The Cowboys drafted four linebackers in 2009 (Jason Williams, Victor Butler, Brandon Williams and Stephen Hodge). In 2010, the Cowboys grabbed another linebacker in Sean Lee with their second round pick.
This linebacker bonanza prompted BTB writer Aaron Novinger to opine last year that "With three young players in Jason Williams, Sean Lee, and Stephen Hodge at the inside linebacker positions, the middle of the Dallas defense looks set for years."
Yet this year, the Cowboys again drafted a linebacker with their second round pick in Bruce Carter. And then followed up that pick by drafting a running back, when the Cowboys spent the last two seasons trying to figure out how to split the touches between their three running backs.
When a team makes repeated picks at the same position in the draft, it is often taken as a sign of failure or weakness.
BTB member greatewhitenorth recently authored a very enjoyable post in which he took a tongue in cheek look at Jerry's Draft Rules. I found Rule #7 particularly insightful: Everybody Loves A Theme Party:
"When Jerry identifies a position of need, he likes to go all out: 3 CBs in 2000, 3 DTs in 2001, 3 DEs in 2005, 4 LBs in 2009. It doesn't happen every year, but don't cross off a position just because Jerry's already taken one or two of those."
There is a lot of truth in that.
But every team makes mistakes in the draft. Not all draft picks pan out the way they were expected to. And I would suggest that the better teams in the league are better at dispassionately identifying those mistakes, and are willing and able to correct those mistakes faster than the lesser teams do.
Good franchises will err on the side of speed in identifying and correcting their talent acquisition mistakes.
Jimmy Johnson drafted wide receiver Alexander Wright with the top pick in the second round in 1990. Johnson quickly realized that Wright would not pan out and drafted Alvin Harper with the 12th pick of the first round the following year.
Jeff Fisher's Titans are another example of an organization that repeatedly addressed a need through the draft until they finally found their answer. In 2003, the Titans drafted running back Chris Brown in the third round. Brown did not prove to be the long term answer Fisher was looking for, so in 2006 they picked LenDale White in the second round. In 2007, the Titans spent another second rounder on Chris Henry, but still didn't think they had found their franchise back. So in 2008, the Titans invested their first round pick on Chris Johnson. And haven't looked back since.
Success in the NFL depends in part on an organizations' ability to ruthlessly evaluate the talent on its roster, and to move on quickly if it sees that the talent on the roster doesn't meet the franchise's requirements.
From everything I've seen from Jason Garrett, I believe he can be very dispassionate at identifying and correcting mistakes an/or needs. I also believe that the new coaches, who provide a fresh perspective and a fresh set of eyes, can be a big help in that process. And I hope that drafting a linebacker again and a running back so high are signs that the Cowboys are willing to correct their mistakes faster than they may have in the past.
It's likely that the Cowboys will have a similar approach when they enter free agency. However, addressing mistakes and needs doesn't automatically mean replacing the usual suspects with free agents.
A dispassionate look at, and a fresh perspective on, the talent already available on the roster might see a number of players challenge for starting roles in 2011 that have played the role of backup-ups so far on a team that inexplicably found it hard to play young players in years past.
Who's your pet cat to break into the starting line-up this year?