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|
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:
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