the excellent rookie with a later pick. This needs to be addressed, because it’s extremely self-serving and lazy analysis that is based on almost no real data whatsoever.
Assume for the moment that most teams had a lower draft grade on Frederick – no one knows for sure, and it’s impossible to prove without dissecting all 32 draft boards, which aren’t open to public scrutiny. But let’s assume the unsubstantiated assertion is true, and most teams had a high-second, low-third round grade on Frederick.
In practice, it doesn’t matter if 30 other teams thought the Wisconsin center was a total bum. All it takes is one NFL GM to see what the Cowboys saw in Frederick – what in retrospect should have been clear to any professional talent evaluator. If Jerry passed on Frederick and just one other GM saw what now seems obvious, then Phil Costa is the Dallas starting center in 2013, and Tony Romo’s still running for his life at every snap.
Given the team’s dire need at the position, if Jerry Jones had reason to suspect even one other team was high on Frederick, he had a duty to the franchise to pick him up with the 31st pick.
But since Frederick has proved on the field so far that he’s a legitimate first-round talent, it seems unlikely that Jerry is the only NFL GM of 32 who believed Frederick could be this good.
We’ll never have the draft board data to prove what every other GM thought of Frederick, so we have to ask ourselves what’s more likely: That no other GM in the league could see Frederick’s now-obvious potential, and Jerry is just that much smarter than all his peers; or that other GMs had interest, so Jerry made the safe play in drafting Frederick at 31st overall.
You can’t have it both ways. If Jerry “reached” for Frederick, it’s because no other NFL GM saw his potential. This reflects well on Jerry as a talent evaluator – he saw something no one else did.
But the TV experts want us to accept the competing notions that Jerry reached for Frederick AND he’s a poor talent evaluator. The problem is, Frederick’s play on the field is proving they can’t both be true. If you think the Cowboys reached for Frederick, then clean reasoning dictates you must also blow up your entire world view, and credit Jerry for seeing what no other NFL GM did.
Or you can come around to the more reasonable notion that the TV draft experts were wrong, other NFL teams actually did have late-first, early-second round interest in Frederick, and Jerry was justified in scooping up the future anchor of his offensive line instead of risking he’d last to pick 47.
We can’t prove anything without seeing all 32 draft boards, and that’s not gonna happen. So it comes down to one of two scenarios: The “reached” scenario asks us to believe that Jerry is a better talent evaluator than every other GM in the league; the alternative scenario suggests the draft experts in the media missed something.
Which scenario seems more plausible to you?