FanPost

Historical Draft Prowess: Cowboys on Top? Amazingly, Yes.

Hello BTB. I have been an avid reader for a couple of years now, but this is my first post.

First off, I think this ground may have already been covered, but I haven't been able to find it through searching on BTB - if it is already covered, then I apologize.

I have used the Pro-Football-Reference.com draft database to analyze how well teams have drafted from 1999-2012. A common meme about the Cowboys is that they draft poorly. What the data shows refutes this hypothesis in part, but also, sadly for me as a die-hard fan, corroborates it.

The PFR data set contains a Career Approximate Value and Years as a Starter for each player. These metrics can be used to rank players by their impact and to compare a player's impact with where they were drafted and by which team. The data is not perfect, but using the Career Approximate Value as a ranking tool gives a consistent, objective way tot evaluate whether a draft pick was a success or not.

The first time period I looked at was 2002-2012, chosen because 2002 was the year that Houston entered the league so the data set is "clean" from the perspective of having all 32 teams in it. The ranking may surprise a lot of people:

Rank Team Total Career Approximate Value Total Number of Starter Years

1

DAL

1198

139

2 GNB 1198 125
3 SDG 1196 154
4 NWE 1176 127
5 BAL 1153 145
6 TEN 1148 134
7 CAR 1145 132
8 CHI 1134 127
9 NYG 1119 125
10 SFO 1117 153
11 PHI 1115 131
12 HOU 1101 127
13 IND 1097 133
14 ATL 1090 115
15 PIT 1087 121
16 JAX 1078 145
17 ARI 1041 132
18 CIN 998 119
19 NYJ 998 117
20 MIN 980 112
21 DEN 976 101
22 NOR 976 116
23 BUF 966 113
24 OAK 958 132
25 SEA 958 120
26 CLE 941 123
27 KAN 907 120
28 STL 854 111
29 MIA 853 120
30 DET 808 103
31 TAM 701 90
32 WAS 653 71

Dallas ties with Green Bay as the most successful drafting team over the past decade, at least as measured by the contributions of the players drafted by us. It is important to note that a player is linked to whichever team drafted him, not where he plays later. Jared Allen was drafted by KAN, but has played for many years in MIN. He counts as a KAN draft pick for his entire Approximate Value.

There is a pretty obvious "eyeball" correlation between how well teams have fared over the past decade and how well they have drafted. There are outliers for sure - Pittsburgh looks mediocre on this measure of drafting prowess, but has been a top team.

The other, painful, outlier is Dallas. It is difficult to stomach that we have managed to draft so successfully over a relatively long time, but not been able to consistently win. To test a hypothesis that draft consistency is related to win consistency, I sliced the data set over a few periods.

Draft prowess ranking by team 1999-2012:

Rank Team Total Career Approximate Value Total Number of Starter Years
1 GNB 1778 211
2 NWE 1682 180
3 CHI 1680 202
4 IND 1666 214
5 PIT 1652 199
6 BAL 1640 211
7 SDG 1615 200
8 CAR 1609 193
9 SFO 1596 214
10 NYJ 1584 198
11 TEN 1577 192
12 ARI 1567 215
13 ATL 1559 189
14 PHI 1553 183
15 BUF 1508 187
16 DEN 1495 172
17 NYG 1489 178
18 JAX 1478 203
19 CIN 1461 189

20

DAL

1443

166

21 SEA 1428 176
22 MIN 1345 159
23 CLE 1343 172
24 STL 1320 180
25 NOR 1296 157
26 OAK 1175 182
27 DET 1174 157
28 KAN 1135 144
29 HOU 1101 127
30 MIA 1094 152
31 WAS 1015 118
32 TAM 989 133

What the above table tells me is that the 1999-2001 period for Dallas must have produced some historically bad drafts to pull us down from a tie for #1 from 2002-2012 to #20 over the 1999-2012 period. Below are the results for 1999-2002 (this contains the whole Campo era, 2000-2002, as well as the last year of Gailey in 1999) period:

Rank Team Total Career Approximate Value Total Number of Starter Years
1 PIT 800 108
2 IND 723 103
3 NYJ 719 101
4 GNB 709 98
5 BAL 697 95
6 PHI 695 86
7 CAR 691 85
8 CHI 690 92
9 BUF 681 89
10 DEN 665 84
11 NWE 653 71
12 JAX 590 81
13 TEN 590 80
14 SEA 581 63
15 SDG 573 71
16 SFO 567 77
17 ARI 566 88
18 CIN 560 84
19 CLE 549 70
20 ATL 536 80
21 STL 528 80
22 MIN 484 65
23 DET 471 69
24 NYG 469 65
25 NOR 464 60
26 WAS 453 55

27

DAL

419

50

28 OAK 386 74
29 TAM 325 49
30 MIA 308 44
31 KAN 302 37
32 HOU 218 32

Yikes, that is bad. 27th out of 31 teams (we should ignore HOU as it only has one year in this data set) stinks. We also know, qualitatively, that 2007-2010 was a pretty bad period, and can see this quantitatively below:

Rank Team Total Career Approximate Value Total Number of Starter Years
1 ATL 474 45
2 GNB 415 40
3 SFO 414 44
4 MIA 357 52
5 BAL 353 36
6 DET 350 42
7 KAN 348 47
8 PIT 343 35
9 PHI 339 37
10 CAR 338 35
11 TEN 333 35
12 TAM 322 37
13 HOU 321 30
14 NYG 315 33
15 BUF 314 33
16 OAK 314 38
17 CIN 313 30
18 SEA 313 36
19 MIN 311 31
20 JAX 308 43
21 DEN 307 35
22 NWE 303 25
23 ARI 294 32
24 IND 290 31
25 CHI 285 33
26 NYJ 277 27
27 NOR 265 26
28 STL 254 25

29

DAL

253

26

30 CLE 248 36
31 SDG 227 27
32 WAS 175 20

Horrible - even worse than 1999-2002. So the Parcells era 2003-2006 must have been very good indeed to offset these bad bookends, and it was:

Rank Team Total Career Approximate Value Total Number of Starter Years
1 SDG 782 100

2

DAL

717

86

3 NYG 679 79
4 CHI 674 73
5 NWE 660 80
6 ARI 637 89
7 GNB 599 73
8 IND 599 75
9 TEN 581 70
10 SFO 567 91
11 JAX 543 75
12 NYJ 542 67
13 BAL 540 77
14 NOR 538 69
15 CIN 518 69
16 CAR 514 67
17 ATL 500 61
18 HOU 495 60
19 STL 489 69
20 MIN 487 57
21 PIT 481 55
22 PHI 464 56
23 BUF 450 56
24 CLE 449 56
25 KAN 449 56
26 DEN 448 46
27 SEA 436 70
28 OAK 434 65
29 MIA 371 50
30 DET 323 43
31 WAS 297 38
32 TAM 280 39

And the two most recent drafts, though it is still very early days and so these numbers must be taken with a huge grain of salt, look ok (but not great, yet):

Rank Team Total Career Approximate Value Total Number of Starter Years
1 SEA 98 7
2 CLE 97 10
3 WAS 90 5
4 DEN 75 7
5 TEN 73 7
6 ARI 70 6
7 CIN 70 6
8 HOU 67 5
9 CAR 66 6
10 NWE 66 4
11 BUF 63 9
12 MIN 63 6
13 TAM 62 8
14 MIA 58 6
15 GNB 55 0
16 PHI 55 4

17

DAL

54

4

18 IND 54 5
19 BAL 50 3
20 ATL 49 3
21 STL 49 6
22 SFO 48 2
23 NYJ 46 3
24 OAK 41 5
25 JAX 37 4
26 KAN 36 4
27 SDG 33 2
28 CHI 31 4
29 DET 30 3
30 NOR 29 2
31 PIT 28 1
32 NYG 26 1

So is our inconsistent performance on the field highly correlated with previous inconsistency in draft classes? I think this must have a lot to do with it. Swinging from high to low like this cannot be the recipe for success. If you look at the above and find some teams that draft well (e.g. GNB, BAL), they seem to do so no matter what period we look at - they also seem to perform pretty consistently on the field. Without the Parcells era, we would have likely been consigned to the fate of some of the other teams that seem to consistently fall at the bottom of the above tables as well as the W/L column: OAK, TAM, WAS, MIA, KAN to name a few.

It seems we need some patience in a coach and personnel evaluation team for them to work for a few years to get and keep things on the right path. I think we may have that with Garrett & Co., but we won't know for sure for another 3-4 years as the career arcs of the 2011-12-13 draft classes become known.

The above data also seems to rule out clearly that some teams are just "lucky" in the draft. Because teams draft in reverse order of success, one might expect that teams that do well will subsequently have worse drafts, but this doesn't seem to be borne out. Teams that do well, draft well and seemingly do so no matter if they are picking 1 or 32.

I hope you found the above interesting. Depending on feedback I will post more in the future, particularly on the interplay between Combine / pro day performance and player success. I believe that measurables matter a whole lot more than many casual fans and media types would like to believe.

Another user-created commentary provided by a BTB reader.

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