The days leading up to the 2012 NFL Draft are a time for many different emotions among fans of the Dallas Cowboys. There is excitement and anticipation, but at the same time there is anxiety and trepidation. The brutal failure of 2009 is still too fresh in many minds. The great fear that lurks in the back of many of our minds is that the improved performance of the team over the past two years in the draft might have been an aberration, not a sign of things to come.
It may actually be a bit harder this year to get the draft right, because the team finds itself with a pick that has no clearly obvious best choice. There are likely to be several players available at fourteen, and making the right call (or deciding to trade back if that is the best move) is going to be important. The preference many readers have for David DeCastro is at least partly due to the belief that his is very nearly a bust-proof player. He is an offensive guard, a position that has a very high success rate for those players taken in the first round, and his history is as solid as any player in the draft this year.
But we aren't the ones making the choice. That is going to be done by the Dallas coaches, scouting staff, and ownership. Looking back over a longer term, that is unnerving. But 2010 and 2011 are much more encouraging. There are several players who have already had success from those classes, and a few more that could emerge this year.
As a matter of fact, there is at least one outside source that has rated 2011 as pretty outstanding, purely on what a couple of those selections did on the field last season.
See who, and what they said, after the jump
Over at NFL.com, some of their analysts have been applying a little hindsight to the drafts from 2007 through 2011, and Bucky Brooks looked at 2011. The idea is to look at those selections, and redo the first ten picks based on how the players have performed since then. (Dave already mentioned it in his latest News and Notes post, but I think the full story is worth a deeper look.)
The 2011 draft class turned out to be a rather strong one overall, and eight of the top ten players that were actually taken remained in the top ten on this "do-over" exercise. That included the Cowboys' Tyron Smith, who was still deemed the correct pick at the ninth spot.
Outside of a little jockeying of position and people staying at a pick rather than trading out of the spot, there were only two changes to note. One was at number ten, where Brooks felt that Andy Dalton, last year's thirty-fifth pick, should have been taken by the Jacksonville Jaguars instead of Blaine Gabbert, based on Dalton's far superior year at the quarterback position.
The other was at number eight, where Bucky felt that the Tennessee Titans would have been much better served to have passed on Jake Locker and gone with a kid named DeMarco Murray. Who the Cowboy got way down at 71.
Imagine if the Titans had an explosive runner to lean on while Chris Johnson fought through his slump a season ago . . . While it certainly would be a luxury to have a pair of dynamic runners in the backfield considering the devaluation of the position, the thought of Murray and CJ2K occupying interchangeable roles would keep defensive coordinators up at night.
That's right. According to this guy's take, the Cowboys had two of the top ten draftees for 2011, based on their performance. They didn't have a single one in the previous four years, as Josh Ellis noted in his look at the do-overs.
That is a major step. It is, quite frankly, one that is unlikely to be equaled this year, but the good thing is that the brain trust working the draft this year is essentially the same as that one. It is reasonable to think that they can get a worthy player with the fourteenth pick, and then we can hope they find a steal hanging around in the later rounds. Perhaps not as significant as Murray was (he was, after all, a blue chip in the third round according to this evaluation), but someone who is still considerably more valuable than his draft position would indicate.
This is an important trend if it can be sustained. 2009 put the team in a bad hole, and it has been a struggle to make progress climbing back out. But the 2011 draft looks to be a major step, and if Bruce Carter, David Arkin and/or Bill Nagy play significant roles this year, it would look even better. It followed a pretty good class in 2010, which brought Dez Bryant, Sean Lee, and Sean Lissemore (who I think is going to have a pretty big impact on the defensive front this year). And sandwiched in between the last and the next draft is the current (and possibly still ongoing) free agency crop.
OCC took a look in that post at how the performance should be improved through the personnel changes made through the free agency process, and made a very convincing argument for the fact that the team has mostly retained the right people while replacing under-performing players with upgrades, almost all the way across the board. One factor that OCC did not address (but has been mentioned here some time back, I believe) is the age difference between the departing and arriving players. I was saved having to search for the info in the BTB archives by an article on the topic by Rob Phillips at DallasCowboys.com.
Seven of last year's eight veterans were at least 30 years old, and the average was 32.0 years old. Six of this year's seven replacements are under 30, and the average is 27.2 years old.
The team is getting better and younger. That's a pretty good combination. It is why I am feeling pretty optimistic these days. I think the trend of smart decisions is going to continue on April 26..
This has nothing to do with my post. Just think of it as a weekend bonus.