BTB Mailbag: Replaying the 2010 and 2011 Drafts: Worst Case Scenarios

David Arkin is not the 2011 NFL Draft's only fourth round non-achiever - Matthew Emmons-US PRESSWIRE

With the benefit of hindsight, every single draft could be optimized. On the other hand, every single draft can be "pessimized." Taking a page from O.C.C.'s book, we take a look at the Cowboys' 2010 and 2011 drafts, showing that things could have been a heck of a lot worse.

In response to our recent "AskBTB" question solicitation, BTB member Danny Phantom asked, via Facebook:

"As we ponder what we should do next, we can't help looking back and wondering what we should've done in recent years. I know that helps no one, but I thought it would be interesting to take a look back at the last couple of drafts and toy around with some different scenarios."

This was taken on by our own version of the Internet, One.Cool.Customer. As always, the infatiguable Cool went above and beyond, turning this simple question into a pair of posts, on the 2010 and 2011 drafts (hit the year to read them), in which he played with a variety of hypothetical Dallas draft scenarios that went beyond what he termed "hindsight trolling."

To compare the different alternatives, O.C.C. used a metric called Career Approximate Value that, as he points out, was developed by the fine fellows at Pro-Football-Reference.com and is designed to assign a value to any player at any position for any given year. The algorithm behind AV weights position-specific metrics (i.e. yards or points scored/allowed) with an indicator for durability (total games played and seasons as their team's primary starter) and quality (Pro Bowl and All-Pro nominations) and then normalizes all this at a team level. The higher the number, the better.

Cool judged his scenarios by the total CAV for all the players selected under each. Not surprisingly this rigorous cherry-picking produced several drafts better than those enjoyed by the Cowboys in 2010. But this can go both ways, can't it? I wondered: what if we were to do the opposite, and pick the worst possible player at each slot, in an effort to get the worst possible CAV for each of the drafts that Cool played around with. My goal was not to undo or to refute Cool's work; rather, it was to show the other side of the coin: for every draft pick that could have gone better, there are several options that could have ended up worse.

As stated, O.C.C. produced myriad draft scenarios. For our purposes today, I'd like to draw your attention to two of them:

Scenario 1: What if the Cowboys hadn't moved at all?

Scenario 3: What if the Cowboys had drafted the best player available within the next five picks?

I want to combine these, and then to invert them. O.C.C. used the Cowboys' original, pre-trade draft picks, and picked the player with the best Career AV that was drafted within the next five picks. Using this method, Cool was able to draft a group of players with a total Career AV of 94. A pretty impressive haul, indeed - and one that may well have had Cowboys fans bemoaning the fact that Jerry and Jason's foresight failed to match our collective hindsight.

To invert this, I've selected the player with the worst AV within the next five picks of the original pick. In the 2010 draft's first round, for example, Dallas initially had the 27th pick, so we can choose anybody who was drafted in slots 27 to 31. Here's what the 2010 draft look like with that in mind:

Round Dallas Pick Name Pos Team CarAV Pick #
1 27 Jerry Hughes DE Ind 6 31
2 59 Vladimir Ducasse OL NYJ 1 61
3 90 Taylor Price WR NE 1 90
4 125 E.J. Wilson* DE Sea 0 127
5 158 Larry Asante DB Clev 0 160
6 196 Jamar Wall** DB Dal 0 196
7 234 Dedrick Epps TE SD 0 235
Total 8

*If Wilson doesn't float your boat, note that Dallas could have selected offensive tackle Jason Fox, who also boasts a fat goose egg as a Career AV.

**Although Wall washed out, so did the next few picks. Both RB Charles Scott (pick 200, Philly) and DB Jorrick Calvin (128, AZ) share Wall's zero CAV.

This "negative cherry picking" exercise brings a group to Dallas that would make 2009's ignominious haul look like the second coming of the triplets. Dallas' 2010 draft class currently boasts a Career AV of 45 (52 if you count Montrae Holland, who came aboard for a fifth-round pick). It doesn't take a nuclear physicist to see that eight is a significant (nay, catastrophic) drop-off.

What is particularly shocking is that, going into the draft, most of us would have been quite happy with this collocation. Both Ducasse and Hughes, the LB/ DE from TCU, were getting a lot of pre-draft hype on Cowboys boards, and Price was widely touted as a great middle-round WR option; the Cowboys certainly expressed interest in him. In addition, most pundits thought that the Browns choice of Asante was a real coup. Hmmmm. Turned out a bit differently, didn't it?

What happens when we apply this to the 2011 draft? Remember that the Cowboys' 2011 draft class -a good ‘un by almost any measure - has currently amassed a combined Career AV of 44. What if they had made much worse choices? Well, we might have seen something like this:

Round Dallas Pick Name Pos Team CarAV Pick #
1 9 Nick Fairley DT Det 6 13
2 40 Jarvis Jenkins DL Wash 5 41
3 71 Martez Wilson* LB NO 2 72
4 110 David Arkin** OG Dal 0 110
5 143 Rod Issac DB Jax 0 147
6 176 Caleb Schlauderaff*** OL GB 0 179
7 220 Shaun Chapas**** FB Dal 0 220
7 252 Cheta Ozougwu DL Hou 0 254
Total 12

* Another (and worse, in terms of CAV) option would be to select QB Ryan Mallett, who has played nary a snap in backing up Tom Brady in New England. Somehow, picking him seemed unfair, as he may prove to be a decent player if, as has been speculated upon, he is traded to a team where he'll get some actual gametime.

**Or: Chimdi Chekwa (Oakland, pick 113), also with a zero CA.

***Not enamored with Schlauedraff? Try Ravens QB Tyrod Taylor (pick 180), who shares the same scintillating CAV: 1

****Whilst Chapas appears to Cowboys fans to be a bust, this seems to be largely a matter of unreasonable expectations. Six of the next eight players selected also have a zero CAV; the two exceptions have a Career AV of one.

Our exercise for the 2011 draft brings in another unimpressive haul: eight picks, for a grand total of 12 CAV. And, as with the 2010 draft, the scary part is that this is a collection of talent that would have pleased many Cowboys fans after the draft. In the lead-up, you may recall, Fairly was getting a lot of Cowboys love; Jenkins was a favorite "sleeper," if such a thing is possible, and Wilson was a Valley Ranch invitee that many of us thought would be a better fit in Rob Ryan's 3-4 than Bruce Carter.

Both of our little drafts brought in good players who were picked roughly where they were expected to be and were liked by teams, draftniks and fans alike. And both have proven thus far to be horror shows. The takeaway, to my mind, runs along the lines of "be careful what you wish for." As much as we moan about missed draft opportunities, things could always be a lot worse - and not only when we engage in convenient cherry picking exercises.

So, the next time we're about to rip the team a new one for missing out on a third rounder who ended up being a Pro Bowler, its only fair to praise them for passing on the guy, drafted three picks later, who failed to make his team.

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