One of the things we know about the Dallas Cowboys is they prefer to build their team through the NFL Draft. Some argue that the Cowboys are very good at drafting, so this makes sense for them to continue down this road.
We could go into the logic of a singular roster-building strategy and how in reality you need to use free agency, trades, and the draft to maximize return and improve the team – But that is another discussion for another day. Instead, let’s look at how the Cowboys have drafted and I will leave the conclusion to you, the reader.
For argument’s sake we will leave the 2021 draft class out of the discussion as with only one season, many have not seen the field, have rookie deals in place, and still, have development to go through. Yes, we know Micah Parsons was a hit the first year, but without seeing the entire class development over any margin of time, we will exclude the whole class.
We could exclude the 2020 draft since it only has two years of data, but I will leave it in for this exercise. We’ll focus on the drafts since 2014 (largely because no one from the 2013 class is on the team anymore). Yes, there is a new coaching staff in Dallas, but it is still the same front office and most of the same scouting department.
Let’s look at the past eight seasons and see just how well the Dallas Cowboys have drafted.
One of the first articles people will find if they search for draft efficiency is the Football Outsiders article that talks about draft capital, draft return, and the return versus that capital. What the article doesn’t really go into is the WAR factored into the players.
When digging, PFF went into WAR gained over the 2019 and 2020 seasons, and the Cowboys have ranked near the bottom in WAR gained with only the Lions, Broncos, Texans, and Panthers worse. When removing quarterbacks drafted, the Cowboys jumped to fifteenth in WAR gained.
Perhaps the middle of the league isn’t too bad, so let’s take a look at a study Wolf Sports did on “Star Rate” since 2017 (star rate is a player drafted with a PFF ranking over 80). By their study, the Cowboys are tied for nineteenth on star rate with the Raiders at 9.09%. Again, I am simply looking at the star rate, as PFF does have inherent issues with how they grade players, but it is an interesting viewpoint here.
So let’s review the drafts, shall we?
2014: Zack Martin, DeMarcus Lawrence, Anthony Hitchens, Devin Street, Ben Gardner, Will Smith, Ahmad Dixon, Ken Bishop, Terrance Mitchell
2015: Byron Jones, Randy Gregory, Chaz Green, Damien Wilson, Ryan Russell, Mark Nzeocha, Laurence Gibson, Geoff Swaim
2016: Ezekiel Elliott, Jaylon Smith, Maliek Collins, Charles Tapper, Dak Prescott, Anthony Brown, Kavon Frazier, Darius Jackson, Rico Gathers
2017: Taco Charlton, Chidobe Awuzie, Jourdan Lewis, Ryan Switzer, Xavier Woods, Marquez White, Joey Ivey, Noah Brown, Jordan Carrell
2018: Leighton Vander Esch, Connor Williams, Michael Gallup, Dorance Armstrong Jr., Dalton Schultz, Mike White, Chris Covington, Cedrick Wilson Jr., Bo Scarbrough
2019: Trysten Hill, Connor McGovern, Tony Pollard, Michael Jackson, Joe Jackson, Donovan Wilson, Mike Weber, Jalen Jelks
2020: CeeDee Lamb, Neville Gallimore, Reggie Robinson II, Tyler Biadasz, Bradlee Anae, Ben DiNucci
Going by each year, only two from 2014, zero from 2015, two from 2016, two from 2017, four from 2018, four from 2019, and five from 2020 are still with the team. Of those nineteen players, fourteen are considered starters.
I included Tony Pollard, Neville Gallimore, Trysten Hill, Jourdan Lewis in this group, even though they may not be full-time starters are more position dependent on usage.
I did not include Noah Brown and Dorance Armstrong in this group as neither has been a consistent starter or was considered one of the top 2-3 players in their position group.
The obvious year that stands out is 2016 with Ezekiel Elliott and Dak Prescott headlining. Many fans believe Zeke won’t be here past this season, but he has been a cornerstone for this team up until now so he gets credit.
Famously the Dallas Cowboys were targeting Connor Cook and went with a backup plan in Dak Prescott, so even though he wasn’t the player targeted, it has worked out amazingly well for Dallas. We will see what the 2021 class ends up being in a few years, but the 2016 class was a good one for the Cowboys.
For a team that wants to build through the draft, keeping players has been a little bit of an issue, and development has not always gone as they had hoped for some, and better for others. Should another coaching change happen after this season, as some are expecting, the expected development of players will be affected, as coaching changes tend to churn the roster more and have different personalities and focus within the new staff.
The Cowboys want to build mostly through the draft. Will McClay has seemed to be able to adjust to what the coaching staff wants nicely, but we still know the coaches and front office have a huge voice on who gets drafted. With the 2022 NFL Draft upcoming the Cowboys have a lot of work to do, and they are resting on the history of their draft results.