Three Years Later: Grading The Cowboys 2011 Draft Class, Part 1

Use your ← → (arrows) to browse


Nov 24, 2013; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dwayne Harris (17) runs past New York Giants middle linebacker Mark Herzlich (58) in the first half during the game at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

As we gear up for the formless speculation that will surely fuel TV expert coverage of the 2014 draft, enough time has passed to grade the Cowboys 2011 class using objective data from the past three seasons.

In grading this class it’s important to remember the draft is all about talent evaluation; developing it is another matter altogether. So, for example, we would give former Cowboys head coach Jimmy Johnson an A+ draft grade for selecting Penn State guard Steve Wisniewski with a second-round pick in 1989, and an F in roster development for immediately trading him to Oakland where he would be an eight-time All Pro.

See the difference? It’s OK to grade the draft in a vacuum – all that matters is how well the team spotted talent. How it employs that talent and uses it to build a winner is a separate discussion.

2011 marked head coach Jason Garrett’s first year as a principle figure in the war room. A far from exhaustive scan of the internet suggests the overall effort was not panned by draft experts, with grades generally landing in the B range, and a few outliers giving Cs and Ds.

For the purposes of evaluating how Dallas employed its 2011 draft assets, I’ve included defensive tackle Josh Brent in this class. The Cowboys took Brent in the 7th round of the 2010 Supplemental Draft, thus forfeiting their 7th round pick the following year – so a 2011 draft asset was knowingly invested in Brent. I’ve also included any notable undrafted free agent signees as part of the overall class. Since the NFL draft went from 12 rounds to seven, UDFAs have become an important part of the offseason player acquisition process.

To date, 20 of the 254 picks in the 2011 NFL Draft have risen to Pro Bowl status. That’s a little less than 8 percent. Thirteen of those 20 pro bowlers came out of the first round.

So with just 3 percent of picks from rounds 2 through 7 making the Pro Bowl, top-end talent drops off precipitously after Round 1; and with just 13 of 32 first-rounders (41 percent) having booked a ticket to Hawaii, the first round isn’t exactly a can’t-miss proposition. The lesson: Identifying top-end talent in the NFL is tricky, and it gets more difficult with each round that passes.

This presents a compelling argument against drafting for need – if drafting the best player available pays off only 40 percent of the time under the most favorable circumstances, it makes little sense to further lower the odds by focusing solely on a handful of positions. But “need” is part of the accepted draft analysis lexicon, so we’ll consider it in grading this class. Had the Cowboys focused solely on need in 2011, it isn’t likely to have handcuffed them; coming of a brutal 6-10 season, the Cowboys had plenty of need to go around.

The Cowboys had nine picks in 2011, if we include Brent, and ended up with two pro bowlers. So 22 percent of Cowboy picks have made the Pro Bowl, and the team boasts 10 percent of the entire draft’s Pro Bowl class.

In retrospect, the team earns an obvious A+ for top-end talent evaluation. Today we break down the first three picks, assess where they are in their development, and examine how they compare to other players taken in the same round.

Cowboys 2011 Draft Class






Tyron Smith



Bruce Carter



DeMarco Murray



David Arkin



Josh Thomas



Dwayne Harris



Josh Brent



Shawn Chapas



Bill Nagy



Alex Albright



Dan Bailey

Use your ← → (arrows) to browse

comments powered by Disqus