A Calm and Rational Analysis of the Dallas Cowboys Draft


It’s been three days since the conclusion of the 2013 NFL Draft, and many Cowboy fans still aren’t sure what to think. Some hate the draft and consider it one of the worst ever. Others are perfectly fine with the draft and believe the diversity of the picks is simply a result of taking the best players available. Still others refuse to admit an opinion and say, “Only time will tell if these are good or bad picks”.

Like most conflicting opinions, the truth is usually somewhere in the middle. At face value, this was neither an epically horrible draft nor was it a perfectly flawless draft. We can’t project how well the players will actually do any better than the full-time professionally employed NFL scouts currently on NFL teams – so let’s not try.

What we can do is this:

  1. Assess team needs and judge how effective Dallas was at filling those needs.
  2. Assess value by determining when players would likely be drafted, where positional drop-off occurs, and in the Cowboy’s case, compensation received by trading picks.
  3. The logic behind the picks – weighing the risk vs. reward.

Round 1: Making Sense of the Trade

Apr 26, 2013; New York, NY, USA; NFL commissioner Roger Goodell speaks before the second round of the 2013 NFL Draft at Radio City Music Hall. Mandatory Credit: Debby Wong-USA TODAY Sports

It all began at pick 18. The top 6 offensive linemen were gone. The top 2 defensive tackles had been picked. The top safety was even scooped up. Virtually every player the Cowboys wanted had been picked. The decision at hand was to either draft Best Player Available (BPA) regardless of need, reach at a position of need, or trade back to when “need” and “value” meet.

It should be no surprise the Cowboys opted to trade back in this scenario. Reported here on the Landry Hat weeks ago was the Cowboy’s desire to trade back in the first round. What was surprising was how far back they traded and the limited compensation received. According to the infamous Trade Value Chart, Dallas took an 80 point loss on the deal (pick 18=900, pick 31=600 + pick 74= 220) to fall back 13 spots. But does that mean they were ripped off?

Nope. It appears they received proper value to trade back. Don’t look at the Trade Value Chart as the end-all be-all value board, but rather look at the chart as a key economic indicator of inflation/deflation in the “NFL Draft Stock Market” and the pick specifically. Much like the rising value of gold prices can indicate inflation in currency, compensation received from trading draft picks can indicate the value of said pick in the current market place.

For instance, if more is received than the Trade Value Chart instructs, that merely means the value of the pick is high and the market has adjusted appropriately. If less is received as compensation (as was the case for the Cowboys), then we know the value of #18 is low and the market has also adjusted accordingly. In a free trade market, things are simply worth when the amount others are willing to pay meets the amount the seller is willing to accept.

What can cause a pick to inflate or deflate in value? Supply and demand. If a limited amount of players are available at a position in great demand – the pick will increase in value. That was clearly not the case for the Cowboys.

To say the Cowboy’s were ripped off by San Francisco on the trade would be inaccurate because we have to assume this was the best offer available for pick 18. This is a safe assumption because the Cowboy’s had been negotiating a trade back for some time and were not forced to “settle” for San Fran’s offer without doing their due diligence exploring the market.

With that said, the trade-back to pick 31 is not necessarily a good move either. 13 spots in a round of 32 picks is over a 40% drop in draft position. Moving back 40% of a round is substantial and a move that significant makes it almost impossible to predict who would still be available.

November 24, 2012; University Park, PA, USA; Wisconsin Badgers center Travis Frederick (72) gets ready to snap the ball during the game against the Penn State Nittany Lions at Beaver Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

Round 1: Making Sense of the Pick

When the time came and Dallas went on the clock at #31 they chose Wisconsin Center Travis Frederick. Frederick, widely regarded as the top center in the draft, was projected to go by many in the late 2nd/early 3rd round.  Did he fill a bigger need than Eric Reid, Sharrif Floyd, or Sylvester Williams (who were still on the board before the trade at #18)? Possibly.

What about value? Did Frederick provide better value at 31 than those three would have provided at 18? Doubtful.

Was There a Need

The problem with picking Travis Frederick at 31 isn’t that he’s a poor player. He projects as a very good player who should transition fairly easily to the NFL. The problem isn’t the position he plays either. Center is a position the Cowboys are in dire need of upgrading so Travis Frederick fills a significant need. The issue is purely value-based. Deciding if a team “reached” on a draft pick is difficult to do accurately. Teams typically keep their draft boards secret even after the draft making it difficult to know when he could have been picked if Dallas had not pulled the trigger at 31. Enough reports have been made to indicate Frederick would have been picked by at least 2 teams in the first half of the 2nd round. We can’t be sure but it’s reasonable to estimate the Cowboy’s had a 50% chance of seeing Frederick available when they went on the clock with their 47th pick. If he was a dynamic player a team had to have, then 50% may not be worth the gamble.  If there was a significant drop in talent after the pick it also may not be worth it. But does the situation change if there is a similarly rated player who is sure to be available at a later pick? What if two similarly rated players are available to fill the need at a later round? That’s really where the debate begins.

Jan 7, 2013; Miami, FL, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide tackle Barrett Jones (75) in action against Notre Dame Fighting Irish linebacker Manti Te

Finding the Value

Since we already established we cannot view everyone’s draft boards, the most reliable way to judge value is to rank the players available at the position. For instance, the consensus top three centers in the draft were Frederick, Brian Schwenke and Barrett Jones. All three project as solid NFL starters and the top-tier of centers in the draft. After the top 3 lies a significant fall-off in talent.  With the top three similarly ranked, true value can be realized based on when the other two are drafted. In this case, Schwenke was drafted in the 4th round at 107 overall and Jones was drafted in the 4th round at 113 overall. It’s highly unlikely Frederick would have lasted to the 4th round, but with only a slight drop off in talent between Frederick and the next two centers, significant value could have been realized if the Cowboys waited a couple of rounds to move on a center.

They may not have gotten the best at the position (Frederick) but settling for 80-90% of his talent in a lesser rated player like Barrett Jones would have saved them a first round pick. A first round pick that could have been used on a player occupying a position with a more immediate drop-off in talent like safety or DT. Let’s look at safety specifically. There was a significant drop-off in talent after safeties Vaccaro and Reid. Dallas didn’t like Elam at all and were only lukewarm on Cyprien.  Figure this: The Cowboy’s could have picked Eric Reid at 18 and still had a 50% chance of landing Frederick in the 2nd round or simply settling for Jones or Schwenke later in the 3rd round.

Note: This method of determining value only works when comparing players of a similar skill set and fit within the desired scheme. Transcendent and extraordinary players are excluded from this value model because of the significant fall-off between them and the next-best player at their position. Most will agree Frederick does not qualify for either transcendent or extraordinary so that’s not an issue.

Yes, it’s possible Frederick will have a phenomenal career while Jones and Schwenke both bust. That would make his value strong and the draft day moves by the Cowboy’s excellent. The reality is, it is more likely all three will have very similar careers (with Frederick slightly more likely for success). But with Jones and Schwenke drafted roughly 80 picks later, shouldn’t Frederick then perform 200-300% better than them to justify his draft position? That’s pretty unrealistic expectations wouldn’t you say?

So the question is how we can logically make sense of this trade (and pick) by looking at the situation calmly and rationally. Let’s measure Travis Frederick and the trade itself according to the Need, Value, and Risk vs. Reward criteria mentioned above.

The Trade

Need: The Cowboys did not need to trade back. In addition to the obvious offensive line needs they also had needs at Safety and Defensive Line. Trading back 13 places, did not assure them any player of need would be available. Fail

Value: Because the Cowboys shopped the pick so far in advance everyone can be assured they received the best possible compensation they could have. It may have been below the Draft Value Chart but it met market value. Pass

Risk vs. Reward: The Reward would be one of the top targets would slip through the cracks and land in the Cowboys laps. They could get a player they wanted at 18 and aquire and extra pick in the process. That did not happen. The Cowboys had Frederick ranked as a second round talent. In Part 2 we will look at how the extra 3rd round pick was used in order to judge this trade more completely but for now… Fail

The Pick Travis Frederick

Need: The verdict is Travis Frederick is an excellent NEED pick because he provides an instant upgrade at the center position and projects as a day one starter (even to his biggest detractors). Pass

Value: Sadly he does not provide VALUE and will be constantly compared to the other centers of this draft who were picked 80 spots after him. In addition, with trading back and picking him later in the 1st, the Cowboys missed an opportunity to solidify needs at other positions possibly neglected in later rounds. Double Fail

Risk vs. Reward: Frederick is a low risk and average reward type of investment. He appears to be a good player, a day one starter, and an upgrade to a major need on the offensive line. It’s difficult to see another sure day 1 starter left on the board at #31. Pass

This may not provide a simple letter grade to consider but hopefully it can be useful when forming and debating opinions on the matter.

In Part 2 we will apply the same three criteria in order to determine how successful the Cowboys were in rounds 2-6.