Those who do not learn from the mistakes of the past are doomed to repeat them. We've all heard that, or some version of it. With two decades having elapsed since the last trip to the Super Bowl, the Dallas Cowboys certainly need to be well aware of the idea. Earlier, we took a look at some possible lessons to be learned from last year's free agent group. Now, let's look back at a past draft class to see what we may glean.
To properly evaluate a draft class, you have to go back further than a year or two. Pro Football Focus has gone back to 2010 and looked at the entire league, ranking all 32 teams on how that class has fared in their careers. While there might be some quibbling with the grading system or exact order, the conclusions they drew seem pretty valid.
First, here is the full draft for Dallas that year:
|Cowboys 2010 Draft Class|
Yeah. Some real "woof" there. Here is how PFF saw it.
22. Dallas Cowboys
Cumulative grade (six picks): +113.6
Best pick: WR Dez Bryant (round 1, pick 24, +50.0 cumulative grade)
The Cowboys don't regret trading up to select Bryant No. 24 overall in 2010, after Bryant's stock slid due to NCAA violations while at Oklahoma State. He has fulfilled Jerry Jones' vision of a physically imposing outside WR, and was PFF's fourth-ranked WR in 2014. The Cowboys have also gotten a very nice return from LB Sean Lee (round 2, pick 55, +60.6 cumulative grade) when he has been healthy.
Worst pick: CB Akwasi Owusu-Ansah (round 4, pick 126, grade not available)
Outside of Bryant and Lee, the Cowboys got virtually nothing out of this draft class. They gave up their third-round pick to move up for Bryant, but their fourth-rounder, Owusu-Ansah, never took a defensive snap for Dallas.
Yep. Lotta "woof".
While there are very few arguments to be made that getting Dez Bryant was a good move, it still illustrates the cost of trading up. With no third round pick, the Cowboys missed out on a chance to get a decent player. Draft picks are the most valuable tool an NFL team has to acquire talent to upgrade their roster, and the more chances you have, the greater the chances are that you will find players that will help the team over the long term. Bryant has proven to be a transcendent player when healthy, but he still represents a real opportunity cost for the team. It is arguable that trading back is often a more viable approach, as when the team did so in 2013 to get Travis Frederick and Terrance Williams, both of whom have been key parts of the roster. In Frederick's case, it represents a real win for the scouting department, as he has proven to be a much more valuable player than almost anyone else believed he could be.
Of course, as Owusu-Ansah's selection illustrates, you still have to use your picks wisely. He was one example of a fascination the Cowboys used to have with small school prospects where they thought that they could outsmart the rest of the league by taking overlooked gems. In this case, they got more of a lump of coal.
That may be one place where the Cowboys seem to have already applied a lesson. Since 2010, Dallas has been moving away from small schools, especially in the past couple of years. In both 2014 and 2015, all of their draft picks have been from FBS schools. 2013 was the last time they used mid-range picks on smaller school prospects, when they took J.J. Wilcox from Georgia Southern in the third (the second of two picks they had in that round) and B.W. Webb from William and Mary in the fourth.
It is probably no coincidence that the change in philosophy on small schools happened as Will McClay gained more influence in the front office. He is given a lot of credit for the draft decisions being made, and he looks to be doing well.
This is especially true for the top picks in recent years. Since 2010, the first round pick for Dallas has become a starter, either immediately or very shortly after the start of the season, with the lone exception of injury-plagued Morris Claiborne. Given that Claiborne also was a player the Cowboys traded up to get, the perils of spending your draft picks in that manner is just emphasized.
For the coming draft, a trade up seems out of the question with the fourth overall pick. The team may still toy with the idea of a later move up, given that it is expected that they will have nine picks total when the compensatory picks are awarded, including one at the end of the fourth round, but that is less of a risk than trying to move up in the first. There is more of a possibility that the team may want to find a trading partner to move back, but given the needs of the team, it is still rather unlikely that they will go on the clock at four without a player they really want at that spot still available.
While Bryant and Lee keep the 2010 draft from being a total failure, it is clear they could have done much better, even with the trade. Of the remaining four players taken, only Lissemore ever delivered any value at all, and he did not last long, He was traded in 2013 for a 2015 seventh round pick when the Cowboys switched from a 3-4 to a 4-3 defense and he was not deemed to be a good fit. He has had moderate success with the San Diego Chargers since then.
Although the top pick has gone well for the Cowboys of late, they still should be looking to improve on their effectiveness in the following rounds. Chances of finding a real contributor decrease with each round, but that is where truly successful teams make a difference. Hopefully the Cowboys will apply all the lessons from the past this year and get a quality draft class from top to bottom.