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Thriving in Hell: How the Cowboys Won the '05 Draft

I'm sick of running through scenarios and mock drafts.  I've been ready for the real thing since last week.  In the meantime, here's a scary story which demonstrates the incredible degrees of hype and overkill associated with drafts. Most importantly, it demonstrates how far drafting lives from science.  Read on, but stop eating before you do.

The current Sporting News Draft 2010 guide carries a feature on the star-crossed 2005 draft, considered by many draft veterans the worst of the decade.  The stories author referred to it as "hell," noting the abysmal performances of the players drafted in the top ten -- Alex Smith, Ronnie Brown, Cedric Benson, Cadillac Williams, Pacman Jones, Antrell Rolle, Carlos Rogers and Mike Williams comprised it.  He goes on to note the star-crossed fortunes of picks like Matt Jones, Mike Williams, Maurice Clarett, Darrent Williams and Chris Henry.

Then-Texans GM Charlie Casserley is quoted as saying that all drafts are not created equal, and that the '05 crop was considered weak in its day.  I would counter Casserley by pointing out that all teams pick from the same pool, and those which manage to excel when everybody else is taking a mulligan can gain a vital edge over their competitors.

With five years to offer perspective, we can safety conclude that 2005 was a dismal draft crop.  However, a small number of teams like the New York Giants and San Diego Chargers stood out.  No team did did better in this "draft hell" than out own Dallas Cowboys, who caught up to the rest of the league by acing this unfair test.

I've set the bar very low for this chart. In order to be counted as a starter, you have to have started for the team that drafted you in eight or more games for two consecutive seasons.  Note how many teams failed to meet this meager standard:

(S-S-O-T stands for Starters Still on Team)

Team  Starters   S-S-O-T   Top Draftees 
Arizona  1 0 Antrel Rolle


3 2 Roddy White, Jonathan Babineaux
Baltimore 1 1 Mark Clayton
Buffalo 1 1 Roscoe Parrish
Carolina 1 1 Thomas Davis
Chicago 2 0 Cedric Benson, Kyle Orton
Cincinnati 1 0 Chris Henry
Cleveland 2 0 Braylon Edwards
Dallas 6 4 Demarcus Ware, Jay Ratliff, Marion Barber, Chris Canty, Marcus Spears        
Denver 2 0 Darrent Williams
Detroit 1 0 Shaun Cody
Green Bay 3 3 Aaron Rodgers, Nick Collins
Houston 1 0 C.C. Brown
Indianapolis 2 1 Kelvin Haydin
Jacksonville 3 0 Khalif Barnes, Gerald Sensabaugh
Kansas City 2 2 Derrick Johnson
Miami 3 1 Ronnie Brown, Channing Crowder
Minnesota 2 0 Troy Williamson
New England 4 2 Logan Mankins, Nick Kaczur, Matt Cassell, Ellis Hobbs
New Orleans 2 1 Jamaal Brown
Giants 3 3 Justin Tuck, Corey Webster, Brandon Jacobs
Jets 2 0 Kerry Rhodes
Oakland 2 1 Kirk Morrison, Fabian Washington
Philadelphia 4 3 Trent Cole, Mike Patterson, Todd Herremens
Pittsburgh 3 2 Heath Miller, Chris Kemoeatu
San Diego 4 4 Shawne Merriman, Vincent Jackson, Darren Sproles, Luis Castillo
San Francisco 3 3 Frank Gore, Alex Smith, David Baas
Seattle 3 3 Lofa Tatupu, Chris Spencer, Leroy Hill
St. Louis 3 3 Alex Barron, O.J. Atogwe
Tampa Bay 3 2 Barrett Ruud, Cadillac Williams
Tennessee 4 3 Michael Roos, David Stewart, Bo Scaife
Washington 2 1 Carlos Rodgers, Jason Campbell


Note how many teams have little to nothing to show for that year's effort:

Teams with no starters from their '05 draft   10 
Teams with 1 starter from their '05 draft     8
Teams with 2 starters from their '05 draft     5
Teams with 3 starters from their '05 draft     7
Teams with 4 starters from their '05 draft     2


Dallas climbed back to respectability on this draft.   It finished 6-10 in 2004 but hasn't finished below 9-7 since. No other team can match the six current starters the Cowboys scouts found that April. Dallas built the much of its defensive front seven, getting a complete line in Chris Canty, Jay Ratliff and Marcus Spears.  No player from that draft has out-performed Demarcus Ware, the game's premier pass rusher.  Even a "wasted pick" like 2nd rounder Kevin Burnett starts today for the Chargers.

The Cowboys know the flip side of this scenario.  The Dallas front office flunked the hyped 1983 draft, which was clotted with Hall of Famers and All Pros.  Dallas tried in vain to trade up for John Elway, then passed on Dan Marino in favor of Jim Jeffcoat.  In the second round, it overlooked DT Bill Pickel and took Mike Walter, who was cut in training camp.  The Cowboys passed on DE Charles Mann in the 3rd and picked the forgettable DE Brian Caldwell instead.

A draft that could have added a young quarterback and rebuilt the aging defense line instead left Tom Landry's jet running without fuel.  The team missed the playoffs the following season and made the playoffs just one more time before Landry was replaced.

Thursday's draft has been rated by some as similar in quality to '83's, at least in the early rounds.  Another performance like '05's could put the Cowboys back on top.  Another like '83's would be too painful to imagine.

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