Cowboys Draft: Grading an Ungradeable Draft

Apr 29, 2016; Irving, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys number one draft pick Ezekiel Elliott smiles while on set of Cowboys live at Dallas Cowboys Headquarters Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 29, 2016; Irving, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys number one draft pick Ezekiel Elliott smiles while on set of Cowboys live at Dallas Cowboys Headquarters Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports /

The Cowboys 2016 Draft has proven quite difficult to grade, making it nearly “ungradeable”, whether you like the players or not.

It seems there are two camps regarding the current State of the Dallas Cowboys and the corresponding course of action needed in the draft to guide them to success:

  1. Win Now
  2. Best Player Available

While those two camps certainly aren’t mutually exclusive, they are often at odds with one another. Look no further than the reactions after the top two picks: In the first two rounds of the 2016 NFL Draft, the Dallas Cowboys made consecutive controversial picks when they selected Ohio State running back, Ezekiel Elliott in the first round, and Notre Dame linebacker, Jaylon Smith, in the second round.

The bi-polar nature of the picks seemed to make both aforementioned camps equally confused and upset.

Ezekiel Elliott was regarded as the top RB in the 2016 draft class, with some calling him the best RB prospect since Adrian Peterson. To the “Win Now” crowd, Elliott represented exactly that – he was the best pick for a team that wanted to win now.

Related Story: Win Now Means Draft Zeke Now

To the “Best Player Available” (BPA)crowd, they saw a reach at a devalued and replaceable position. With Darren McFadden, Alfred Morris, and Lance Dunbar already on hand, and ample RB options available later in the draft, Elliott looked like a poor allocation of limited resources.

In the second round the strategy seemed to flip and the reactions reversed accordingly.

Having missed out on the top two targeted pass-rushers, Emmanuel Ogbah and Kevin Dodd, the Dallas Cowboys stuck to their board and drafted the best player available. Linebacker, and injured Butkus award winner, Jaylon Smith, was that man.

Related Story: Jaylon Smith: The Star of the 2016 LB Class

The key variable that made Jaylon Smith purely a BPA and not a “win now” guy, is that his well-documented knee injury will likely keep him out for the entire 2016 season. For the crowd that lauded the Zeke Elliott pick, a pick like Smith made absolutely no sense. And for the BPA purists, Elliott was the pick that was most baffling.

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Additionally, there were those who wanted to split the difference in the second round and draft Myles Jack. Myles Jack, regarded by most as the second best LB in the draft (before Smith’s injury), was falling as well. Rumors of him also missing the 2016 season were surfacing, bumping him back down to behind Smith on many teams’ draft boards. Still, many pro-Jack fans held on, valuing Jack as a better prospect and going ape-poop when the Cowboys passed him over.

Note: Having watched entirely too much game tape on Smith and Jack, I certainly have no doubts that Smith is the far better player. Jack is tops in coverage but Smith is superior in nearly every other facet. How it plays out at the next level remains to be seen, as does the timetable for each players recovery.

It’s these polar opposite picks that have made the draft so difficult to grade. Some give top grades for the first round and low grades for the second, while others give top grades for the second and low for the first. Consensus is nonexistent because both picks are largely ungradeable.

If Ezekiel Elliott indeed becomes “the next Adrian Peterson” then he will be well worth the #4 overall investment. Anything less will deserve scrutiny.

If Jaylon Smith gets back to the player he once was, he’ll be an All-Pro and an absolute steal in the second round. If he never regains his form, though, he will just be added to the long list of the Cowboys’ second round failures.

The ungradeable nature of the draft only continued when the Cowboys selected DT Maliek Collins in the third round and DE Charles Tapper in the fourth round.

Both players are considered under the radar, and in both situations, seemingly better players were available. It should be no surprise that fans and draftniks like the players that ESPN and tell them to like since those two outlets dominate the coverage.

Looking at overall value, it seems the Cowboys could have picked, almost every player they selected, a few slots lower (Dak Prescott being the exception). It’s that element that makes this entire draft extremely Travis Frederick-esque.

If you remember, in 2013, the Dallas Cowboys came under heavy fire when they selected Travis Frederick in the first round. Frederick was a player that was expected to be available a full round later. Scouts loved him but not necessarily in that draft spot.

Related Story: Re-grading the 2013 NFL Draft

Similarly, many players in the Cowboys current 2016 haul, were players who were well-regarded, just possibly over-drafted.

Just another way this draft is ungradeable, I suppose.

But let Travis Frederick serve as the lesson. Judge the player and not the draft position. If you like the player, then he should be graded well. If you don’t like the round he was drafted in, you are assuming the entire NFL abides by ESPN’s and’s rankings. Value is important but finding the right players is considerably more important.

All drafts are ungradeable to a degree. After all, Tom Brady in the sixth round was a “C” pick at the time. This essentially proves that early grades are nothing more than an assessment of value. To that end, you’d have to say the Dallas Cowboys failed. But if you grade the individual player and his predicated impact, you’ll likely come to a much higher score.

Next: Is Zeke Better Than Emmitt?

In the end, it isn’t about “winning now” or “winning later”. It’s about winning always and that’s what drove the Cowboys to make the decisions they made this past weekend. Ignore value, ignore the short-term, long-term and everything in between.

It’s purely about finding the right players.