What do Chad Henning, George Teague, Dat Nguyen, Igor Olshansky and Kelvin Martin have in common? Yes, they are all former Cowboys, but that's not the answer I'm looking for. Stew on that puzzler for a while; I'll come back to it at the end of this post.
Every year during draft season, discussion inevitably turns to the infamous Jimmy Johnson trade value chart. In recent years, pundits opined that, due to escalating salaries for rookies drafted in the top ten picks, the chart no longer applied, as those picks, because they represented such a financial risk, were no longer as valuable as they had been when Johnson commissioned the chart in the late 1980s. With the new CBA's establishment of a rookie wage scale, several observers have noted that the chart has regained its former accuracy, and thus its relevance as a draft-day tool.
Yet many remain unconvinced. They maintain that the numbers in Johnson's chart (where the first pick in the draft is worth 3000 points, the second pick is worth 2600, and so on) are skewed too heavily to the top of the first round and, as a result, those picks are overvalued. In a way to devise a trade chart that reflects the actual historical performance of each pick, some brilliant thinkers have turned to the fine gents at Pro-Football-Reference.com, who employ a metric, Career Approximate Value (CAV), which you have seen used with some regularity on these pages. The benefit of CAV 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' six picks in the 2013 draft. 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 some combination of starters and/ or dynamic, impact players. In the 2013 draft's early rounds, Dallas seems to be targeting wide receivers, safeties and offensive guards. As Cowboys fans, when we think of "dynamic, impact players" at these positions, we tend to think of guys like 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 do the above names have in common? All have a CAV of 38, exactly half a point higher than the Cowboys first round pick, number eighteen. In other words, if the Cowboys pick has an eighteenth pick's average career, he'll closely resemble Dat Nguyen or Kelvin Martin. How about their picks in other rounds? Here's a mock draft consisting of players whose careers approximate to the average CAV at the picks Dallas currently owns in rounds two though six:
Mark Washington, DB, 1970-'79 (25 CAV)
Solomon Page, OT, 1999-'03 (17)
David LaFleur, TE, 1997-'00 (13)
Godfrey Miles, LB, 1991-'96 (10)
Pat Watkins, S, 2006-'10 (7)
If the Cowboys have what the above table would consider to be an average draft, the players they bring in would resemble these luminaries, albeit at different positions. I'd bet If I told you right now that, in April, the Cowboys were going to get a Chad Henning in the first round followed by this less-than-inspiring crew, you'd almost certainly be 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 observersd 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 Dallas' picks roll off the board in late April, 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 2009 draft. Did the Cowboys really swing and miss?