Could The Cowboys Have Drafted Better in 2013?

Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Of course they could have, and with the benefit of hindsight, every single draft can be optimized. Within some pretty tight parameters, we take a look at how the 2013 Cowboys draft could perhaps have gone differently and compare it to who the Cowboys actually drafted.

It goes without saying that the Cowboys could have drafted better in 2013. That's not even debatable. Every single team could have drafted better last year.

About a week ago, the NFL announced the five finalists for the 2013 Rookie Of The Year award. Here are those five players

Name POS Rd (Pick) Team
Cordarrelle Patterson WR 1 (29) Minnesota Vikings
Giovani Bernard RB 2 (37) Cincinnati Bengals
Kiko Alonso LB 2 (46) Buffalo Bills
Eddie Lacy RB 2 (61) Green Bay Packers
Keenan Allen WR 3 (76) San Diego Chargers

One year after the fact, it looks like wide receiver Keenan Allen may have been the steal of the 2013 draft. Should the Cowboys have picked him? Of course they should have. All 31 teams not based in San Diego should have picked him earlier as well. But they didn't. 28 teams passed on Cordarelle Patterson. Every team passed at least once on Bernard, Lacy and Alonso. Bummer.

But that's the way it goes in the NFL draft. Which is why coming back a year later and saying this or that team should have drafted this or that guy is one of the cardinal draftnik sins: putting together an All-Star list of players the Cowboys should have drafted in 2013 doesn't serve any purpose except for some hindsight trolling and the type of revisionist grandstanding that often goes along with it:

"Hey look, last year I said the Cowboys should have drafted Kiko Alonso." Yeah, right. You also told us they should draft DE Sam Montgomery, DE Margus Hunt and ILB Kevin Minter. How about owning up for that?

So instead of looking back at 2013 and simply picking a couple of players willy-nilly, I'll try to construct four different scenarios of how the 2013 draft could have gone (within some pretty tight parameters) and compare them to what actually happened.

To compare the different alternatives, I'll use a metric called "Approximate Value," which you can read up on in a post from earlier this week. As a reference, the best AV for the 2013 draft class is 10 points, which six rookies achieved in 2013. Here's how the Cowboys' 2013 draft class stacks up in terms of Approximate Value:

Round Pick Name POS AV
1 31 Travis Frederick
C 8
2 47 Gavin Escobar
TE 1
3 74 Terrance Williams WR 7
3 80 J. J. Wilcox S 2
4 114 B.W. Webb CB 1
5 151 Joseph Randle RB 2
6
185 DeVonte Holloman
LB 1
Total 22

The 22 AV points rank the Cowboys 2013 draft class seventh in the league behind the Bears, Chargers, Rams (all 28 points), Packers (27), Jets (24), and Bills (23). The Cowboys traded out of their spot in the first round and acquired an extra pick in the third. In terms of AV, that resulted in a veritable points bonanza and a good draft haul, as far as you can say somethign like that after just one year. So the first alternative scenario we'll look at is one where we simply look at which players were picked in the Cowboys' original spots.

Scenario 1: What if the Cowboys hadn't traded their first-round pick all?

This is a very straightforward scenario: No Terrance Williams and safety Eric Reid (who was picked by the 49ers with the Cowboys original 18th pick) instead of Travis Frederick.

Round Pick Name POS AV
1 18 Eric Reid
S 8
2 47 Gavin Escobar
TE 1
3 80 J. J. Wilcox S 2
4 114
B.W. Webb CB 1
5 151
Joseph Randle RB 2
6
185
DeVonte Holloman
LB 1
Total 15

If the Cowboys had stayed put in the first, Eric Reid would not have been a bad pick, even though the Cowboys at the time didn't think Reid was worth the 18th pick. But a grand total of only 15 points would have dropped the Cowboys to 18th in the league in terms of draft class AV - it would have been a below average draft.

You could make an argument that the Cowboys may not have drafted Wilcox with Reid already on board, and instead could have taken the next available wide receiver or center. The next available receiver would have been Stedman Bailey (3-92); the next center would have been Brain Schwenke (4-107). Bailey received two AV points, a wash with Wilcox; Schwenke got four points, a slight improvement over Wilcox. None of these scenarios would have come anywhere close to what the Cowboys ended up with.

So let's relax the rules a little for our next scenario:

Scenario 2: What if the Cowboys had drafted the next best player at that position?

In this scenario, the Cowboys draft the same positions they did (and in the spot they did), but they take the next best player at the position. So instead of taking Travis Frederick (1-31), they would have taken the next available lineman in Menelik Watson (2-42); instead of Gavin Escobar (2-47), they'd have selected tight end Vance MacDonald (2-55); and so on. If we do this for all picks, we end up with the following draft class:

Round Pick Name POS AV
1 31 Menelik Watson (2-42)
OT 1
2 47 Vance MacDonald (2-55)
TE 1
3 74 Keenan Allen (3-76)
WR 10
3 80 Shawn Williams (3-84)
S 1
4 114 Sanders Commings (5-134)
CB 0
5 151 Chris Thompson (5-154)
RB 0
6
185 Cornelius Washington (6-188)
LB 0
Total 13

The Cowboys would have probably been very happy with Keenan Allen, but the rest of the picks would have been a disaster. Which brings us to our next scenario:

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

For this scenario, we'll once again use the Cowboys original, pre-trade draft picks, but we'll pick the player with the best AV within five picks of the original pick. Example: The Cowboys originally held the 18th spot in the draft. Of the five players taken between the 19th and the 23rd spot, OT Kyle Long had the highest AV with 10, so he'll be our choice in this scenario. And to demonstrate the hit-and-miss nature of the draft, the table below doesn't just show the player with the highest AV, but also the player with the lowest AV within the next five picks

Original Pick Highest AV in next 5 picks Lowest AV in next 5 picks
Round Pick Name POS AV Name POS AV
1 18 Kyle Long (1-20)
OT 10
Sharrif Floyd (1-23)
DT
1
2 47 Le'Veon Bell (2-48)
RB
8
Jonathan Hankins (2-49)
DT
1
3 80 John Jenkins (3-82)
DT
4
Damontre Moore (3-81)
DE
1
4 114
Khaseem Greene (4-117)
LB
2
Landry Jones (4-115)
QB
0
5 151
Jeff Locke (5-155)
P
2
Chris Thompson (5-154)
RB
0
6
185
Andre Ellington (6-187)
RB
7
Justin Brown (6-186)
WR
0
Total 33 3

The scenario on the left yields a surprisingly low AV of 33, despite some very obvious cherry-picking. The scenario lucks out in the sixth with RB Andre Ellington. Without Ellington, the total would drop to 26, not much of an improvement over the Cowboys' 22 total AV points.

The scenario on the right is a little more disconcerting. If the Cowboys had been off just a little in every round, that's the type of draft that could have happened. The scenario on the left is similar to countless backslapping "Here's how much better I would have drafted than the Cowboys" articles, but I have yet to see an article about a scenario similar to the one on the right titled "Here's how badly I would have messed up the Cowboys' draft."

And while this is pure coincidence, note also how the scenario on the right resembles a type of draft many are calling for in some form or another for the Cowboys this year: "D-line, D-line, D-line and then a late developmental QB." What a rude awakening such a draft strategy would have been last year.

Scenario 4: What if the Cowboys had taken the best player on their board?

Fortunately for us, we know what the Cowboys' actual 2013 draft board looked like, so we should be able to tell what would have happened had the Cowboys stayed put and chosen the highest ranked player on their board when it came time to hand in their picks. This is what that draft could have looked like:

Round Pick Name POS Grade Drafted CarAV
1 31 Travis Frederick
C 2nd (4) 31st 8
2 47 Terrance Williams
WR 2nd (5) 74th 7
3 74 Ryan Nassib
QB
2nd (10)
110th
0
3 80 B. W. Webb
CB
3rd (7)
114th
1
4 114 Gerald Hodges
LB
3rd (16)
120th
1
5 151 Everett Dawkins
DE
3rd (22)
229th
0
6 185 D.C. Jefferson
TE
3rd (23)
219th
0
Total 17

After trading down to the 31st spot, Travis Frederick was the highest-ranked player left on the Cowboys' board. The Cowboys only had 18 first-round graded players, and the last of those, Cordarelle Patterson, was picked 29th overall. The first-round graded players left on the Cowboys' board when they traded down: Tyler Eifert (4 AV points), Sharrif Floyd (1), Bjoern Werner (2), Xavier Rhodes (2), and Patterson (8).

Interestingly, the Cowboys picked Gavin Escobar with their second pick, even though they had Terrance Williams graded two spots higher than Escobar. We have no way of knowing how much of a difference, if any, the Cowboys saw in their second-round graded players between the fifth and seventh spot, but the Cowboys went slightly "off board" here, most likely for draft-strategic reasons.

For proponents of the BPA approach, the rest of the Cowboys draft may be a little sobering because the Cowboys went "off board" with every pick after that.

The two highest ranked players when it was time for the Cowboys to pick in the third round were QBs Ryan Nassib and Matt Barkley, and Barkley would still have been available for the Cowboys' next pick in the third. But picking two QBs would be nuts, even in this hindsight-heavy scenario. The next highest-graded player remaining after Barkley would have been B. W. Webb, who makes it into our scenario here. But the Cowboys chose J.J. Wilcox in that spot, even though they had Webb ranked higher.

And that would be a theme for the rest of the draft, as the Cowboys picked players that were not the BPA according to the Cowboys' board. Overall, the Cowboys would likely have lost value had they stuck stringently to their board, even though we keep hearing that the best strategy is to stick to your board.

I'm getting tired of having to add some sort of caveat to every single post, but here goes anyway (think of me as reading this to you in an extremely annoyed voice): I realize of course that we've been comparing a lot of hypothetical scenarios here, and that the purpose of the draft is not to maximize some obscure AV metric. As such, there's only so much you can take away from an exercise like this. Overall though, it looks like the Cowboys should be very happy with their decision to trade down, and with the two players they got in return. However, the remaining draft picks will have to step up their game if we want to rate this class a success sometime in the coming years.

As I said above, all four scenarios are constructed within some pretty tight parameters. I think this is the only way to approach such an exercise without descending too far into the Land of Wishful Thinking. But for all those wishful thinkers out there, here's my salute to you: The best possible draft the Cowboys could have had as measured by AV, featuring three running backs - but who's counting?

Round Pick Name POS Team Drafted AV
1 31 Kiko Alonso
LB
BUF
46
10
2 47 Eddie Lacy
RB
GB
61
10
3
74 Keenan Allen
WR
SD
76
10
3 80 David Bakhtari
LT GB
109
9
4 114 Jordan Mills RT
CHI 163
10
5 151 Zac Stacy
RB
STL
160
7
6 185 Andre Ellington
RB
ARI
187 7
Total 63

There'll be one more post in the next few days where we'll look at the 2013 draft class, but we'll be constructing our scenarios a bit differently. No more AV. Stay tuned.

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