Cowboys' Snakebit 2012 Draft Class

Matthew Emmons-US PRESSWIRE

With the final cuts to get to the (initial) 53-man roster, it is clear that the players Dallas drafted in 2012 have seen more than their share of bad luck.

Once, they had so much promise. But after only two seasons, the 2012 draft class of the Dallas Cowboys is shaping up to be something between a disappointment and a terrible mess. With the first edition of the 2013 roster, this group is over half gone.

Long term success in the NFL is most reliably created through effective drafting. The loss of so many players from just a couple of drafts ago is hardly encouraging for fans of the team. But a closer look at what has happened shows that this may not be so much a case of bad work by the scouting department and management as a horrid run of really bad luck.

Morris Claiborne (1st round). He was one of only two players from the class available to start their rookie season. He has been serviceable but not spectacular at cornerback, and has missed much of training camp with injury. He is expected to be back for the opening game against the New York Giants.

Tyrone Crawford (3rd round). Crawford made it onto the field during the 2012 season, and began to show something on the defensive line. He was seen as being a key backup (and given the other injury issues, may have been a starter while Jay Ratliff is PUP), but he was lost to injured reserve on the first day of training camp.

Kyle Wilber (4th round). Also making it onto the field after the season started, he is now a backup defensive end in the new 4-3. And with the team still massaging things, there is at least an outside chance he might wind up on the trade block or even replaced by a waiver wire acquisition.

Matt Johnson (4th round). The most injury plagued of the group. He never saw the field in 2012 after going on injured reserve. The staff has always had high regard for his potential, and there were more than a few jokes about him being the best player on the team to never see action. For a brief moment, he showed some of his potential in the opening pre-season game against the Miami Dolphins this year, but was hurt again and will spend another season on IR.

Danny Coale (5th round). He has become a minor legend here at Blogging The Boys thanks to a certain despicable front page writer naming him his pet cat and introducing the Curse of the Goatmouth to readers here. Again in 2013, he fought minor injury and his limited time on the field, with the concomitant lack of production, led to him being cut. He is reported to be one of the players targeted for the practice squad, so he, like Crawford and Johnson, may still get his chance, but it does not look good.

James Hanna (6th round). The only other player besides Claiborne to be, for the most part, healthy. He has not made major contributions yet, although the expected heavy use of the 12 personnel package certainly should give him a chance to see a lot more snaps this year.

Caleb McSurdy (7th round). Also hurt for his rookie season, McSurdy was cut and is not one of the players targeted for the practice squad. As a seventh-round pick, he was always a bit of a long shot to make the team.

So although four of the seven picks from 2012 are not on the initial roster for 2013, it is not conclusively because of a lack of talent, but more because they have had horridly bad luck. With two on IR and one likely to make the PS, there is certainly a hope that they will one day pay off for the Cowboys. But that is not at all certain, and the harsh reality is that the more time that goes by, the less the likelihood that they will ever be any kind of real contributors.

Therefore, it is already looking like 2012 was largely a failure in finding talent for Dallas, right?

Well, not quite. The draft is one way to acquire talent, but not the only one. Another one is to find undrafted free agents, and the Cowboys have a certain reputation for finding some UDFA gems. That's how Tony Romo and Miles Austin came to the team, and while 2012 has not produced players quite like them (neither of whom were instant successes, either), consider the following players:

Ben Bass. With the injuries to Ratliff and Crawford, and the loss of Josh Brent after his DUI manslaughter tragedy, Bass has emerged as a key member of the Rushmen.

Cole Beasley. The wide receiver basically forced the team to keep him last year, and despite his own worries as expressed on Twitter, he was always a pretty solid keep. He is either fourth or fifth on the depth chart, but his knack for getting open in the flat and the rapport he seems to have with Romo make him a nice option to have.

Lance Dunbar. Like Bass, Dunbar is going to be a key backup. He can be looked at as a change of pace back, but before he got nicked up in pre-season he was also looking like he might be the primary backup for DeMarco Murray. He might not be ready to go for the first game, but he is definitely in the plans this season.

Ronald Leary. Jerry Jones considered the UDFA guard the Cowboys' eighth draft pick from 2012, and it looks like Leary has one of starting guard spots locked up - as soon as he returns from injury. Leary is expected to practice on Monday, so he could well be starting against the Giants in the season opener.

Having seven players from one draft stick with a team would be considered a good haul. With the inclusion of the UDFAs, 2012 does not look so bad as a whole. It also brought free agent Brandon Carr (you will forgive me if I do not talk a great deal about the free agent guards picked up that year, even thought they are both on the roster at the moment). If, perhaps, one or two of the draftees who have suffered setbacks can come back next season, then the year would look a lot more successful than at first glance.

But those draftees are still one snakebit bunch.

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