Are The Cowboys Systematically Grading O-Line Prospects Too Low?

A lot of discussion about the Cowboys in the recent weeks, months and even years has centered around the O-Line and the seeming inability of the Cowboys to draft offensive linemen. BTB's own rabblerousr analyzed the issue in a lot of detail two months ago and eloquently argued that the Cowboys scouts apparently don't have the ability to recognize what makes an NFL-caliber offensive lineman, as evidenced by the Cowboys' long list of questionable draft decisions. The relegation of 2009 third round pick Robert Brewster to the practice squad recently just adds another name to round out the chamber of drafting horrors that have been the Cowboys offensive linemen.

And then there's the one that got away: On draft day 2009, the Cowboys thought they had scored a bargain when Oregon center Max Unger slipped down the draft board. They were ready to pick him in spot 51, but the Seahawks cut a deal with Bears and swiped him with the 49th pick.

More recently, BTB-member Chandus argued that "I believe that they’re mis-calculating the draft prospects ratings, if a lot of teams think that the same prospect that you’re rating in the 4th Round is actually a 3rd Rounder, you’re the one with the problem." Now that is a statement that we can put to the test. How? After the break we look at the Cowboys 2010 draft board and see if and how badly the Cowboys missed on their grades.

Shortly after the 2010 draft, a group of  highly industrious BTB bloggers painstakingly decoded a video shot in the Cowboys draft room that showed the Cowboys draft board. As a result, we know the names and draft grades of 125 players on the Cowboys draft board.

Today, we look at how the Cowboys graded the offensive linemen on their draft board relative to where those players were actually picked in the draft.

O-Linemen: Cowboys grade vs actual draft spot, 2010 (click column header to sort)

Round Pick
Team Player Position Cowboys Grade
Difference
1 4 WAS Trent Williams T 1 0
1 6 SEA Russell Okung T 1 0
1 17 SFO Mike Iupati G 1 0
1 18 PIT Maurkice Pouncey C 1 0
1 23 GNB Bryan Bulaga T 1 0
1 11 SFO Anthony Davis T 3 -2
2 33 STL Rodger Saffold T 3 -1
2 45 DEN Zane Beadles G 3 -1
2 61 NYJ Vladimir Ducasse T 4 -2
3 68 KAN Jon Asamoah G 3 0
3 73 MIA John Jerry T 4 -1
3 98 ATL Mike Johnson G 4 -1
3 92 CLE Shawn Lauvao G 5 -2
3 69 OAK Jared Veldheer T 6 -3
4 129 IND Jacques McClendon G 6 -2
5 147 NYG Mitch Petrus G 4 1
6 179 DAL Sam Young T 5 1

Note that these are only the players the Cowboys appear to have had on their boards. A couple of names were indecipherable or simply obscured, and some notable lineman drafted fairly high like Charles Brown (2, 64), J.D. Walton (3, 80) or Bruce Campbell (4, 106) may or may not have been missing from the draft board. We'll never know with absolute certainty.

Nevertheless, we do know a couple of things. The Cowboys did have a first round grade on five of the six lineman taken in the first round. Surprisingly, they had Anthony Davis graded as only a third rounder while he ended up being the third lineman chosen in the draft overall. But five of six isn't all that bad.

It's in the later rounds that it gets really bad. The Cowboys didn't have a single lineman with a second round grade, yet three were taken in the second round.

Of the 12 lineman on the Cowboys board with a third round grade or lower, nine (or 75%) were graded at least one round lower than where they were eventually picked, one (Jon Asamoah) was graded in line with where he was picked and two (Mitch Petrus and Sam Young) were graded higher than where they were picked. This is not good.

Again, I'll just quote Chandus here because he summarizes the situation very well.

There’s more staff than just the Coaches and Jerry, the team has a scouting department that reviews film and conducts interviews and visits with prospects, and they also have a group of people that reviews the team from within and hands down their impressions to the Coaches and Jerry (weaknesses and strengths).

What we’ve seen is the result of the sum of what the Cowboys are and were they’re stuck in. They had chances to draft decent prospects, but didn’t because the scouting department view them as lower prospects as the competition or because the staff believed that they didn’t fit what they wanted on the field.

It’s easy to point at their mistakes, it’s harder to point at what they’re doing right, we can only hope that they get better at drafting OLine prospects and quick.

In economic terms, what we have here is a seller's market: In a seller's market there are more buyers than sellers, and high prices result from this excess of demand over supply. Translated to the NFL, this means that there are not enough linemen to meet the demand of NFL teams. As a result you likely have to overpay in terms of draft picks to get one.

The Cowboys' draft grades may be correct in terms of player quality/potential and fit with the Cowboys - or they may be incorrect, I'm in no position to judge. But it doesn't matter one bit. If you're grading 75% of the players (outside of first-rounders) below where they'll get picked, the likelihood of getting a lineman by sticking to your draft board is pretty slim. And the Seahawks may just swoop in again and grab another prospect right from under your nose.

Quality linemen are a scarce commodity. Other teams are 'paying' for their O-linemen with higher draft picks. If the Cowboys want to fix their line, they'll likely have to do the same. We only have one draft board to go against, but the Unger example and the history of the Cowboys drafts suggests that the 'mis-grading' of O-line talent is a persistent issue for the Cowboys.

Tomorrow, we'll look at the other position groups. The 75% 'mis-graded' rate for O-linemen (outside of first-rounders) is they highest of any Cowboys position group. But which group do you think will come in second?

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