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Cowboys 2015 Draft: Forget The Grades, Was The Mission Accomplished?

We won't know how successful this draft class really was for years. But we can try to determine if the choices made moved the team in the right direction.

Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

As much as I enjoy and am fascinated by the draft there are also some things about it that drive me crazy. I don't say any of this to claim you should not enjoy things you really get into, but just to set up the reason for this particular post. And a couple of things here need to be vented so I can get them out of my system.

Like many people, I don't really care for the way the NFL is trying to make the draft a big television draw rather than work on making sure the picks are announced expeditiously. There were times the announcements at the podium were two or three selections behind. The head guys chafe at how social media is "spoiling" things by getting the picks out there before Roger Goodell or whoever can go before the cameras, but as someone who is more into tracking who is available and finding out which player the Dallas Cowboys have taken, I want the information as soon as it is called from the teams' offices to the guys who fill out the real card (not the mythical ones that are snatched out of Jerry Jones' hand). If you want the drama of a made-for-TV event, then get off Twitter.

I would also like to see the draft moved up to mid-April. I am not a big fan of mock drafts. I do read some of them, but they are rarely any reflection of what teams really do. When a writer does multiple drafts with a lot of variation, then it just looks like they are trying to cover all the bases so they can cherry pick one to prove how good they are. That's just me, but I do get so weary of them.

But the biggest thing about the draft that just seems so irritating is the rush to "grade" the results for all the teams. You can only come up with an accurate judgment of how they go three or four years after the fact. Bad drafts can become obvious more quickly, but some players don't really show their value quickly. Development of talent is a hallmark of good franchises. And wins and losses are the only thing that matters, short-term or long.

In looking at how one team has done in the draft, it is not really instructive to try and rank them against other teams, because it is not that simple. Each pick can have a different objective, and this changes as you go later in the rounds. You need to get a solid starter with the first-round pick, usually right away given the limitations imposed by the lack of practice time under the CBA. But a player who is taken in the seventh round and that only plays a couple of seasons on special teams can represent good value.

So how does the Cowboys group of eight drafted rookies look? Here is a player by player breakdown along with what I think the team was trying to do, and a critique of how well Dallas accomplished the overall mission of improving the chances of winning as many games as it can this season and in the longer term. One caveat is that all evaluations are based on the player being healthy this year. DeMarcus Lawrence looked like a good selection last season, although expensive, but injury took away much of his value. If the team gets the performance out of him this year that it thinks it will, it will restore that value.

So here is a player by player look at Dallas' draft class.

Byron Jones. He looks like a solid win for the team, a player that can come in and be a starter this season, possibly and perhaps even probably by the season opener. He addressed a real need and he is a very good value, generally seen by observers to be one of the top two or three cornerbacks available this year and a top 20 talent overall. That means that Dallas got a player worth more than the 27th pick they spent on him. A big step forward.

Randy Gregory. He has the potential to become the biggest steal of the draft, although La'el Collins may supplant him if he is cleared in the murder investigation going on now (and Dallas is rumored to be in the hunt for him as the biggest UDFA anyone can remember). Gregory does represent an opportunity cost, since his availability probably was the main reason that Dallas did not draft a running back. But with the glaring need to upgrade the pass rush and the belief the team has repeatedly expressed that the current group of running backs can get the job done behind that dominant offensive line, he was the right choice, especially for a team with the track record of helping troubled players become successful professionals. A top ten pick at the tail end of the second round is something you wish you could find every year, and he will be either a starter or a key rotational end in the Rod Marinelli wave attack on the quarterback, at a bargain price for a second-round contract.

The combination of Jones and Gregory, if they both live up to expectations, may be enough to make this a successful draft class, no matter what the rest of the group eventually do. But obviously the team wants more than that. The remaining six players are going to show whether the team is effective in its scouting and the extensive use of analytic tools like SPARQ scores to out-draft most of the league. (SPARQ is the new RKG, if you haven't noticed already.)

Chaz Green. This is the first pick that has a lot of questions around it. The team maintains that Green was the top player left on their board in the third round. which shows that they saw something that most don't. He has the poorest SPARQ score of the draft class, and does not really jump out on video. He has durability issues, and even when healthy, he was not used that much at Florida.

Green was taken to replace Jermey Parnell as the swing tackle. The third round is not where you look for immediate starters. You do like to see players that can grow into one, and it is assumed that he is also seen as a potential replacement for Doug Free at RT when his time in Dallas comes to an end. That is clearly a need for a team that relies so much on the dominance of the offensive line, but this looks like a chancy way to go. If there is a pick with a high bust potential, he is it.

Damien Wilson. As has been already stated, he looks like an attempt to duplicate the success the Cowboys had in taking Anthony Hitchens last year. Strictly a depth acquisition, but one at a position where depth has been sorely needed and generally lacking the past few seasons. His production in college is his best argument for being in this class, and he will likely have some time to develop since the linebacking corps is healthy - at the moment. Based on the obvious parallels with last year's fourth-round pick, he seems like an excellent fit.

Ryan Russell. The Cowboys double-dipped, looking for insurance for potential future issues with both Greg Hardy and Gregory. He has excellent athleticism and may be a hidden gem, coming from a Purdue team that had really bad defensive players surrounding him the latter part of his time there. You cannot give Marinelli too many tools to work with, and he may be a real find this late in the draft.

Mark Nzeocha. The seventh round is where you can take some flyers in the draft, and the German Cowboy looks to be one with a lot of upside. Another outstanding athlete, he is in the top five percent of NFL players based solely on that. And for a player with very limited experience, both in the amount of teaching he had playing in Europe and the level of competition there, he had impressive production playing in the second tier of college competition. With his ability to be a real weapon on special teams, he has what looks to be a better than average chance of sticking on the roster long enough for Matt Eberflus to turn him into something good. I am legally prohibited from having pet cats (I've been faithful in my visits to my probation officer on that subject), but I'm just saying.

Laurence Gibson. He is interesting, because he appears to be seventh-round insurance for Green. Unlike Green, he has superior measureables for the position. If Green works out, Gibson looks more like practice squad material early on, but he could be a real upgrade over the available talent for that. And the chance to grow is certainly intriguing. For those of you who love the big uglies, he is a great one to watch in training camp against the rushmen. If he looks really great in the late preseason games, he might be a future stalwart on the line.

Geoff Swaim. He is about as unheralded a player as you can find, a blocking tight end on a Longhorn team that was still trying to get itself together under first year head coach Charlie Strong. More a blocker than a receiver, he was not a standout athletically. But he does have some experience as an H-back and a fullback, which might be an indication of what the Cowboys want to do with him. He might be more valuable as a depth player in the running game than a pure fullback, letting the team get more out of a roster spot. He also is a potential replacement in a year for James Hanna. There must be something that caught the staff's eye, because they spent a 2016 sixth round pick to get him. It was not a high cost, since Dallas expects to have multiple comp picks next year, but he still represents an unexpected expenditure of draft capital.

So the Cowboys have a draft class that looks extremely strong at the top, but with a certain amount of risk taking at almost all the spots except Jones. The major needs were addressed, and the defense got a much needed infusion of prospects. It is not a slam dunk by any means. The potential to improve the team overall is certainly there. At first glance, four of the top five picks look to be fairly solid, with only Green having some serious question marks. Seventh-round picks have a low probability of success anyway, so anything the team gets from those three players would be a plus.

It looks like a good draft for Dallas, and potentially could be very strong. The Cowboys had the luxury, for the first time in years, of building on a winner instead of trying to become one. Given the major issues on defense, the team should be a much stronger one than the squad that started 2014, and we know how that one turned out. The only issues not addressed were running back, wide receiver/kick returner, and developmental quarterback. There are some players in the UDFA group that may fill those holes. Now we get to see how this all works out. How do you feel about the class?

Follow me @TomRyleBTB

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