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BTB Mailbag: Could The Cowboys Have Drafted Better in 2010?

With the benefit of hindsight, every single draft could be optimized. Within some pretty tight parameters, we take a look at how the 2010 Cowboys draft could perhaps have gone differently and compare it to the real draft class of 2010.


Question: "As we ponder what we should do next, we can't help looking back and wondering what we should've done in recent years. I know that helps no one, but I thought it would be interesting to take a look back at the last couple of drafts and toy around with some different scenarios."

BTB-member Danny Phantom asked the question above via Facebook, and while he specified that he wanted to see a couple of different scenarios for the 2011 and 2012 drafts, I've decided to start with the 2010 draft, and ask the question: "Could the Cowboys have drafted better in 2010?"

Of course they could have. Every team could have. That's why I usually try to avoid these types of questions, because I don't believe much in hindsight and the type of revisionist grandstanding that often goes along with it. But since we are serious about our mailbag questions, I'll give this question a try.

Three years after the fact, it looks like defensive lineman Geno Atkins may have been the steal of the 2010 draft. The Bengals picked him with the 120th pick in the fourth round, and Atkins has been to two Pro Bowls, has one All Pro nomination to his credit and notched 23 sacks in three years. Should the Cowboys have picked him? Of course they should have. And 31 other teams should have picked him earlier as well. But they didn't.

So putting together an All-Star list of players the Cowboys should have drafted in 2010 doesn't serve any purpose except perhaps some hindsight trolling, but that's not what I want to do. Instead I'll try to construct four different scenarios of how the 2010 draft could have gone (within some pretty tight parameters) and compare them to what actually happened.

To compare the different alternatives, I'll use a metric called "Career Approximate Value". This metric was developed by Doug Drinen at and is designed to assign a value to any player at any position for any given year. The algorithm behind AV weights position specific metrics (i.e. yards or points scored/allowed) with an indicator for durability (total games played and seasons as their team's primary starter) and quality (Pro Bowl and All Pro nominations) and then normalizes all this at a team level. The higher the number, the better. As a reference, the best CarAV in the 2010 draft class belongs to Rob Gronkowski with 36.

Here's how the Cowboys' 2010 draft class stacks up in terms of Career Approximate Value:

Round Pick Name POS CarAV
1 24 Dez Bryant WR 25
2 55 Sean Lee ILB 13
4 126 Akwasi Owusu-Ansah S 2
6 179 Sam Young OT 0
6 196 Jamar Wall CB 0
7 234 Sean Lissemore DE 5
Total 52*

*Note: The Cowboys traded their original 5th-round pick to Denver for Montrae Holland, who had seven AV-points for the Cowboys from 2010-11. Those seven points are included in the total above.

In addition to the Holland trade, the Cowboys moved around a lot in the 2010 draft, moving up twice to grab Bryant and Lee, but also moving down in the fourth to acquire an extra sixth-round pick. So the first alternative scenario we'll look at is one where we simply look at which players were picked in the Cowboys' original spots.

Scenario 1: What if the Cowboys hadn't moved at all?

For this scenario, we'll be very straightforward and simply sum up the CarAV of the players that were picked with the Cowboys' original draft picks:

Round Pick Name POS CarAV
1 27 Devin McCourty
CB 23
2 59 Montario Hardesty RB 4
3 90 Taylor Price WR 1
4 125 Clay Harbor FB 8
5 158 Matt Tennant OC 0
6 196 Jamar Wall
CB 0
7 234 Sean Lissemore DE 5
Total 41

If the Cowboys had stayed put and simply picked the players who ended up getting picked in their original spot, the Cowboys 2010 draft class would have had a lower CarAV than the real draft class did. With the exception of Clay Harbor, the later rounds would have been just as barren as they turned out to be in reality, and even the extra third-round pick wouldn't have amounted to much.

So let's relax the rules a little for our next scenario:

Scenario 2: What if the Cowboys had drafted the next best player at that position?

In this scenario, the Cowboys draft the same positions they did (and in the spot they did), but they take the next best player at the position. So instead of taking Dez Bryant, the second WR taken in the draft, they take Dexter McCluster, the third WR taken in the draft. If we do this for all picks, we end up with the following draft class:

Round Pick Name POS CarAV
1 27 Dexter McCluster
WR 10
2 59 Brandon Spikes LB 12
3 90 Al Woods DT 2
4 125 Kam Chancellor S 16
5 158 Chris DeGeare
OL 2
6 196 Jorrick Calvin
CB 0
7 234 Ricardo Matthews DE 0
Total 42

In the table above, the Cowboys draft the same positions they did in the draft, except for the third rounder: Here I looked at the Cowboys' 2010 supplemental pick, Josh Brent, for inspiration and went with a defensive tackle big enough to play the nose for the Cowboys.

Overall, with the exception of Kam Chancellor, none of the players above would have been an improvement over the players the Cowboys drafted. Which brings us to our next scenario:

Scenario 3: What if the Cowboys had drafted the best player available within the next five picks?

For this scenario, we'll once again use the Cowboys original, pre-trade draft picks, but we'll pick the player with the best AV within five picks of the original pick. Example: The Cowboys originally held the 27th spot in the draft. Of the five players taken between the 27th and the 31st spot, CB Devin McCourty has the highest CarAV with 23, so he'll be our choice in this scenario:

Round Pick Name POS CarAV
1 27 Devin McCourty
CB 23
2 59 Pat Angerer
LB 14
3 90 Navorro Bowman LB 34
4 125 Clay Harbor FB 8
5 158 Riley Cooper
WR 6
6 196 Trindon Holiday
WR 4
7 234 Sean Lissemore DE 5
Total 94

This type of cherry picking yields a fairly high CarAV in large parts due to Navorro Bowman, who has the second highest CarAV in this entire draft class. Assuming the first two picks had happened as described, with McCourty and Angerer falling to the Cowboys, it's highly unlikely the Cowboys would have picked a second linebacker in the third round. In that case, the best player would have been OG Shaun Lauvao with a CarAV of 12, which would still have resulted in a total value of 72 for this scenario.

I'm sure the Cowboys would have been slaughtered if they had picked two LBs and two WRs in the 2010 draft, but that's where the value was within the closely define parameter of the next five picks.

The three scenarios so far are obviously all highly speculative, and the one thing we know with a confidence bordering on certainty is that none of them would have happened in the way described. Which leads us to the final Scenario:

Scenario 4: What if the Cowboys had taken the best player on their board?

Fortunately for us (and the reason why I chose 2010 over 2011 or 2012) we know what the Cowboys' 2010 actual draft board looked like, so we should be able to tell what would have happened had the Cowboys stayed put and chosen the highest ranked player on their board when it came time to hand in their picks. This is what that draft could have looked like:

Round Pick Name POS Grade Drafted CarAV
1 27 Jared Odrick
DE 1st rd
28th 12
2 59 Morgan Burnett
S 2nd rd
71st 13
3 90 Brandon Ghee CB 2nd rd
96th 1
4 125 Akwasi Owusu-Ansah S 4th rd
126th 2
5 158 Carlton Mitchell
WR 4th rd
177th 0
6 196 Tony Pike
QB 4th rd
204th 0
7 234 Sean Lissemore DE - -
Total 33

Jared Odrick was the highest-rated player remaining on the Cowboys' board (Sean Lee was technically higher, but injury concerns pushed him into the second round) by the time the 27th pick rolled around. Burnett and Ghee both had a second-round grade and were both still around for the Cowboys' 59 and 90th picks. Shockingly, AOA was the highest rated player in the fourth round on the Cowboys' board. Carlton Mitchell and Tony Pike were also both rated as 4th-rounders and would have been the highest-rated players left on the board for the Cowboys' fifth- and sixth-round picks. The Cowboys didn't have any seventh rounders on their board, so we'll assume they would have gone with Lissemore here as well.

It's a little deflating to see that the Cowboys would likely have lost value had they stuck stringently to their board, even though we keep hearing that the best strategy is to stick to your board. And while I am not a fan of trading up at all, it seems like moving up delivered better results than had the Cowboys stayed put.

I realize of course that we've been comparing a lot of hypothetical scenarios here, and that the purpose of the draft is not to maximize some obscure CarAV metric. As such, there's only so much you can take away from an exercise like this. Overall though, it looks like the Cowboys should be happy with the Bryant and Lee picks, and lucked into Sean Lissemore late. But the picks in between delivered little in terms of tangible results. They'll have to do better this year.

As I said above, all four scenarios are constructed within some pretty tight parameters. I think this is the only way to approach such an exercise without descending too far into the Land of Wishful Thinking with unicorns and rainbows aplenty. Having said that, I now hand over this post to Captain Hindsight. The Captain will use his uncanny revisionist powers to construct a draft class with the maximum CarAV that would leave even the revisionist historians of the old Soviet Union slack-jawed in utter amazement:

Round Pick Name POS Team Drafted CarAV
1 27 Rob Gronkowski
NE 42 36
2 59 Navorro Bowman LB SFO 91 34
90 Geno Atkins DT CIN 120 33
4 125 Kam Chancellor S SEA 133 16
5 158 Antonio Brown WR PIT 195 17
6 196 J'Marcus Webb OT CHI 218 15
7 234 Kavell Conner LB IND 240 18
Total 169

In the next instalment, we'll look at the 2011 draft class. But we'll be constructing our scenarios a bit differently. Stay tuned.

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