Dallas Cowboys Primed For Best-Player-Available Draft
As the Dallas Cowboys prepare for the 2015 NFL draft, it’s worth noting that expert analysis is routinely incorrect about where any given player will be drafted, and how well that player will perform in the NFL. So while some of it’s entertaining, pretty much all that pre-draft coverage you’re ingesting is crap. Click-whoring crap.
I don’t know who the Cowboys are going to take with the 27th pick in two weeks. I don’t know who they value. I don’t know what the other 26 teams in front of them are going to do. No one else knows either. No one else is inside 32 general managers heads.
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More importantly, I don’t know who the Cowboys should pick. I don’t know which of these college players can contribute as a rookie. I don’t know which players will develop into contributors down the road. About one-third of all first-round picks wash out of the league without having any real impact, and the odds drop sharply in subsequent rounds.
The closest thing to a can’t-miss pick for the Cowboys in the past four drafts was All American cornerback Morris Claiborne in 2012. That tells you all you need to know about pre-draft analysis.
Here’s what we do know: The Cowboys have tried to use free agency to position themselves for a “pure” draft – taking the Best Player Available in each round. Head coach Jason Garrett spoke to this recently:
"“One of the things you’re always trying to do, is you want to look at the landscape of free agency and the landscape of the draft together, and you think about how are we going to acquire players this off season. OK, we lost some players, how are we going to replace those guys going forward? And I do think one of the goals that we have is you don’t want to get yourself into a position where, come draft day, you’re desperate to take a guy at a particular position because you’re so void there. So that’s one of the thought processes we have in free agency, to make sure that we draft as purely as possible.”"
Last year, the Cowboys’ greatest perceived need entering the draft was along the defensive line. The team had added defensive end Jeremy Mincey and tackles Henry Melton and Terrell McClain in free agency. While the draftniks sneered, the Cowboys trusted those signings enough to keep a pure approach.
When coveted needs such as linebacker Anthony Barr and defensive tackle Aaron Donald left the board, the Cowboys didn’t reach for defensive end Dee Ford or tackle Dominique Easley, instead taking the Best Player Available in offensive guard Zack Martin. Garrett spoke recently about that decision and how it reflects the goals of the organization:
"“I thought last year was a great example for everybody in our organization about how to draft and how to have draft discipline. For us to, at that point the 16th pick in the first round, to have a guy that we regarded as the best player on the board, at a position that might not have been our No. 1 need, and to draft Zack Martin, I thought that was a really good decision by our team. And his impact was significant. So we have to have the same kind of discipline.”"
No one thought much of Mincey, Melton, or McClain during free agency, but their signings allowed the Cowboys to trust a BPA strategy in the first round of 2014. Arguably, that draft strategy led to 12 wins and a division title.
Today, no one thinks much of running back Darren McFadden, defensive end Greg Hardy, cornerback Corey White, or linebackers Jasper Brinkley and Andrew Gachkar. None, with the exception of Hardy, has a particularly eye-popping resume.
Hardy is a wildcard coming off a missed season, much the same as Melton last year. The other resumes are no more impressive than Mincey’s was. It’s worth noting the Mincey signing was widely panned by experts, but the fiery end turned out to be a key contributor to the Cowboys’ playoff run.
The Cowboys will approach the 2015 NFL Draft with need in mind, but they won’t let it dominate their decision making. They will trust that the player personnel department did good work in free agency, and they will trust the coaching staff to develop and prepare those new additions accordingly. They will do so without any interest in or knowledge of the published opinion of Mel Kiper Jr.
And when their turn to pick comes after 26 other teams have made their moves, the Cowboys will make a value decision with one eye to the future. Every position but quarterback will be in play. Given that Dallas has drafted three Pro Bowlers in the past four first rounds, more than any other team in the league, I’m prepared to trust their judgment.