Before I begin, I'd like to throw out a name from Cowboys' past: Larry Brown. He has something in common with Dallas' first-round draft pick this year. And, no, its not just the position he plays. To demonstrate my point, I'll give you another name: Crawford Ker. I'll let these names rest for a bit before picking them up again a little later in the article.
In recent years, some good thinking has gone into evaluating the effectiveness of draft picks. One method, which will provide the statistical thrust of today's post, seeks to devise a trade chart that reflects the actual historical performance of each pick. Since the 2013 draft day trade with the 49ers, we have been made acutely aware of the Harvard Trade Chart, which relies on the gents at Pro-Football-Reference.com and their patented metric, Career Approximate Value (CAV). The benefit of CAV - and this is precisely why the smarties at Harvard use it - 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. Obviously, the reality of compensatory picks throws this off after round three, which explains the presence of a sixth rounder and the absence of any seventh-rounders for the Cowboys.
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' picks in the 2015 draft, with all their seventh rounders clustered as the 224th pick. A legion of scribes and fervent followers of the team have proclaimed that this draft was a landmark event, characterized by three "first round" talents, and that the Cowboys have drafted anywhere from three to five dynamic future starters, guys who can be impact players. As Cowboys fans, when we think of "dynamic, impact players," our minds jump to the likes of Troy Aikman, Dex Bryant, 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 does Larry Brown have to do with Byron Jones? He has a CAV of 32, right about that of the average 27th pick, which is where the Cowboys selected the UConn corner. In other words, if Jones has a 27th pick's average career, he'll closely resemble Brown, or Crawford Ker, Tony Casillas, and Bill Bates, all of whom have career AVs within one of 33.2.
How about their picks in other rounds? Here's a mock draft consisting of players whose careers approximate the average CAV at the picks where Dallas selected their recent draft haul, with the pick number and its average CAV. Because I'm a generous guy, I've given you two former Cowboys at each slot from which to choose:
60 (21.6): Mario Edwards, John Gesek
91 (15.4): Quincy Carter, Andy Frederick
127 (11.6): Doug Dennison, Ron Francis
163 (8.5): Kenny Gant, Jay Saldi
Seventh-rounders (4.8): Pete Hunter, Alexander Wright
If the Cowboys have what the above table would consider to be an average draft, in other words, the players they drafted in rounds two-five and seven would resemble these luminaries, albeit at different positions. I'd bet If I told you in April that the Cowboys were going to get a Crawford Ker in the first round followed by this less-than-inspiring crew, you'd almost certainly have been gravely 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 almost any Cowboys draft in the last decade - with the most evident exception being 2005's mighty haul. Of course we all want the team to enjoy another anno miabilis like that one. But, as many wise observers 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 - yes, even when we consider the acquisition of La'el Collins as history's greatest UDFA. Let's say he was taken at ninth overall by the Giants, the most likely scenario had misfortune not struck when it did. The average CAV at that position is 46.3, which gives us such Cowboys luminaries as Jerry Tubbs and Tony Liscio (to be fair, Leon Lett and Billy Joe DuPree are also in that range). Still, the chilling reality remains: the draft is a crapshoot. As 2015's draft class begins their NFL careers, preparing this weekend to face off against established vets for the first time in OTAs, it would do us all well to remember this, if for no other reason than our long-term mental health.