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Have The Dallas Cowboys Drafted Enough Defensive Linemen?

A by-the-numbers look at how the Cowboys compare to other teams when it comes to drafting defensive linemen.


It's the end of an era. In 2005 Dallas had one of the greatest drafts in team history. Not only did the draft bring us future Hall of Famer DeMarcus Ware, it also brought fellow defensive linemen Marcus Spears, Chris Canty and Jay Ratliff. The following draft brought us another future Pro-Bowler in Jason Hatcher. That group formed the core of Dallas' defensive line for the next eight years.

With Ware going to Denver and Hatcher signing with hated Washignton, that core group is gone now. Which makes it a fitting time to look at a meme that has been occurring more and more frequently around these parts; the idea that Dallas does not devote enough draft picks to the defensive line.

To begin with, that's a difficult thing to qualify. With the increase in "flexible" defenses that switch between the 3-4 and the 4-3, it's hard to know what exactly constitutes a defensive lineman as opposed to a linebacker. For this exercise I'm going to say that a linebacker who moves down to DE on passing downs qualifies as a defensive lineman. So has Dallas invested adequately in its defensive line? Let's look at what the numbers say.


To get an adequate sample size I've examined every team's draft over the past 10 years, going back to 2005.  We'll be looking at three main criteria: total picks spent, premium picks spent, (any pick in rounds 1-3), and average round of the picks (literally the average of all a team's DL picks by round). As I stated above, I'm including edge rushers who will move down to DE on passing downs, so for instance in this year's draft I'm counting Anthony Barr and Khalil Mack as DL, (and yes, I went through every team's main defensive formation and whether a draft pick was considered an OLB or ILB for the 3-4 teams. And yes, that was time consuming).  Please note: This is not an argument on how good a team's defensive line is, or how well a team drafted, (that's coming next week).  This is simply a way to quantify how many draft resources a team spent on defensive linemen over the past 10 years. Which also means I'm not including UDFA's.


So is the meme accurate? Has Dallas under-drafted defensive linemen? Well...not really! Here's the league averages over the past 10 years compared to what our Cowboys have done.

Team Number of picks Premium Picks Average Round
NFL Average 14.2 6.7 3.8
Dallas 18 7 4

Dallas outperforms the league average in total number of picks and premium picks, and is just behind in average round of pick.

"So" you may be asking yourself, "what does it all mean?" To which I'll respond, "that's an excellent question. And the answer is 42". Then I'll walk away while yelling at you to not forget your towel.

But that's neither here nor there. These numbers are fine and all, but what is the context? Does this mean Dallas is much better than league average? Slightly better? What?

To answer that question I've created a draft score, by dividing the total number of picks by the average round of the pick. This gives a good approximation of how many resources a team actually spent. A team that picked seven defensive linemen over this time period, each with a first-round pick, would get a score of seven. A team that picked one defensive lineman with a seventh-round pick would get a score of one.

Here is how every team in the NFL did:

Team Total Picks Premium Picks Avg. Round Draft Score
Texans 17 11 3.0 5.67
Eagles 20 11 3.8 5.26
Steelers 19 8 3.7 5.14
Chargers 12 7 2.4 5.00
Cowboys 18 7 4.0 4.50
Chiefs 16 10 3.6 4.44
Patriots 18 9 4.1 4.39
Bears 13 8 3.5 4.29
Lions 14 7 3.4 4.12
Panthers 16 9 3.9 4.10
Seahawks 18 5 4.4 4.09
Bucs 15 6 3.7 4.05
Giants 13 9 3.3 3.94
Rams 14 6 3.8 3.68
Bengals 15 8 4.1 3.66
Falcons 16 5 4.4 3.63
Browns 15 7 4.2 3.57
Packers 15 5 4.2 3.57
Colts 14 6 4.0 3.50
49ers 15 5 4.3 3.49
Ravens 12 7 3.5 3.42
Titans 15 5 4.4 3.41
Dolphins 15 7 4.5 3.33
Broncos 12 5 3.7 3.24
Vikings 14 4 4.4 3.18
Jaguars 12 6 3.8 3.16
Oakland 14 5 4.5 3.11
Cardinals 10 5 3.5 2.86
Bills 9 6 3.3 2.73
Jets 9 6 3.3 2.73
Saints 10 4 4.0 2.50
Redskins 8 4 3.75 2.13

As you can see, the Texans are the runaway favorites using this method, (starting in 2005 they spent three first round picks on the DL, then starting in 2009 spent a second, a third, a first, and another second), followed by the Eagles. But look there! That's our very own Dallas Cowboys rounding out the top five, posting a very impressive 4.5 score. And the cherry on top, Washington is at the very bottom.

So there you have it ladies and gentlemen. Contrary to popular belief, Dallas has invested quite heavily in it's DL over the years. Unfortunately, no single unit can guarantee wins in the NFL, (ask the Lions, they've tried with the DL and WR's). The numbers don't lie, and that's another meme busted.

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