Five Moments That Shaped The Cowboys' 2013 Season (Pt. II): Trading Back In Round One

Fredbeard! - Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Our series on five decisions, moments or organizational decisions that had significant long-term repercussions over the course of the 2013 season continues with a look at the front office's decision to trade back in round one of the 2013 draft.

Part I: Hiring Kiffin

Here, in part II, I want to turn to three days in April that I believe had a significant (and welcome) impact on the 2013 season. I'm not going to re-hash what OCC terms the "Floyd Kerfluffle," that occurred when the Cowboys were sitting on the clock with the 18th pick in the first round. That has been oft covered, most recently (and quite intelligently, I might add) in Tom's recent article on Will McClay and the Cowboys' reshuffling of their organizational chart.

Since Sharrif Floyd was not, in fact, drafted by the Cowboys, he made no impact on Dallas' 2013 season, other than taking a few snaps in the week nine tilt for Minnesota, the team that eventually drafted him (Floyd was shut out, incidentally, in that game, registering no tackles or sacks). Rather, I'd like to focus on the players who were drafted, as they proved to have a real impact on the season - and in a very positive fashion.

In fact, I believe that this was the team's best draft since 2005. They drafted the best player at his position in round one, and then proceeded to get good to great value (according to their board) in rounds two through six. And I'm not the only one who thinks so. In a recent series of looks at last April's rookie haul, our resident cyborg, OCC noted that they represent the most productive class of recent vintage, and accrued an impressive (and necessary) amount of playing time in their initial campaigns. Looking at this data, Cool concludes:

The Cowboys' decision to move down in the draft pays dividends in that they got 16 starts from Travis Frederick, and an extra eight from Terrance Williams. These two rookies lead a rookie class that played almost twice as many snaps as the next best class of the last six years.

As OCC suggests, the strength of the draft lay on the offensive side, a development that balanced out the 2012 draft's defensive orientation. The obvious home run is center Travis Frederick, who stepped in at the pivot on day one and conducted himself like a five-year veteran. He should combine with fellow youngster, left tackle Tyron Smith, to form the heart of a line for the next decade. For the first time since 2009, the offensive line wasn't a liability. In fact, as the season wore on, it became a strength; DeMarco Murray finished fourth in the league in yards per carry, with 5.2 a pop.

But Fredbeard wasn't the only rookie who conducted himself with preternatural maturity. A strong case can be made that Terrance Williams enjoyed the best season of any rookie receiver in franchise history excluding Bob Hayes. Let's take a peek:

Player Year Receptions Yards Touchdowns
Bob Hayes 1965 46 1003 12
Drew Pearson 1973 22 388 2
Michael Irvin 1988 32 654 5
Alvin Harper 1991 20 326 1
Antonio Bryant 2002 44 733 6
Dez Bryant 2010 45 561 6
Terrance Williams 2013 44 736 5

We are likely to agree that Bob Hayes's rookie campaign sets the bar here. Other than Hayes, however, Williams' first season stacks up against anyone's, and I'd certainly take it over those of Pearson, Irvin, and Harper. On a team that was filled with offensive playmakers, but with precious few guys boasting the kind of speed that scares defenses, Williams has the wheels to "take a top off a defense" - thus allowing the Dez Bryants and Jason Wittens of the world to ply their trade underneath and down the seam.

On the other hand, one of the reasons the Floyd Kerfluffle persists is because the 2013 season's enduring narrative is sure to be Dallas' defensive line struggles. As a result, Jerry Jones will continue to be mocked for his draft day statement that D-line is one of the team's strengths. Not that I have any problem with gibes thrown Jerry's way, but in this case I think he was right. Sure, as the defensive line began to sustain a historic number of injuries and games missed, the absence of a defensive lineman (any defensive lineman!) on the team's draft roster became increasingly problematic. But this is hindsight quibbling; no front office can plan for the kind of injuries the team sustained to that position group. Therefore, not drafting a D-lineman, in my eyes, only incrementally mitigates what proved to be a very successful draft.

Why was it so successful? For many reasons, some of which have to do with luck and the way the draft cards were dealt. That said, I believe that the Cowboys broke with tradition a bit, and conducted themselves in the way the better franchises do: they traded back rather than trading up in the draft. To illustrate this assertion, allow me to turn your attention to the Harvard Trade Value Chart recently discussed on these pages. Using a statistic called "Career Approximate Value," this chart, developed by a Harvard economics student, offers an updated and, many believe, more accurate articulation of a pick's value than the old "Jimmy Johnson chart" did. In fact, evidence suggests that it was this chart, or a very similar one, the Cowboys used when negotiating the first-round trade with San Francisco last April.

Because of this, I wanted to use the Harvard chart as an assessment tool for the last few Cowboys drafts. What I did was to compare the accumulated value of the Cowboys picks before and after they traded up or down. Thankfully, recent Cowboys history provides us with examples of each maneuver: they traded up in 2010 (twice) and 2012, and traded down in 2013. What I've compiled below is the total value of the Cowboys picks before they began trading and those after their trades:

Year Total Value Before Trades Total Value After Trades Difference in Total Value
2010 (trade up) 600.7 520.6 -80.1
2012 (trade up) 844.1 761.8 -82.3
2013 (trade back) 677.4 780.6 103.2

This is an admittedly small sample, but we can see how trading back in 2013 added more total value to the draft and that trading up to snag the players they wanted cost the Cowboys value in both 2010 and 2012. We should not be too surprised about this; one of the corrections the Harvard chart makes is to devalue the picks at the top of the draft, as they are comparatively much higher on the old Johnson chart than actual player performance warrants.

I'm not saying the Cowboys had their most successful draft in almost a decade because they traded back. It appears they scouted well and generally did a good job following their board. Then, they followed a loose "BPA" philosophy, allowing them to accrue maximum value after the value-added trade back. For all these reasons, 2013's rookie class made a greater impact on the season than any class we've seen in some time.

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