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Draft '09: A Cowboys Four Pack Would Make Me Happy

We're seeing increased speculation that the Cowboys will again move around on draft days, with eleven picks to fortify them.  (Nine actually, since the two supplemental picks cannot be dealt). Some people do think Dallas will utilize all eleven picks. Some think they'll make nine picks, or eight.Last year, if you recall, Dallas made only six.

Of more importance is the number of selectees who stuck. Dallas got immediate production from the five draftees who made the final roster -- Felix Jones, Mike Jenkins, Martellus Bennett, Tashard Choice and Orlando Scandrick.

Five represents a high number, a very high number, in Dallas draft history. It's rare for the team, even in the Landry days, to come away from a draft with more than three players who became starters. Look at the team's foundational drafts, from 1961 through 1969. You never see a year where Dallas generated more than three starters from any crop. What's also clear is that the hits were not solid singles, but draft-day grand slams:

Starters, by year:

  • 1961- Bob Lilly
  • 1962 - George Andrie
  • 1963 - Lee Roy Jordan;
  • 1964 - Mel Renfro, Bob Hayes, Roger Staubach
  • 1965 - Craig Morton, Jethro Pugh
  • 1966 -- John Niland, Willie Townes, Walt Garrison
  • 1967 -- Rayfield Wright
  • 1968 -- Blaine Nye, D.D. Lewis, Larry Cole
  • 1969 - Calvin Hill

A real quality over quantity list. In the pre-cap era, a success rate like this, and a patient owner, could let you build to championship mass. Not so in the cap era, where intense roster churn occurs.

That said, you can't count on half a dozen quality players, never mind starters, every year. Look at Jimmy Johnson's Herschel Walker-trade enriched classes:

  • '89 -- 4 starters (Aikman, Johnston, Stepnoski, Tolbert)
  • '90 -- 1 starter, 3 "keepers" (E. Smith, J. Jones, Gant)
  • '91 -- 6 starters (Maryland, Harper, Edwards, Williams, Lett, Brown)
  • '92 -- 4 starters (K. Smith, R. Jones, J. Smith, Woodson)
  • '93 -- 3 starters, 4 keepers -- (K. Williams, D. Smith, Stone, Marion)

Note, Jimmy Johnson's individual drafts, the '91 class aside, didn't produce bushels of great players. (And it should be noted that Jimmy drafted 18 players to get that '91 class.) What Johnson demonstrated was something that has evaded Dallas, through the Jerry 1.0 and the Parcells years -- the ability to land three or four solid players for several consecutive years.

Look at the starters and keepers (guys who are solid rotation players, 3rd WRs, rotation RBs) this decade. (And again, I'm keeping the bar low -- if a guy started for a few seasons, he's considered a hit. If he became a starter for another team -- Jimmy Smith, Matt Lehr, etc., he's considered a hit.)

  • '00 -- no keepers
  • '01 -- 2 starters, 3 keepers (Carter, Blade, Lehr)
  • '02 -- 3 starters (R. Williams, Gurode, A. Bryant)
  • '03 -- 3 starters, 4 keepers (Newman, A. Johnson, Witten, James)
  • '04 -- 1 starter, 3 keepers (J. Jones, Crayton, Reeves)
  • '05 -- 5 starters, 6 keepers (Ware, Spears, Burnett, Canty, Barber, Ratliff)
  • '06 -- 1 starter, 3 keepers (Fasano, Hatcher, Watkins)
  • '07 -- 2 starters, 3 keepers (Spencer, Folk, Ball)
  • '08 -- 1 starter, 5 keepers (F. Jones, Jenkins, Bennett, Choice, Scandrick)

Consistency is the word we're looking for. That '05 draft was rich. So was '08's. But in between, Anthony Spencer and Nick Folk are the only draftees making major week-to-week contributions.

If Dallas wants to move up a notch into the league's elite, Tom Ciskowski will have to recommend another four pack of quality youngsters this year. Don't worry about the eight draft picks, or nine draft picks, or trying to get a player to fit every perceived Cowboys hole.

Tell yourself right now, the Cowboys won't get what they want, because they won't. I can't predict if they'll fail to get an inside linebacker or an offensive tackle, or a nose guard, or a safety, but understand they're going to miss on at least one of them. That's just the way drafts work. And that's besides the point.

Dallas may have seven or eight holes, but history shows they'll be okay if they fill half of them next month. Four quality players are what they need.

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