As I did research for this article, one of the things that surprised me was the surprising effectiveness of the Cowboys’ scouting department. In the drafting stages, they are simply average. ESPN The Magazine ran an article ranking the top drafting teams, and the Cowboys ranked 15th. The eye test could tell you that as well. But their effectiveness in the undrafted free agent pool made power ranking the various drafts difficult. In the end, I chose to include the undrafted free agents. Both undrafted free agents and drafted prospects require scouting, traveling, and signing. Honestly, I view both categories the same, except one requires a draft pick. That may skew drafts in a different direction than other similar articles, but I think it makes the article more accurate towards the scouting department’s actual accomplishments. Whether the picks come with a pick or not doesn’t matter so long as the prospects produce.
September 29, 2012; Athens, GA, USA; Georgia Bulldogs former player Herschel Walker on the sidelines before the game against the Tennessee Volunteers at Sanford Stadium. The Bulldogs won 51-44. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports
From 1980 to 1987, every draft was like this. While one draft pick in the period (Hershel Walker, 1985) helped create the triplets, the seven year period saw two pro bowlers drafted, Walker and Kevin Gogan, a guard who had a nice career in his own right. Still, the period itself was a total disaster. The 2009 was a total disaster as well. Only one player, John Phillips, the backup tight end, is still on the team. They acquired such “superstars” like Jason Williams (from a FCS school) before actual superstars like Mike Wallace. Actually, they had two third round picks before the Steelers and drafted Robert Brewster, a player who I once read the Cowboys knew
suffered greatly in the football playing arena and only kept him to desperately recoup value. Basically, if he was a fifth round selection, he would have been cut over the summer. It isn’t unfair to say that every pick (but one) in this draft was a Robert Brewster.
Kevin Ogletree was the only undrafted free agent of value from the draft. He is notable for a Wednesday Night Football game and little else.
This one is barely better than 2009. It isn’t notable for much other than Nick Folk. While he caught the yips and subsequently got the idea to aim away from the field goal posts, for one glorious year, I and every other Cowboys fan thought that our kicker problems had been solved. Actually, no. He is still in the league. He kicked for the Jets last season. Doug Free also came from this draft, though (to modify a phrase used in an ESPN article about John Axford,) when we look back on his career, I think that 2010, and not 2011 or 2012, will be considered the outlier.
While not the unmitigated disaster of the draft five years later, Parcells’ second draft had little going for it. The first pick, a second rounder from Notre Dame by the name of Julius Jones, and the second-to-last, a seventh rounder from Northwestern Oklahoma state by the name of Patrick Crayton, were the only two highlights. On the undrafted side, long time Cowboy Matt McBriar came from this class, so it had redeeming qualities. Just not many.
December 30, 2012; Landover, MD, USA; Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III (10) throws the ball as Dallas Cowboys defensive end Jason Hatcher (97) defends in the second quarter at FedEx Field. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
One of the things that the Cowboys actually do well is draft in the first round. They have very few true “busts.” Bobby Carpenter, however, can attest to joining this club. On a whim, I checked his Wikipedia profile. The only two things involving the Cowboys that have been written about him is his experience as “Barbie Carpenter” and his inclusion in the Alex Barron trade. Mind-blowingly, the Cowboys actually got the better of the transaction; Carpenter was cut before the season, while Barron actually stayed with the Cowboys for the entire season. Whether this is a positive thing or not can be debated, but at least the Cowboys got a full time player for a camp casualty. That is a win in my book. Jason Hatcher was also in this draft. On the undrafted side, the Cowboys acquired Miles Austin. While he deals with fair share of injuries, when he plays he a dynamic, if grossly overpaid, player.
I hate to use this one since it is so recent, but the title is the last ten drafts, not “the last 10 Cowboys Drafts except for the one most previously.” I doubt that would do well in SEO rankings. Anyway, this one is looking somewhat average. The development of Morris Claiborne won’t make or break future rankings, but it will come close. Based on how he did down the stretch, I think he will end up being a well-above average corner. Whether or not that is worth a sixth round pick is up to you. James Hanna looks promising, as does Tyrone Crawford, who I think will do well in a 4-3. This could end up being an above average draft in five years.
Dec 30, 2012; Landover, MD, USA; Dallas Cowboys running back Felix Jones (28) runs the ball during the first half against the Washington Redskins at FedEX Field. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA Today Sports
Two years out, this draft looked like a top-five all time draft. That may be hyperbole, but it truly did look excellent. Then the wheels came off. Felix Jones rapidly declined just as DeMarco Murray came on, Jenkins caught a second and third round of the injury bug and Orlando Scandrick failed as an outside corner. A sterling draft became rather average. Still, this draft bequeathed a Pro-Bowl cornerback, a starting caliber running back (for a while,) and a very good slot corner. I would rate this as average over all.
Dez Bryant and Sean Lee head this draft. Nothing much needs to be said about them. Both look like young, dominating stars. Lee has injury problems and Bryant has rather different difficulties as well, but both look like future All-Pro players. Sean Lissemore, a seventh round pick from William and Mary, looks like a starting defensive end. He just hasn’t been given the opportunity yet. The stars from this draft look brighter that the ones from 2002, so this draft places higher. Phil Costa and Barry Church came from this draft.
This marked the first year the Cowboys practiced “best player available” in the draft (think the Lions.) Tyron Smith struggled with penalties a year out, but he was (and is) extremely athletic and young. Fast-forwarding to today, I think he has significant room to grow. Bruce Carter came on in a big way until his injury, and I think he will be a dominating linebacker along Sean Lee. Then there is DeMarco Murray. I missed the second and third rounds of this draft because of a family event. When my friend texted me the third round pick, I felt nauseous. However, he too has busted out to become a great running back when healthy. The rest of the draft isn’t special, but David Arkin could still develop, as could Dwayne Harris. Undrafted free agents Dan Bailey, our new kicker in shining armor, and current punter Chris Jones also came from this draft.
Dec 2, 2012; Arlington, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys linebacker DeMarcus Ware (94) motions to the crowd during the game against the Philadelphia Eagles at Cowboys Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports
This will probably spark most of the controversy. Other articles usually put this draft on top. I can’t saw that doesn’t make sense. This draft brought the Cowboys a future Hall of Famer, a starting defensive end, a starting linebacker (for the Chargers), a Pro-Bowl running back, another starting defensive end and another starting defensive end. Demarcus Ware, Kevin Burnett, Marion Barber, Chris Canty and Jay Ratliff all came from the 2005 Dallas Cowboys draft class. This is a top five Cowboys draft, undoubtedly. If undrafted free agents didn’t count, this would place on top, end of discussion. But on the undrafted front, the 2005 draft is rather weak. Jon Condo, a Pro-Bowl long snapper, is the only person on interest. When taking the draft as a whole, it is excellent, but still not as good as the next one.
The best draft in Cowboys history has: a future Hall of Famer, a Pro-Bowl cornerback, and a long time inside linebacker. That doesn’t sound as dominating as the draft above, right? But, unlike the previous draft, this draft brought, in the undrafted category, the quarterback of the future. While his contract is rather high and he struggles under pressure, finding a quarterback of the future is vastly more important than average three defensive ends. Once you factor that in, both Jason Witten and DeMarcus Ware average out, Kevin Burnett did most his damage with the Chargers. Basically, this means Bradie James versus Marion Barber. Had Barber played full time, 2005 wins out. But he didn’t. Stupidly, he split his time with a vastly inferior running back (Julius Jones), while James played full time. Therefore, I give the edge to James and the 2003 prospect class.