FanPost

Why the Cowboys Should Put Down Their Rifle and Buy a Shotgun

As anyone who has read any of my recent comments knows, I was and am very much opposed to the Cowboys' trade during the recently concluded NFL draft that resulted in the selection of the promising Demarcus Lawrence at the additional cost of the team's 3rd round pick.

The team clearly likes the prospect. In all honesty, I like him, too. But I believe it was a high-risk move from a team that has made far too many of them in recent years.

A couple of days ago, that belief crystallized when I read the following in Bob Sturm's recent post-draft blog post (bold emphasis is mine):

They did what we call, "trading up to get your guy." We call it that because just about every draft in this era, we have "traded up to get our guy" used in a post-draft press conference when describing someone in the Top 3 rounds. To do so, they spend a ton of assets, and put all of their proverbial eggs in one basket.

In 2007, they traded up to get Anthony Spencer (a 2nd, a 3rd, and a 5th), Mike Jenkins in 2008 (traded up using a 1st, 5th, and 7th), Dez Bryant in 2010 (a 1st and a 3rd for Dez and a 4th), Sean Lee (a 2nd and a 4th), and in 2012, Morris Claiborne (a 1st and a 2nd). Add in the 2009 Roy Williams trade (a 1st, a 3rd, and a 6th for Roy and a 7th), and this weekend's Demarcus Lawrence trade (a 2nd and a 3rd) the total is shocking: 7 players for 17 picks (and 2 additional lesser picks in return).

In each case, afterwards, those who wish to look at the cup as half full reason the deal as saying, "well, if you are sure that he is that good you should secure the player." But, in aggregate, you continue to give away bodies. If you consider Top 100 picks where teams find the majority of their starters (and most experts do), then you gave 2 starters for Spencer, 2 for Dez, 2 for Lee, 2 for Claiborne, 2 for Roy Williams, and 2 for Demarcus Lawrence. In other words, 6 players at the cost of 12 starters.

If we do a 2 for 1 deal once in a while for the right guy - Seattle thinks Percy Harvin (a 1st, a 3rd, and a 7th) was worth it, Green Bay wanted to move up to get Clay Matthews (a 2nd, a 3rd, and a 3rd), then fine. But, can you do it 6 times in 8 years? The Cowboys just did.

The frequency with which the team has invested multiple picks in a single player seems causal to its oft bemoaned lack of depth to me. And not just any picks, but the GOOD ones.

And what are good picks? In what has become a rare moment of agreement following the draft, I defer to the good Dr-P, who recently wrote:

the more GOOD picks not just more picks

There is a sweet zone of rounds 1-3 that the bulk of the best players are selected with the highest probabilities of success.

A nickle is still worth more than three pennies

Rounds 1-3. Top 100 picks. These are the picks that should form the 'backbone' of your team. Now, in terms of pure numbers, it's easy to see that Dallas has indeed been among the most profligate teams in the league in recent times when it has come to yielding top 100 picks in trades.

2007-2014

Rank

Team

Picks in Top 3 Rounds

1

NE

31

2

DET

29

CIN

29

4

DEN

28

MIA

28

KC

28

STL

28

8

BAL

27

SF

27

10

BUF

26

CLE

26

NYG

26

13

ATL

25

PIT

25

HOU

25

GB

25

TEN

25

PHI

25

19

CAR

24

TB

24

ARZ

24

22

SD

23

IND

23

JAX

23

25

CHI

22

OAK

22

27

MIN

21

28

NYJ

20

DAL

20

30

SEA

19

NO

19

32

WSH

18

There they sit, tied for 28th in the league with the NY Jets, having made 20 selections in the top 3 rounds in the past 8 years. That's a mind-boggling 11 picks less than the Patriots over the same time period! However, look below Dallas and you'll see a couple of pretty darn good teams, including the Saints and the defending champions, the Seahawks (who most believe are among the league's elite drafting teams... we'll find out about that later). So it's not the worst company to be in. And let's all take a moment to laugh at Washington. Hey, Dallas might live in the outhouse on this chart, but Washington is downwind.

Next, let's look at the expected value of those picks. Not all picks are created equal, after all. The first pick in the draft is more valuable than the last pick of round 3. For this exercise, I simply used the so-called Harvard Chart, which is based on the historical value of each pick position in the draft. I added the Harvard Chart value for each team's selections within the top 3 rounds over the time period.

Rank

Team

Draft Value

1

STL

5959.4

2

DET

5794.6

3

KC

5259.6

4

CLE

5169.8

5

MIA

5162.8

6

BUF

5149.8

7

CIN

5007.6

8

DEN

4958.3

9

NE

4810.3

10

SF

4704.5

11

JAX

4702.0

12

TB

4575.6

13

ATL

4503.6

14

HOU

4382.1

15

ARZ

4296.2

16

OAK

4235.4

17

CAR

4213.0

18

TEN

4210.3

19

PHI

4176.7

20

NYG

4157.8

21

MIN

4102.1

22

GB

4019.4

23

NYJ

4014.9

24

PIT

3970.7

25

BAL

3963.5

26

SD

3888.1

27

IND

3637.3

28

DAL

3599.4

29

WSH

3412.7

30

CHI

3405.7

31

SEA

3393.6

32

NO

3273.8

Okay, so not much change in Dallas' position relative to the rest of the league. Since 2007, the expected value of all the picks they've made in the top 3 rounds has been close to the bottom of the league. At the top of this list we see some 'perennial doormats' of recent times (the Rams, Browns, Bills, et al.) as well as some teams that have managed to accrue lots of top 100 picks (the Patriots, the Bengals, etc.).

So far, this merely indicates that the Cowboys haven't had many premium picks in recent times. This is in contrast to a team like St. Louis, who over the past 8 years has made picks with a whopping 65.6% more draft value than the Cowboys over that time period. But at least Dallas is keeping some good company. The Saints and Seahawks are still looking up at the star!

But theoretical draft value doesn't 'suit up' on Sundays. It's not the picks themselves, it's the players you take with those picks that matter. And if the Cowboys are using picks to 'double down' on 'their guys,' who they feel confident in, well then those gambles will pay off so long as you end up with someone like Dez Bryant, right?

So, next, I looked at the actual Career Approximate Value of the guys that each team has drafted with its top 100 picks. For this, I simply added the CAV values provided at Pro-Football-Reference for each of the players drafted by each team. Let's see if the Cowboys' bets paid off in the aggregate.

Rank

Team

Total CAV

1

ATL

495

2

SF

430

3

DET

425

4

BAL

411

5

KC

405

6

DEN

396

7

MIA

384

8

CIN

368

9

CAR

366

BUF

366

11

PIT

358

12

NE

355

13

HOU

328

14

SEA

323

TEN

323

16

STL

322

17

TB

321

18

CLE

317

19

NYJ

307

20

GB

306

21

ARZ

305

22

MIN

304

23

PHI

289

24

JAX

274

25

SD

273

26

IND

270

27

NYG

266

28

DAL

253

29

NO

250

30

OAK

241

31

CHI

232

32

WSH

216

Unfortunately, it doesn't seem at first glance that they did. Dallas remains stuck at 28th in the league, and this time it's in a measure of the actual performance of the players they picked. But, hey, at least they're still keeping company with the Saints! Hmm, but where did Seattle go? All the way to 14?! Now that's some good drafting (and remember this is only top 3 rounds, so it's not factoring in guys like Sherman and Chancellor)!

Look even higher above Seattle and you'll see some sickening totals, including from widely acclaimed drafting teams such as the Falcons (nearly DOUBLE Dallas' number), 49ers and Ravens, all of whom sport cumulative CAVs in excess of 400.

But some of this is to be expected, right? We've already seen that Dallas is bringing less ammo to the gunfight. In the time sample, Detroit is 2nd in total top 100 picks, 2nd in total draft value of those picks, and 3rd in the CAV haul acquired from those picks. Perhaps Dallas is drafting shrewdly when it comes to actually making a pick relative to other teams. Perhaps Dallas does a good job of converting its theoretic pick 'value' into actual performance.

So, next, I simply determined how much of its pick value each team 'spent' to accrue one point of CAV to perhaps gain insight into how well a team 'converts' theoretical value into real value. This should give us a sense of who the best drafting teams are when it comes to actually scouting, evaluating and making a pick.

Rank

Team

Value 'spent' per point of CAV

1

ATL

7.82

2

BAL

8.15

3

SF

9.37

4

SEA

9.63

5

PIT

9.65

6

CAR

10.29

7

HOU

10.59

8

MIN

11.10

9

GB

11.23

10

DEN

11.41

11

NYJ

11.42

12

NO

11.59

13

TEN

11.70

14

MIA

12.14

15

KC

12.16

16

ARZ

12.22

17

DET

12.27

18

BUF

12.29

19

TB

12.33

CIN

12.33

21

CHI

12.41

22

SD

12.51

23

DAL

12.52

24

IND

12.59

NE

12.59

26

PHI

12.78

27

CLE

13.33

28

NYG

13.53

29

WSH

13.98

30

JAX

14.24

31

OAK

14.92

32

STL

15.43

Well... I guess some improvement is better than none. Yet Dallas still finds itself in the bottom 1/3 of the league. The top of this list reads like a veritable who's who of the teams widely considered to be the best in the business when it comes to drafting in recent years. Falcons, Ravens, 49ers, Seahawks, Steelers, Packers, and Broncos all in the top 10. Color me not surprised.

Of the teams ranked below Dallas here, ONLY Washington (ha ha!) has a lower conversion value AND a lower total CAV haul in the time period. In other words, all but one of the teams that 'fare poorer' than Dallas in converting picks made up for that by having more picks to make.

There is some solace here, though, I suppose. If this list is at all a measure of drafting prowess, then the Cowboys rule the NFC East! Yeah, baby! I guess it also shouldn't come as a surprise that many in the media have taken to calling it the NFC Least in recent years. Kinda disturbing to think that Dallas' semi-competitiveness in the past few years may be in part due to an overall erosion of the division.

And, look, there's the long-standing 'model franchise,' New England, just below Dallas, with almost the same 'conversion' value. Hey, Dallas 'picks 'em better' than the Patriots! Looking at Seattle and New England, I'm struck by two different paths to success.

Seattle just kills it. If any team has earned the right to be overconfident in its evaluations, it's the Seahawks. Remember, since 2007 they've had fewer picks AND less expected draft value from those picks than Dallas, and yet have still managed to generate 27.7% more CAV than the Cowboys in just the top 3 rounds alone (I shudder to think how that discrepancy might grow if Legion of Boomers Sherman and Chancellor were also factored in).

New England on the other hand hasn't been great at picking winners. They're bottom third of the league, just like Dallas. And yet over the same time period, they have generated a staggering 40.3% more CAV than the Cowboys. How? By stockpiling premium picks like no one's business. They're no better, and perhaps even slightly worse, at 'picking winners' than the Cowboys. They just make many more picks and stock their team with value.

Be really good with your picks (Seattle) or make lots of 'em (New England). Or... and prepare to be sick... do both, like the 49ers. San Francisco is top third of the league in both number of top 100 picks and the value of those picks... and then nails it with the second best conversion into CAV in the league. Oh yeah, and they just picked FIVE MORE top 100 guys this past weekend who haven't even contributed yet... and given SF's form I wouldn't bet against them.

***

As a Cowboy fan, this makes me sad. The Cowboys seemingly don't appropriately value their picks -- and haven't for some time -- but also aren't very good at making their picks relative to the rest of the league when they do turn in a card. Looking at their track record, I don't understand their tolerance for risk. I see overconfidence bordering on hubris. I see why the cupboards have been bare.

Bob Sturm ends his discussion about the trade with the following:

But, desperation allows for poor decisions and overpaying. Overpaying allows for a top-heavy roster which can and will be taken down every year after Thanksgiving or so when attrition has had its effect on every roster in the league. We talk about injury luck like it is a real thing. In reality, injury luck is needed much more by teams who don't buy injury insurance in the April draft each year.

So, which are you? Shotgun or sniper?

After the 2013 draft, I had some hope that the Cowboys had learned the value of the shotgun. But this year, they seem to have resumed their spot in the sniper's perch. But with such untrustworthy aim, I don't think that's a good place to be.

***

And with that, I hope to have exorcised my frustrations with this draft. I've found myself annoyed by my own comments lately... overly repetitive and bubbling over with those same frustrations. So I don't think I'm going to comment any more about the trade and if I've annoyed you in turn by those previous comments, I apologize.

I, of course, will be rooting for Zack Martin, Demarcus Lawrence, and the rest of the 2014 class to shine and jack Dallas' CAV values through the roof for years to come. And, when all else fails, the Cowboys can always hang their hat on their UDFA prowess... that's kind of a form of drafting too, right? Sorta? Maybe?



Another user-created commentary provided by a BTB reader.

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