Take a look at the Cowboys roster. They have vets that are aging but premiere talents in Tony Romo, Jason Witten and DeMarcus Ware. They have young guys that are on the precipice of stardom in Dez Bryant, Sean Lee and Tyron Smith. There's something missing though. Where's the beef in the middle? Where are the 5 year guys that are in the prime years of their careers? They don't exist for this club. Why?
It's been a while since we took a look at Pro Football Focus' grades. With the 2012 season long gone and a lack of maneuvering room for most of free agency, Cowboys fans have long been focused on this month's draft. Of course, with current draft talk comes talk of the recent history, and I think it's safe to say that Cowboys fans are a lot more hopeful the past few drafts have shown that the team has turned the corner since the bad selections during the Wade Phillips era.
At the beginning of last year, I had a quick twitter back and forth with Ft. Worth Star-Telegram's Carlos Mendez about the methods of the Dallas Cowboys scouting department based on one of his articles. The upshot was that they have returned to compiling a draft board based on only those players that fit the Dallas Cowboys "way" as opposed to ranking all of the prospects. It trimmed the board from 250 players to about 100 to 120.
This was the way under Parcells, but was abandoned when he left the franchise. Now, if you connect the dots and see that they "returned" to that way, there must have been an edict from somewhere that changed that philosophy while Wade Phillips was head coach. Was it Tom Ciskowksi learning the ropes as the head guy? Possible, but he was lead assistant under Jeff Ireland during Parcell's tenure. He saw the results from that methodology result in future hall of famers Jason Witten and DeMarcus Ware. He also saw how it earned Pro Bowl steals in Jay Ratliff, Tony Romo and Miles Austin.
It's probably a plausible guess to say that Jerry Jones' "return to the throne" as lead Cowboys decision maker included changing some of Parcells methodologies when it came to player acquisition. It's been well documented that the reign of Parcells had everything and everyone around Valley Ranch doing things differently. I feel safe in my assumption that Jones was enamored with telling people how to function in their roles again.
As we all know, the Cowboys drafts during this time have left the roster devoid of a group of 5-year veterans that are "in their prime" at this point. We have the old guys, we have a slew of young up and comers, but what's missing from this roster are the guys that are at the pinnacle of their performance windows. That's supposed to be the guys drafted from 2007 through 2009.
The 2007 draft did see us grabbing Anthony Spencer and Doug Free, but honestly, we've only had one or the other performing up to par at a time. Doug Free gave us good years in 2009 and 2010, and Spencer turned in good years in '11 and '12. Outside of that though, disappointment from each. James Marten, Isaiah Stanback, Alan Ball? Yeesh.
PFF takes a look at the rest of the "Phillips Era" haul, which includes the 2010 draft. Maybe it's just me connecting dots again, but I think the Dallas front office felt change was needed coming off the embarrassing playoff loss in Minnesota. They didn't fire Phillips in the offseason, but maybe they began making a transformation that culminated in the firing of Phillips midseason. Did the players see that the front office was no longer fully supportive of the way things had been done and that change was imminent? Could be.
PFF says over the three year span of 2008 through 2010, the club didn't have any selections at the extreme ends of the spectrum. Using their grading scale of +2.0 down to -2.0 in 0.5 incrememnts, they plugged in each of the Cowboys selections between +1.0 and -1.0. There were no "Tom Brady" steals (+2.0) and no "Extreme Values" (+1.5). There also were no "Scouts/Coaches failed" (-1.5) or "love childs of Jamarcus and Leaf"s (-2.0).
What was left is a bunch of players in the middle, with the majority falling on the lesser side of success. Here's a link to the full article, with the assignments below. I strongly recommend you read the full article to see their reasoning behind each grade that was based on: "Where they were drafted", "Their performance", "Their contribution (how many snaps their team got out of them)" and "Other factors, such as unforeseen injuries and conditions that could not have been accounted for."
WR Dez Bryant, LB Sean Lee
TE Martellus Bennett, CB Orlando Scandrick, LB Victor Butler, TE John Phillips, DT Sean Lissemore
RB Tashard Choice, LB Eric Walden, QB Stephen McGee, S Michael Hamlin, S Stephen Hodge, CB Mike Mickens, WR Manuel Johnson, T Sam Young, CB Jamar Wall, DT Josh Brent
CB Mike Jenkins, RB Felix Jones, LB Jason Williams, LB Brandon Williams, CB DeAngelo Smith, LB David Buehler (just kidding), CB Akwasi Owunsu-Ansaw
T Robert Brewster
Now, there's obviously some things I'd disagree with, but as with everything on PFF, these are numerical values applied to someone's opinion albeit someone who is getting paid to evaluate each individual. There's no way that I'd lump Josh Brent in with the likes of Stephen Hodge in any way, shape or form. One has to remember though, that the performance portion of the grade each earned is based on "no playing time means no grade, not a negative one". What are your thoughts on the rankings, these draft years and the state of the Cowboys War Room in general?