Jerry Jones attended college at the University of Arkansas. He played guard for the Razorbacks, was a co-captain of the 1964 National Championship football team and a teammate of Jimmy Johnson. This has led many to believe that Jerry Jones and the Cowboys have a preference for players out of Arkansas. It seems that every time there's a highly rated prospect out of Arkansas, that player is automatically associated with the Cowboys.
Fact is, of the 200+ draft picks in Jerry Jones' tenure as Cowboys owner, only one draft pick, 2008's Felix Jones, was a Razorback. But it is also a fact that no amount of facts will shake a strong preconceived notion.
Similarly, there's a firmly held belief that the Cowboys love drafting skill position players. The only problem with that particular belief is that the Cowboys haven't really been doing that. Tony Violetti from draftmetrics.com took an extensive look at each NFL team's drafting tendencies from 1992-2011. His findings will be a shock to many who firmly believe that Jerry Jones has a penchant for "shiny things" in the draft:
- Only 20% of the Cowboys' total draft picks from 1992-2011 are offensive skill position players, the second lowest value in the league.
- In the first three rounds of the draft from 1991-2011, the Cowboys spent only 16.1% of their draft picks on skill position players. At the time, this was the lowest value in the league.
A more recent theme has been the Cowboys' propensity to draft injured players. After all, they used two successive second-round picks on injured players: Sean Lee and Bruce Carter. And Morris Claiborne had an injury last year as well. Imagine the surprise on many people's faces when they learned that the first six players the Cowboys drafted in 2013 had missed a grand total of two games in the last two years.
Another theme that hasn't yet received a lot of airtime, and this one may have some basis in facts, is that the Cowboys may have a propensity for going after small school standouts in the draft.
The first player to fit this definition was defensive tackle Jethro Pugh out of Elizabeth (N.C.) City State in the 1964 draft. Since then, the Cowboys have had great success looking for talent in out of the way places, and have compiled an impressive list of small school talent that includes Hall of Fame OT Rayfield Wright out of Fort Valley State, HoF OG Larry Allen out of Sonoma State and numerous Pro Bowlers.
And while it’s great that the Cowboys found the likes of Tony Romo or Miles Austin, building your roster with undrafted free agents or small school prospects is a high-risk strategy. Case in point, the 2010 draft: Of the 256 players drafted that year, 195 came from the six big BCS conferences (+ Notre Dame). Another 33 were drafted out of the remaining BCS conferences. That left 28 players from mostly out-of-the-way schools, of which the Cowboys picked two, fourth rounder Akwasi Owusu-Ansah from Indiana (Pa) and seventh rounder Sean Lissemore from William & Mary. Lissemore looks like a solid pick, but AOA has become a synonym among Cowboys fans for a small-school bust.
In 2010, AOA was selected with the 126th pick at the end of the fourth round. The next three DBs selected were Kam Chancellor out of Virginia Tech (133), Dominique Franks out of Oklahoma (135) and Kendrick Lewis out of Mississippi (136). Those three players have combined for 69 starts in three years. AOA started two games for Jacksonville in 2011 and never started for Dallas.
There is a risk inherent in selecting players who’ve excelled against inferior competition. The Cowboys obviously factor this into their draft evaluation, but the Cowboys’ recent talent acquisition history indicates that college pedigree may play a lesser role in Dallas than in other places.
The table below looks at the propensity of each NFL team to draft prospects from out of the way schools. The table shows how many of a team's draft picks between 2010 and 2013 come from non-BCS schools, and I used two criteria for that:
- Non-BCS 6: Players not from the six big divisions (ACC, Big 12, Big East, Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC) + Notre Dame
- Non-BCS 10: Players not from any of the ten BCS divisions (ACC, Big 12, Big East, Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC + Notre Dame + C-USA, MAC, MWC and Sun Belt)
Non-BCS picks in %, 2010-2013 (click on column headers to sort)
|Team||No. of Picks||non-BCS 6||non-BCS 6 in %||non-BCS 10||non-BCS 10 in %|
|Green Bay Packers||36||12||33%||7||19%|
|St. Louis Rams||36||12||33%||7||19%|
|New York Jets||25||8||32%||2||8%|
|San Francisco 49ers||36||11||31%||7||19%|
|New York Giants||29||8||28%||3||10%|
|Kansas City Chiefs||32||8||25%||3||9%|
|New England Patriots||35||7||20%||1||3%|
|San Diego Chargers||27||5||19%||1||4%|
|New Orleans Saints||22||4||18%||4||18%|
|Tampa Bay Buccaneers||30||5||17%||2||7%|
Over the last four years, 26% of the players chosen in the draft are not from the six big BCS divisions, 12% of the draft picks hail from non-BCS divisions altogether.
With 38%, the Cowboys have the second highest percentage of players of non-BCS 6 draft picks among all teams, and the fourth highest percentage (24%) of players from non-BCS divisions. Per se, the high percentages are neither a good nor a bad thing. Other teams with high percentages like the Ravens, Packers and 49ers are normally considered good drafters, while some teams at the bottom of the scale also routinely receive good grades for their drafts.
But what these percentages are indicative of is a team's draft strategy: Are they more or less inclined to go after smaller school prospects or not. The percentage is also indicative of a team's risk tolerance or risk adversity. Teams like the Eagles seem to believe they'll increase their chances at draft success by drafting mostly from established schools. Teams like the Cowboys and Ravens seem to believe that the higher risk of taking a smaller school prospect can be outweighed by that prospects potential upside.
In financial circles, this is commonly referred to as a high risk/reward strategy, where the increased risk is rewarded with a higher potential return. The trick is finding the right balance in your investment portfolio, one that generates enough profit but is sufficiently diversified to absorb the losses from some of those high risk/reward choices that are bound to go bad.
And some of those Cowboys picks will go bad. As much as we like to think the Cowboys just drafted seven potential starters, the reality is that the average draft yields between 2-3 starters, everything else is a bonus.
Here are the 11 (or 7) Cowboys picks from the last four drafts who could be considered smaller school prospects:
|2010||4||Akwasi Owusu-Ansah||CB||Indiana (PA)||PSAC||No||No|
|2010||7||Sean Lissemore||DT||William & Mary||CAA||No||No|
|2011||4||David Arkin||G||Missouri State||MVFC||No||No|
|2011||6||Dwayne Harris||WR||East Carolina||C-USA||No||Yes|
|2012||3||Tyrone Crawford||DE||Boise State||MWC||No||Yes|
|2012||4||Matt Johnson||S||Eastern Washington||Big Sky||No||No|
|2012||7||Caleb McSurdy||ILB||Montana||Big Sky||No||No|
|2013||2||Gavin Escobar||TE||San Diego State||MWC||No||Yes|
|2013||3||J. J. Wilcox||S||Georgia Southern||SoCon||No||No|
|2013||4||B. W. Webb||CB||William & Mary||CAA||No||No|
So the real question about this year's Cowboys draft class is this (and how you phrase the question depends on how full or empty your glass is):
Who will be this year's Larry Allen / AOA?