Cowboys 2014 Draft Class: Recalibrating Our Expectations

Zack Martin's career may more closely resemble Chad Henning's than Larry Allen's - Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

As we begin OTAs, and reports emerge extolling the play of the Cowboys most recent draft crop, it's important that we take a step back and recalibrate our expectations to the actual historical performance of first-year players. In the first part of a multi-part series, we use the Harvard Draft Trade Value Chart to establish more realistic career productivity targets for the newest crop of Cowboys.

Before I begin, I'd like to throw out a name from Cowboys' past: Kelvin Martin. He has something in common with Dallas' first-round draft pick this year. And, no, its not just his last name.

In recent years, some good thinking has gone into evaluating the effectiveness of draft picks. One method, which will provide the statistical thrust of today's post, seeks to devise a trade chart that reflects the actual historical performance of each pick. Since the 2013 draft day trade with the 49ers, we have been all-too aware of the Harvard Trade Chart, which relies on the gents at Pro-Football-Reference.com and their patented metric, Career Approximate Value (CAV). The benefit of CAV - and this is precisely why the smarties at Harvard use it -  is that it allows us to compare players across seasons and positions.

Using the average CAV of picks one through 224 (which represent rounds one through seven in a draft without compensatory picks) from 1980 to 2005, we can come up with a revised "Expected Value Chart" based more explicitly on actual performance. Using a combination of sources, here's what I came up with:

Round 1 Round 2 Round 3 Round 4 Round 5 Round 6 Round 7
Pick Value Pick Value Pick Value Pick Value Pick Value Pick Value Pick Value
1.1 74.3 2.33 29.7 3.65 20.3 4.97 14.7 5.129 11.4 6.161 8.7 7.193 6.5
1.2 64.5 2.34 29.3 3.66 20.1 4.98 14.6 5.130 11.3 6.162 8.6 7.194 6.5
1.3 60.3 2.35 28.9 3.67 19.9 4.99 14.5 5.131 11.2 6.163 8.5 7.195 6.4
1.4 56.6 2.36 28.5 3.68 19.6 4.100 14.3 5.132 11.1 6.164 8.5 7.196 6.3
1.5 53.8 2.37 28.1 3.69 19.4 4.101 14.2 5.133 11.0 6.165 8.4 7.197 6.3
1.6 51.5 2.38 27.7 3.70 19.2 4.102 14.1 5.134 10.9 6.166 8.3 7.198 6.2
1.7 49.5 2.39 27.4 3.71 18.9 4.103 14.0 5.135 10.8 6.167 8.3 7.199 6.2
1.8 47.8 2.40 27.1 3.72 18.7 4.104 13.9 5.136 10.7 6.168 8.2 7.200 6.1
1.9 46.3 2.41 26.8 3.73 18.5 4.105 13.8 5.137 10.6 6.169 8.1 7.201 6.0
1.10 45.0 2.42 26.6 3.74 18.3 4.106 13.7 5.138 10.6 6.170 8.0 7.202 6.0
1.11 43.7 2.43 26.4 3.75 18.1 4.107 13.6 5.139 10.5 6.171 8.0 7.203 5.9
1.12 42.7 2.44 26.2 3.76 17.9 4.108 13.5 5.140 10.4 6.172 7.9 7.204 5.9
1.13 41.6 2.45 25.9 3.77 17.7 4.109 13.3 5.141 10.3 6.173 7.8 7.205 5.8
1.14 40.7 2.46 25.6 3.78 17.5 4.110 13.2 5.142 10.2 6.174 7.8 7.206 5.7
1.15 39.8 2.47 25.3 3.79 17.3 4.111 13.1 5.143 10.1 6.175 7.7 7.207 5.7
1.16 39.0 2.48 25.0 3.80 17.2 4.112 13.0 5.144 10.1 6.176 7.7 7.208 5.6
1.17 38.2 2.49 24.7 3.81 17.0 4.113 12.9 5.145 10.0 6.177 7.6 7.209 5.5
1.18 37.5 2.50 24.4 3.82 16.8 4.114 12.8 5.146 9.9 6.178 7.5 7.210 5.5
1.19 36.8 2.51 24.1 3.83 16.7 4.115 12.7 5.147 9.8 6.179 7.4 7.211 5.4
1.20 36.1 2.52 23.8 3.84 16.5 4.116 12.6 5.148 9.7 6.180 7.4 7.212 5.4
1.21 35.5 2.53 23.5 3.85 16.3 4.117 12.5 5.149 9.6 6.181 7.3 7.213 5.3
1.22 34.9 2.54 23.2 3.86 16.1 4.118 12.4 5.150 9.6 6.182 7.2 7.214 5.3
1.23 34.3 2.55 23.0 3.87 16.0 4.119 12.3 5.151 9.5 6.183 7.1 7.215 5.2
1.24 33.8 2.56 22.7 3.88 15.9 4.120 12.2 5.152 9.4 6.184 7.1 7.216 5.2
1.25 33.3 2.57 22.4 3.89 15.8 4.121 12.1 5.153 9.3 6.185 7.0 7.217 5.1
1.26 32.8 2.58 22.1 3.90 15.6 4.122 12.0 5.154 9.3 6.186 6.9 7.218 5.1
1.27 32.3 2.59 21.9 3.91 15.4 4.123 11.9 5.155 9.2 6.187 6.9 7.219 5.0
1.28 31.8 2.60 21.6 3.92 15.3 4.124 11.8 5.156 9.1 6.188 6.8 7.220 5.0
1.29 31.4 2.61 21.3 3.93 15.2 4.125 11.7 5.157 9.0 6.189 6.8 7.221 4.9
1.30 30.9 2.62 21.1 3.94 15.1 4.126 11.6 5.158 9.0 6.190 6.7 7.222 4.9
1.31 30.5 2.63 20.8 3.95 14.9 4.127 11.6 5.159 8.9 6.191 6.7 7.223 4.8
1.32 30.1 2.64 20.6 3.96 14.8 4.128 11.5 5.160 8.8 6.192 6.6 7.224 4.8

The picks and average CAV values highlighted in yellow are those for the Cowboys' picks in the 2014 draft, with all their seventh rounders clustered as the 224th pick. A legion of scribes and fervent followers of the team have proclaimed that this draft is of particular import to an organization mired in consecutive 8-8 seasons, and that, to break from mediocrity's clutches, they "need to draft no fewer than (insert number) of starters and/ or dynamic, impact players". As Cowboys fans, when we think of "dynamic, impact players," our minds jump to the likes of Michael Irvin, Darren Woodson or Larry Allen.

As the above chart suggests, this kind of thinking is unrealistic. Allow me to return to the question with which we began. What does K-Mart have to do with Z-Mart? He has a CAV of 39, exactly that of the average sixteenth pick, which is where the Cowboys selected the Notre Dame guard on May 8. In other words, if Zack Martin has a sixteenth pick's average career, he'll closely resemble Kelvin Martin (or Dat Nguyen, Dennis Thurman, or Chad Henning, all of whom have career AVs within one of 39).

How about their picks in other rounds? Here's a mock draft consisting of players whose careers approximate the average CAV at the picks where Dallas selected their recent draft haul, with the pick number and its average CAV. Because I'm a generous guy, I've given you two former Cowboys at each slot from which to choose:

34 (29.3): Omar Stoutmire, Larry Brown
119 (12.3): Kenneth Gant, Clay Shiver
146 (9.9): Godfrey Myles, Sherman Williams
231-254 (4.8): Pete Hunter, Montavious Stanley

If the Cowboys have what the above table would consider to be an average draft, the players they drafted in rounds two, four, five and seven would resemble these luminaries, albeit at different positions. I'd bet If I told you in April that the Cowboys were going to get a Chad Henning in the first round followed by this less-than-inspiring crew, you'd almost certainly have been gravely disappointed. In no small part, this is because, as fans, we set our expectations too high. When drafts (inevitably) fail to meet those lofty expectations, we are quick to conclude that the front office has failed.

History suggests otherwise. The above mock would offer a much greater top-to-bottom CAV consistency than any Dallas draft in the last ten years - with the exception of 2005's mighty haul. Of course we all want the team to enjoy another anno miabilis like that one. But, as many wise observers have asserted, the draft is a crapshoot; no team consistently achieves that level of success. The lesson here is that we must temper our expectations. As 2014's draft class begins their NFL careers, facing off against established vets for the first time in OTAs, it would do us all well to remember this, if for no other reason than our long-term mental health.

Next: A look at the likelihood of finding a starter, by draft round

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