A couple of days ago, Mike Huguenin of NFL.com put together a rankingof active NFL GMs with the best record of drafting Pro Bowlers, and found that Jerry Jones is the most successful GM at drafting Pro Bowlers.
When I initially looked at Huguenin's ranking, I wasn't really surprised by the result. But after I took off my "Jerry Jones: NFL Executive of the Year" T-shirt, I began wondering about that ranking. How much of that success at drafting Pro Bowlers is driven by the talent the Cowboys drafted in the 90s? And more importantly, how successful have the Cowboys been at drafting Pro Bowlers in the more recent past?
To answer my own question, I reviewed the last 10 drafts, from 2005 to 2014, to figure out how successful the modern-day Cowboys have been at drafting Pro Bowlers.
I'm generally very cautious about using Pro Bowls as a measure for anything, but I'll play along with NFL.com here. Since 2005, 13 of the 80 Cowboys draft picks have made the Pro Bowl, a rate of 16.3%. So over the last ten years, Jerry Jones as a GM has been drafting better (as measured by Pro Bowlers) than he has over the course of his entire career. That's pretty impressive, but how doe the Cowboys of the last 10 drafts compare with other NFL teams over that period?
Hold on to your pants, because here are the top five teams that drafted the most Pro Bowlers since 2005.
|MOST PRO BOWLERS DRAFTED SINCE 2005|
|Team||Draft Picks||Pro Bowlers||in %|
If you accept a ranking using Pro Bowlers drafted as a measure of a GM's quality, then the Cowboys rank at the very top of the league over the last 10 years. How can that be, knowing that the oft-ridiculed Jerry Jones is the GM in Dallas, some would ask?
One reason is that people often confuse what Jerry does with what a GM on many other teams does. Regular GMs spend countless hours every day watching film, watching practice and evaluating their players, draft prospects and free agents. Jerry Jones doesn't do that, or at least doesn't spend nearly the amount of time on those tasks as a regular GM does. Instead, Jerry has his guys who do that work for him. And the quality of those guys has a direct impact on the quality of the players the Cowboys have drafted.
The following table illustrates that in stark numbers, as we look at the numbers over Jerry Jones' entire tenure, but split them into three distinct periods: the Jimmy Johnson years, the Larry Lacewell years, and what for a lack of a better term we'll call the Post-Lacewell years:
|Pro Bowl %||
20% (13 of 65)
7.8% (6 of 77)
15.8% (15 of 95)
|Cowboys NFL rank||No. 1
Note that these numbers only contain drafted players who made the Pro Bowl, not the undrafted players, where the likes of Tony Romo, Miles Austin, Matt McBriar, and L.P. Ladouceur would make the last 12 drafts look even better, though this would likely be true for other teams as well.
Jerry Jones got off to a great start with Jimmy Johnson, and a large part of their joint drafting success is owed to the Hershel Walker trade, which gave the Cowboys some great ammunition in the draft. That brief period of brilliance was followed by a long, dark period during which Larry Lacewell was in charge of scouting, Jerry Jones got more involved in the draft, and a succession of head coaches led the Cowboys to ever worse season records. The Cowboys revamped their scouting operation once Parcells was brought in, and despite unmitigated disasters like the 2009 draft, the Cowboys of the last 12 years have put together a pretty good draft record compared to their NFL peers.
Here's a further breakdown by the last three coaching regimes:
|03-06, Bill Parcells||07-10, Wade Phillips||11-14, Jason Garrett|
|Pro Bowl %||19.4%
|Cowboys NFL rank||No. 4
||No. 8||No. 1|
The Bill Parcells Cowboys delivered Pro-Bowlers at a rate similar to that of Jimmy Johnson, but without the benefit of a Hershel Walker trade. Again, note that the Pro Bowls from the UDFAs brought in under Parcells are not included here. Parcells helped the Cowboys improve their scouting organization, and although Wade Phillips gets blamed for a lot of things in Cowboys Nation, his tenure did bring the Cowboys five Pro Bowlers in Dez Bryant, Anthony Spencer, Mike Jenkins, Nick Folk, and even Martellus Bennett, who in 2014 finally got his first Pro Bowl nomination with his third NFL team. Garrett's tenure has four Bowlers to its credit so far (Tyron Smith, DeMarco Murray, Travis Frederick, Zack Martin), but that number could easily increase over the coming years.
Note that where the Cowboys have four Pro Bowlers so far from their last four draft classes, no other team has more. The Vikings have four, the Seahawks have three and the Redskins also have three. 13 NFL teams have two Pro Bowlers to show for their last four drafts, nine NFL teams have one Pro Bowler to show for their efforts, six teams (Jaguars, Raiders, Titans, Lions, Chargers and the mighty Patriots) haven't drafted a single Pro Bowler in the last four drafts.
I'd venture to say that after a long, bleak period following Jimmy Johnson's departure, the Cowboys over the last 10 years have started hitting on their draft picks again. At the end of the day, the Cowboys' one key issue in the draft is much less about hitting on draft picks, and much more about keeping enough of their high draft picks to hit on future Pro Bowlers with.
NFL Teams with the highest percentage of draft picks to make 1+ Pro Bowls, 2005-2014
|Team||Picks||Pro Bowlers||%||Team||Picks||Pro Bowlers||%||Team||Picks||Pro Bowlers||%|
|Kansas City||81||11||13.6%||Washington||76||7||9.2%||NY Giants||71||5||7.0%|
|Denver||74||9||12.2%||NY Jets||68||6||8.8%||Tampa Bay||81||4||4.9%|
So the next time somebody wants to tell you how good their team's front office is and how the Cowboys' front office has no clue, ask them about how many Pro Bowlers their front office has drafted recently. You'll find that conversations tend to end pretty abruptly after that.