Dallas Cowboys Draft: The misleading nature of elite athleticism

James Hanna #84 of the Dallas Cowboys (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)
James Hanna #84 of the Dallas Cowboys (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images) /

The Dallas Cowboys offer a few examples of what happens when we overvalue elite athleticism in the draft

It’s Draft season which means it’s time for Dallas Cowboys fans everywhere to become infatuated with the prospects of what could be. This is a time when regular Joes like me become infallible draft experts, seemingly overnight.

And while there’s nothing wrong with falling in love with the process or drawing undeniable conclusions from a dangerously small sample size (errr, ok there is something wrong with that), the real trouble begins when we (draftniks, coaches, and scouts alike) fall victim to extraordinary testing.

Instead of going back and picking out draft busts, I want to highlight a few players who were neither busts nor stars. They are players who stood out in the pre-draft process because they athletically tested extremely well. They are players who often times didn’t have supporting film. They were players the Dallas Cowboys drafted based on their potential. And that intoxicating aroma of elite potential caused many of us to set some pretty lofty expectations.

James Hanna

By most accounts, James Hanna was a draft success story for the Cowboys. They turned a sixth round pick into a TE2 in a 12 personnel-heavy offense. And through most of those years, he was the best blocking tight end on the roster.

Yet, many of us had him slated for a different kind of greatness on Draft Day and the driving factor behind that was his off-the-charts athletic ability. As you can see on the spider graph above, Hanna tested in T.J. Hockenson and Noah Fant territory (actually better).

For as solid as Hanna’s career was, it never came close to living up to his athletic expectations. I had to keep this in mind while I fawned over the elite athleticism (with unsupported production) of Dawson Knox and Kahale Warring.

Charles Tapper

Charles Tapper is another great example of elite athleticism without supportive production. Like many players without supportive production, we blamed the system for Tapper’s lack of collegiate success. We explained he could be a super star if only put in the appropriate situation.

Looking at his spider graph above it’s hard to see how he couldn’t succeed. Tapper came to Dallas as an instant pet cat to the fan base. As we know he never approached any level of success with the Dallas Cowboys.

Injuries robbed him of sustained practice time and reps and Cowboys Nation is left uttering, “if only…” whenever we think of Tapper.

More from Dallas Cowboys

Darius Jackson

In case you forgot, Darius Jackson was the other running back Dallas drafted in the Ezekiel Elliott/Dak Prescott draft of 2016. Jackson was a dark horse throughout the draft process after he tested at the top of his class in multiple athletic and physical categories.

At 6’1” 220lbs, Darius Jackson blew us away with a 4.4 40, 133” broad jump, and 6.87 3-cone. At the end of the day, Jackson finished with a 149.4 pSPARQ  score from Three Sigma Athlete, which measures speed, power, agility, reaction, and quickness, making him the third highest RB in the draft class.

As you know, Jackson is on the roster right now and with Rod Smith likely gone, Jackson is technically No. 2 in the RB pecking order. As such, opportunity is still there for the former sixth round pick to make a name for himself. But if we’re being completely honest, it’s extremely unlikely he’ll ever live up to his elite athleticism that had us so excited when the Dallas Cowboys drafted him.

What does all of this tell us?

We need to be careful of our valuation of athletic traits, And if we should trust anything we should trust the tape.

Next. Why Zeke might not get re-signed by Dallas. dark

Drafting is speculative process so even if you perfectly evaluate the data, and correctly weigh the athletic measurables, players can still bust. It’s that unknown that makes it so much fun to follow.

  • Published on 04/15/2019 at 12:00 PM
  • Last updated at 04/15/2019 at 08:53 AM