I recently looked at the 53-man Super Bowl rosters for the Patriots and Seahawks to get a better feel for the draft pedigree of each team. Here's how the two teams compare by number of players taken in each round.
Note that this overview is only about the 53 players listed for the Super Bowl. It does not contain players on IR, on the practice squad or players otherwise unavailable for the game.
At first glance, I wasn't too sure what to do with the data. I knew going in that the Seahawks would have more undrafted free agents on their roster than the Patriots, and that turned out to be true. What I didn't expect was the disparity in the top draft picks on both rosters. If you look at the number of first- or second-round picks in the Super Bowl lineups, the Patriots have an advantage in the number of second-rounders.
The Seahawks of course made up for this deficit in draft pedigree with players who significantly outperformed their draft status, especially on their defense. Defensive linemen Michael Bennett and Tony McDaniel were both UDFAs, and the secondary features a trio of late-round picks in Kam Chancellor (5th), Richard Sherman (5th), and Byron Maxwell (6th), which just goes to show that draft pedigree isn't everything.
So how do the Cowboys stack up?
For the Cowboys roster, I also used the 53-man roster of Divisional round game in Green Bay. Obviously, some recent Cowboys draft picks like Morris Claiborne (1st round) or Sean Lee (2nd) were on injured reserve at that time, but they don't influence the overall picture too much - as both the Seahawks (Paul Richardson, 2nd; Zach Miller, 2nd) and Patriots (Jerod Mayo, 1st; Dominique Easley, 1st; Aaron Dobson, 2nd) had players on IR as well.
Having said all that, here's what the season-ending rosters of all three teams looked like last season.
With seven former first-round picks on the roster, the Cowboys look comparable to both the Patriots and Seahawks. Sure, Brandon Weeden counts as one of those former first-rounders, but even without him to Cowboys would hold up well in a comparison of first-rounders with Anthony Spencer, Dez Bryant, Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick, Zack Martin, and Rolando McClain.
The gap between the Cowboys and the two Super Bowl teams is most pronounced in the second round, and the fact that the Cowboys lead with a lot of third-rounders only partially compensates for that. At the end of the season, the Cowboys had three former second-round picks on the roster where the Patriots had nine and the Seahawks had five. Include the guys on IR in the tally and the Cowboys have four, the Patriots ten and the Seahawks eight former second rounders on their 2014 rosters.
I'm not sure that I'd necessarily call it a talent gap, but compared to those two teams, the Cowboys are missing a whole bunch of second-rounders that could well be the backbone of the current franchise.
We know that the Patriots have almost made an art form of collecting second-round picks. Since 2010 (and I'm mercifully excluding the 2009 draft in which the Cowboys traded out of the second round), the Patriots have made nine picks in the second round compared to four for the Cowboys. And those four players (Sean Lee, Bruce Carter, Gavin Escobar, and DeMarcus Lawrence) combined for just nine starts in 2014.
In the end, it really comes down to a question of very simple math. The more players you draft, the better your odds of landing good players - especially in the higher rounds.
When you have many picks, you can afford a couple of misses. When you only have a few picks, you need to hit on every one - and every player you lose to injury, and every player who underperforms versus expectations, hurts twice as much.
Just like in previous years, the Cowboys cannot afford a miss in the top rounds of this year's draft. And they can afford to spend one of those picks to trade up even less.