Boom Or Bust: Which Teams Like To Draft Players From Non-BCS Divisions?

Eastern Washington cheerleaders support their non-BCS team. - James Snook-US PRESSWIRE

A quarter of all players drafted in the last four years come from outside the six big BCS divisions. We look at which teams have a propensity for drafting prospects from out of the way schools.

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 %
Jacksonville Jaguars 25 14 56% 10 40%
Dallas Cowboys 29 11 38% 7 24%
Baltimore Ravens 33 12 36% 9 27%
Chicago Bears 22 8 36% 3 14%
Detroit Lions 28 10 36% 7 25%
Green Bay Packers 36 12 33% 7 19%
St. Louis Rams 36 12 33% 7 19%
Arizona Cardinals 31 10 32% 4 13%
New York Jets 25 8 32% 2 8%
Miami Dolphins 32 10 31% 4 13%
San Francisco 49ers 36 11 31% 7 19%
Buffalo Bills 35 10 29% 4 11%
New York Giants 29 8 28% 3 10%
Washington Redskins 34 9 26% 2 6%
Atlanta Falcons 27 7 26% 2 7%
Seattle Seahawks 39 10 26% 8 21%
Kansas City Chiefs 32 8 25% 3 9%
Oakland Raiders 33 8 24% 4 12%
Tennessee Titans 33 8 24% 3 9%
Houston Texans 34 8 24% 2 6%
Indianapolis Colts 30 7 23% 3 10%
Carolina Panthers 30 6 20% 4 13%
Pittsburgh Steelers 35 7 20% 2 6%
New England Patriots 35 7 20% 1 3%
Denver Broncos 32 6 19% 1 3%
San Diego Chargers 27 5 19% 1 4%
New Orleans Saints 22 4 18% 4 18%
Cleveland Browns 33 6 18% 3 9%
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 30 5 17% 2 7%
Cincinnati Bengals 37 6 16% 2 5%
Minnesota Vikings 37 5 14% 2 5%
Philadelphia Eagles 41 4 10% 2 5%
Total NFL
1018 262 26% 125 12%

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:

Year Round Player POS College Conf BCS-6 BCS-10
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 5 Josh Thomas CB Buffalo MAC No Yes
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?

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More Cowboys coverage:

Felix Jones Signs With Philadelphia Eagles

2013 Dallas Cowboys Organized Team Activities Schedule

Dallas Cowboys Rookie Minicamp Recap: 15 Things We Learned

News And Notes From Day 2 Of Cowboys' Rookie Minicamp

News And Notes From Day 1 Of Cowboys' Rookie Minicamp

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