Cowboys Draft History: A Review of the Last Ten Years
With the NFL Draft rapidly approaching, I thought now would be a good time to consider the Cowboys draft history: their strengths, weaknesses, successes, and failures in the draft over the last ten years.
Pro-Football Reference keeps track of a statistic known as “Career Approximate Value.” It is a good way to condense and measure the value of a player’s overall career. The stat takes into account a number of factors to produce a final rating, which is weighted based on values by season. You can find a great explanation of the stat here.
While this statistic tells us a lot about how valuable individual player’s careers are/were, it can also be neatly applied to the NFL Draft in order to judge how well teams make selections. Considering, relatively, players’ career approximate value helps us understand a lot about a front office’s draft strengths and weaknesses.
The Dallas Cowboys Are Best at Drafting OL
I reduced the positional categories for evaluation to six. They include QB, OSP (RB, WR, & TE), OL (G, T, & C), DL (DE & DT), LB (OLB & MLB), and DB (CB & S).
Then, I took a look at the approximate career value of players the Cowboys have drafted since 2010. I averaged out the results by positional grouping. Here are the results:
|Position||# of Players Selected (since 2010)||Avg. Career AV|
While the Cowboys rate out highest at quarterback, the sample size is much too small to glean any insights from it. The 28 average is entirely made up of Dak Prescott’s 56 score. The only other quarterback the team drafted was Mike White, who scored zero.
The team, however, has dominated in selecting players on the offensive line.
Offensive Line Success
These numbers are led by the three players you’d expect – Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick and Zack Martin. All three were former first-round picks. They have been elite players at their respective positions and are rewarded with high approximate value scores.
In the 2011 draft, when the Cowboys took Tyron Smith, he was the best offensive lineman on the board. Eight offensive linemen were taken in the first round that year and Smith has the highest career approximate value of the group. Moreover, he rates out as the highest-rated first-round offensive linemen taken since 2010.
Zack Martin was another first-round gem. Despite being the fourth lineman taken in the 2014 draft, Martin rates out as the best offensive lineman in the class. Ja’Waun James and Taylor Lewan were the offensive linemen taken above and below him and they rate out with 29 and 43 career approximate value, respectively. Martin’s approximate value rating sits at 66.
Finally, Travis Frederick is ranked as one of the best centers taken over the last ten years. He rates out as the second best lineman taken in the 2013 draft, behind only fourth-round-pick David Bakhtiari. In a lineman-heavy draft, which featured five offensive linemen in the first ten picks, Frederick rates out as the best first-round offensive linemen, despite being the last one selected (at pick 31).
Dak Prescott Was a Truly Outstanding Pick
When the Cowboys took Dak Prescott, he was thought to be a guy who could sit behind Tony Romo for a few years and get a chance to develop. Shortly thereafter, he became the Cowboys starting quarterback and new tandem face of the franchise alongside Ezekiel Elliott.
Almost no quarterback drafted after the third round in the NFL Draft since 2015 has made a substantial on-field contribution. A large number of players in this range fail to register a single point in approximate value and further. Those who do don’t score much higher than that.
The two exceptions to this are Gardner Minshew and Trevor Siemian. Siemian had a brief, forgettable stint as the Broncos starting quarterback. Minshew looked impressive in his first year and could be poised to buck this late-round quarterback trend.
But Prescott stands out from the pack considerably. He was a tremendous value pick for the Cowboys as a round-four selection. In addition to standing out amongst players drafted in the later rounds of the draft, he has the highest career approximate value of any quarterback drafted in the 2016 draft, a class that included three first-round quarterback selections.
Prescott is one of the Cowboys best picks over the last ten years, and is one of the best overall value picks of the last ten years. I don’t think it’d be bold to say he is be the best quarterback drafted on the final day of the draft since Tom Brady was drafted in 2000.
The Best Draft Class
A look at the Cowboys draft history indicates they have had talented draft classes over the last ten years, but none was as fruitful as 2016. Not only was 2016 the year when the Cowboys selected Dak Prescott, but they also added Ezekiel Elliott, Jaylon Smith, and Maliek Collins in the first three rounds. Anthony Brown was also selected in the sixth round and while his play hasn’t been stellar, it is quite rare to add a defensive back that late in the draft who goes on to start 29 of the team’s next 48 games.