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Dallas Cowboys Drafted More Pro Bowlers Than Any Other NFL Team Over Last 10 Years

How successful have the Cowboys been at drafting Pro Bowlers in the more recent past? Very.

Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

When the NFL announced this year's 88 Pro Bowl starters and reserves on Tuesday, five Cowboys players made the initial Pro Bowl roster, three linemen (Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick, Zack Martin) and two rookies (Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott).

We know that the initial Pro Bowl roster is not set in stone, as injured players, dropouts, and players participating in the Super Bowl are replaced by alternates. Last year for example, 43 of the 88 players initially selected were eventually replaced by alternates for various reasons. So there's still a chance more Cowboys could be added to the list - in the unlikely event that they won't be playing in the Super Bowl, of course.

For the purposes of today's post, I'll stick with the initial list of 88 names. And that list brings the number of future Pro Bowlers drafted by the Dallas Cowboys over the last 10 years to 13 players. Here's the full list of those 13 players:

Drafted Round Pick Name Pos Pro Bowls
2007 1 26 Anthony Spencer DE 1
2007 6 178 Nick Folk K 1
2008 1 25 Mike Jenkins DB 1
2008 2 61 Martellus Bennett TE 1
2010 1 24 Dez Bryant WR 2
2010 2 55 Sean Lee LB 1
2011 1 9 Tyron Smith T 4
2011 3 71 DeMarco Murray RB 3
2011 6 176 Dwayne Harris WR 1
2013 1 31 Travis Frederick C 3
2014 1 16 Zack Martin G 3
2016 1 4 Ezekiel Elliott RB 1
2016 4 135 Dak Prescott QB 1

Martellus Bennett and Dwayne Harris both made the Pro Bowl after they left Dallas, but they were drafted by the Cowboys so they count against the Cowboys' tally. As you probably gathered from the title of this post, those 13 future Pro Bowlers drafted by the Cowboys over the last 10 years are more than any other team drafted over the last 10 years.

The Cowboys are often believed to have an advantage in Pro Bowl voting because of their popularity, which is probably true in a general sense, but that popularity didn't help this year's 12-2 Cowboys land more than five spots on the Pro Bowl roster this year, so there's that. And it's not like the Cowboys padded their stats by somehow having more draft picks over the last 10 years than other teams. Far from it.

Since 2007, the Cowboys have selected 81 players in the draft, 13 of which went on to make at least one Pro Bowl. That's a "success rate" of 16%. Here's how that success rate compares across the league over the last 10 years.

Team Draft Picks Pro Bowlers in %
Dallas 81 13 16.0%
Kansas City 83 12 14.5%
Carolina 70 10 14.3%
Minnesota 83 11 13.3%
New Orleans 59 7 11.9%
Seattle 88 10 11.4%
NFL average 2,552 219 8.6%

Pro Bowlers are often used a measure of a GM's quality, and if that measurement has any merit, the Cowboys' GM ranks 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?

Mac Engel of the Star-Telegram, who's made a living off criticizing Jerry Jones, dejectedly penned an article yesterday in which he predicts (with a lot of snark) that Jones will be a Hall of Famer soon. Along the way he explains why Jerry Jones gets all the blame and none of the credit for what happens in Dallas.

As a general manager of an NFL team, he can't win even when his team does. No matter what he does as the GM of the Cowboys, he will never receive the credit, but will always be handed the blame.

The Cowboys are enjoying one of their best seasons in his near 30-year tenure, and how often do you hear anyone praising him?

The perception is that when the Cowboys win, it's either blind luck or somebody else's doing; if the Cowboys lose, it's on Jerry.

One reason for that perception 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. These days, 'his guys' are Will McClay, Jason Garrett, and Stephen Jones, along with recent addition Lionel Vital. 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:

Jimmy Johnson
Pro Bowl % 20% (13 of 65)
7.8% (6 of 77)
17.0% (19 of 112)
NFL average 9.0% 11.1% 9.9%
Cowboys NFL rank No. 1
No. 29
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 Cowboys' numbers 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 14 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 11-16, Jason Garrett
Pro Bowl % 19.4%
NFL average 13.3% 11.8% 6.4%
Cowboys NFL rank No. 4
No. 3 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 six Pro Bowlers in Dez Bryant, Anthony Spencer, Mike Jenkins, Nick Folk, Sean Lee, and even Martellus Bennett, who in 2014 finally got his first Pro Bowl nomination with his third NFL team.

Garrett's tenure has seven Pro Bowlers to its credit so far (Tyron Smith, DeMarco Murray, Travis Frederick, Zack Martin, Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, and Dwayne Harris), but that number could easily increase over the coming years. Even so, under Garrett's tenure, the Cowboys have a higher Pro Bowl percentage among their draft picks than any other team in the league.

I'm generally very cautious about using Pro Bowls as a measure for anything, especially given the vagaries of the voting process and the recent inflation of alternates, but since Pro Bowls are often used as a proxy for the success of a GM, we'll take them at face value today.

The Cowboys are far from perfect in their drafting. They've done a pretty good job with their first-rounders, but their second-rounders over recent years haven't quite panned out the way the team had hoped. And if you're looking for reasons to criticize the Cowboys front office, like so many observers seem to enjoy doing, you'll find reasons aplenty in the lower rounds as well.

But overall, the Cowboys have done better in the last ten drafts than most other teams, and if you take future Pro Bowlers as your success criteria, the Cowboys have outperformed every other NFL team.

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 how many Pro Bowlers their front office has drafted recently. You'll find that conversations tend to end pretty abruptly after that.


NFL Teams ranked by percentage of draft picks to make 1+ Pro Bowls, 2007-2016

Team Picks Pro Bowlers % Team Picks Pro Bowlers % Team Picks Pro Bowlers %
DAL 81 13 16.0% PIT 83 8 9.6% TEN 86 6 7.0%
KAN 83 12 14.5% CHI 76 7 9.2% NYG 72 5 6.9%
CAR 70 10 14.3% ATL 79 7 8.9% DEN 78 5 6.4%
MIN 83 11 13.3% NWE 92 8 8.7% DET 80 5 6.3%
NOR 59 7 11.9% MIA 83 7 8.4% OAK 82 5 6.1%
SEA 88 10 11.4% TAM 73 6 8.2% STL 86 4 4.7%
BAL 86 9 10.5% CIN 89 7 7.9% PHI 88 4 4.5%
GNB 88 9 10.2% SFO 91 7 7.7% IND 77 3 3.9%
HOU 79 8 10.1% SDG 66 5 7.6% NYJ 63 2 3.2%
WAS 81 8 9.9% BUF 80 6 7.5% JAX 74 2 2.7%
ARI 71 7 9.9% CLE 85 6 7.1%

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