The Cowboys moved up twice in the 2010 NFL draft to take Dez Bryant and Sean Lee. Both players made an impact in their sophomore seasons in Dallas, leading the team in major categories at their respective positions. The Cowboys did not make a single trade in the 2011 NFL draft: that was the first time since Jerry Jones bought the team that Dallas did not move out of its slots.
The numbers show that selecting earlier in the draft leads to acquiring better talent more often than later in the draft. Over the last 10 NFL drafts, 47.7% of the positional Pro Bowl players (114) were selected in the first round. Approximately 15 players out of the 32 selected in the first round make a significant impact in the NFL.
Eliminating special teams Pro Bowl selections, the second round yields 19.7% of the positional Pro Bowl players (47). About 6 players picked in the second round of each NFL draft are recognized for their playmaking skills.
There is not a significant difference in the number of positional playmakers selected in the third and fourth rounds (18 and 19 respectively). About 8% of players recognized for excellent play come from the 3rd round and another 8% are picked in the 4th round: or about 2 players in each round.
The Cowboys have selected two possible playmakers in the third round over the last 10 NFL drafts (Jason Witten and possibly DeMarco Murray). While Dallas seems to be more successful in the third round than most teams, the Cowboys have missed on many more third round selections (Jason Williams, Robert Brewster, and James Marten to name a few).
So considering that there is less than a 10% chance to find a playmaker in the third round, is it worth it to move up? Here is a real case study:
Over at Wes Bunting's site (http://www.nationalfootballpost.com/scouting_department.html), Peter Konz (C, Wisconsin: 6' 5", 315) is the 5th rated pro prospect, behind Morris Claiborne (CB, LSU: 6' 0", 185), and David DeCastro (OG, Stanford: 6' 5", 310) in Wes Bunting's latest prospect ratings. Claiborne and DeCastro are the 2nd and 3rd rated prospects respectively, only trailing top rated Andrew Luck. Trent Richardson rounds out Wes Bunting's top five pro prospects, rated 4th.
Bunting's approach resembles how the prospects may be rated on a professional team's draft board. Currently, the first 20 names on the board project with first round grades (at or above a 7.0).
CBS Sportsline writer Rob Rang has Morris Claiborne lasting until the 6th overall pick, and Peter Konz lasting until the 29th pick of the 2012 NFL draft. Another CBS Sportsline writer, Dane Brugler, has the Cowboys selecting David DeCastro with the 14th overall selection. Rob Rang has DeCastro lasting until the 17th pick (http://www.cbssports.com/nfl/draft/mock).
That presents a couple of very interesting scenarios in addition to staying put in the draft:
Dallas selects David DeCastro with the 14th pick, and then trades up to draft Peter Konz at the bottom of the first round. By trading the 45th and the 82nd selections, the Cowboys could move up to the 29th or 30th overall pick.
Morris Claiborne, one of the few elite prospects in this draft, slides out of the top five. Dallas trades the 14th and 45th selections to move up to the 6th or 7th overall pick to select Morris Claiborne.
Trading up or down in the draft requires two parties to express a real interest to do so. Even if the Cowboys would like to trade up or down, as these scenarios project, Dallas may not find a willing partner. Since an absence of a trading partner will result in the Cowboys staying with the 14th, 45th, and 82nd selections in the upcoming 2012 NFL draft by default, it will be assumed that the losing teams in the AFC and NFC Championship games, as well as either the team in the 6th slot (as I believe Washington will not remain in the 6th position) or Jacksonville would be willing trade partners.
By selecting David DeCastro and then trading back up into the first round to select the top rated center out of Wisconsin, Peter Konz, the Cowboys could immediately provide Tony Romo with one of the best, young offensive lines in the NFL. The biggest limiting factor to the potent Cowboys offense could be upgraded to an elite NFL level in one draft, permitting Garrett to utilize Witten, Austin, Bryant, and (hopefully) Robinson with few if any limitations.
The new identity of the Dallas Cowboys could be akin to that of the Saints, Packers, Patriots, and Manning-led Colts. Those teams have won 6 of the last 10 Super Bowls, and have 8 Super Bowl appearances in the last ten years.
Imagine attacking a weak Giants secondary with Witten, Austin, Bryant, and Robinson, while only occasionally keeping a healthy DeMarco Murray in to help block. Every route combination could be utilized, as throwing deep would no longer require keeping in two tight ends and a running back to keep Romo from getting mauled.
The thought of DeMarco Murray running behind a line comprised of Smith at left tackle, DeCastro at left guard, Konz at center, Free at right tackle, and Arkin, Nagy, or Kowalski at right guard could excite the most downtrodden Dallas fan. NFL.com shows that despite his struggles against premier pass rushers, Free continued to open holes in the running game.
Most of the runs gaining 10-yards or more during the 2011 regular season were accomplished when running towards Doug Free: 19 runs of 10+-yards to the left, compared to 17 runs of 10+-yards when running to the right and up the middle combined. The Cowboys had more rushing first downs when running behind the left side of the offensive line, than when rushing either behind the middle or the right side of the offensive line.
On the other hand, the Cowboys would forfeit their 3rd round pick to move up into the first round. Dallas needs all of the draft picks it can get in order to infuse good players into a talent poor team.
Drafting DeCastro and Konz would rob a wilting defense of the opportunity to add much needed young talent. Such is the state of the defense, that any playmaker added on the defense could be done at almost any position.
But if playmakers are needed on the defensive side of the ball, why not move up to capture the best defensive player in the draft if he begins to slide out of the top five. With two elite quarterbacks expected to be chosen in the top five, and at least one offensive tackle expected to be a top five talent, it is not out of the realm of possibilities that Claiborne could begin to slide.
Jenkins had a better 2011 NFL regular season, than 2010 season. Mike made the Pro Bowl following the 2009 NFL season along with Terrence Newman. Newman's game, however, suffered a severe drop-off the last two seasons.
Combining Jenkins with Claiborne could be the secondary tonic that this Cowboys team sorely needs. Scandrick (working out of the slot), Jenkins, and Claiborne could line up against the elite receivers in the NFC East, and lock down most of them, permitting Rob Ryan to simulate the success his brother Rex had with a similar strategy in New York.
Claiborne has been favorably compared to Patrick Peterson, and considered a better pure cornerback prospect than Patrick Peterson was last season by several scouting services. With Claiborne and Jenkins starting at cornerback, the Cowboys could boast one of the best young cornerback tandems in the NFL: as long as Jenkins continues to progress and not take another step back. Adding a playmaker to the weakest part of the weakest unit of the team would result in exponentially better play in 2012 and beyond.
Unfortunately, trading up would cost the Cowboys the 45th selection in the draft. As with the argument against trading up for Konz, this Dallas team needs every pick to add talent. The 45th best player in the draft would likely be better than most of the players starting on the defensive side of the ball, as there is about a 1 in 5 possibility of acquiring a playmaker in the second round.
Without including free agent acquisitions, which choice would lead to this franchise's 6th Super Bowl victory sooner?
1. Stay put.
2. Pick at 14th and trade up to 29th.
3. Trade up to 6th.
It comes down to the preference of the organization: make a strong offensive unit dominant, or add more talent to improve the weakest unit on the team.