This is the time of year when most NFL teams and their fan bases are left with looking forward to the draft. Of course, that is not the case for the Dallas Cowboys as they prepare for the divisional round game against the Green Bay Packers - but we were there a year ago. Of course, we had no idea at the time just how well the Cowboys would do with their draft in 2016 as they netted an All Pro running back in Ezekiel Elliott, a new franchise quarterback named Dak Prescott who has gotten mentioned as a potential MVP, a couple of defensive players with multiple successful starts under their belts in Maliek Collins and Anthony Brown, and a late-round special teamer who has seen some limited action. And there are those still waiting in the wings. Jaylon Smith has been singled out by Jerry Jones as possibly being even better than Elliott and Prescott once he gets healthy. Charles Tapper is still a bit of an uncertainty as we wait to see what happens with his congenital back condition. And Rico Gathers is reported to be giving the defense fits in practice as he learns how to play tight end.
It was a tremendous job of drafting - but lets talk about another draft class, the one the team pulled off in 2013. The Cowboys garnered some real contributors three years ago - when almost everyone else in the NFL came up empty. The 2013 draft class shows how well the Cowboys are drafting lately as they came up with a few quality contributors, including an All Pro, in an overall class that was terrible.
One Cool Customer touched on this in his recent post about rookie snap counts. He made this observation:
The Cowboys finally hit their stride with the 2013 rookie class, the strongest class in this group. Their snap count is very high in part due to the quality of its players, in part also because the Cowboys traded down for an extra pick that netted them Terrance Williams.
He also illustrated what he meant with one of his excellent tables, which is
stolen reproduced here:
|1st year||2nd year||3rd year||4th year||5th year|
|Class of 2005||- -||- -||
|Class of 2006||- -
|Class of 2007||3.8%||7.1%||9.3%||13.0%||10.8%
|Class of 2008||6.7%||10.9%||11.9%||9.4%||4.6%|
|Class of 2009||1.5%||0.9%||3.6%||4.6%||0.0%
|Class of 2010||6.9%||14.2%||11.7%||11.3%
|Class of 2011||8.5%||10.9%||11.6%
|Class of 2012||6.5%||11.5%
|Class of 2013||15.3%||
|Class of 2014||9.5%
|Class of 2015||10.0%
|Class of 2016||13.5%||- -
Red = 1 starter, Orange = 1-2 starters, Green = 2-3 starters, Blue = >3 starters
How to read the table: Take "Class of 2010" which represents the 2010 rookie class.
- In 2010, this rookie class played only 6.9% of all snaps, in part because of injuries to Dez Bryant and Sean Lee.
- In 2011, with both players healthy and UDFA Phil Costa playing center for the year, the figure jumped to 14.2%.
- In 2012, the percentage dropped as the Cowboys replaced Costa at center, but his snaps were partly replaced by supplemental draft pick Josh Brent and UDFA Danny McCray who was forced into play at safety.
- 2013 was Barry Church's first year as a starter, and together with Bryant and Lee, those three players accounted for almost all snaps of that rookie class (11.3% of the total snaps).
- In 2014, the percentage dropped to 7.9 with Lee out due to his ACL tear.
This shows just how much the 2013 class has contributed every year, and it now includes an All Pro in Frederick.
The full 2013 Cowboys draft:
Round 1 - Travis Frederick
Round 2 - Gavin Escobar
Round 3 - Terrance Williams
Round 3 - J.J. Wilcox
Round 4 - B.W. Webb
Round 5 - Joseph Randle
Round 6 - DeVonte Holloman
What is remarkable about this draft is that the overall NFL 2013 class is widely considered one of the worst in years. A quick Google search of "2013 NFL draft class worse ever" yields a selection of articles published over the past couple of years. Here is a sample:
The 2013 draft is on the fast track toward becoming recognized as one of the worst in NFL history. The only reason it is not in the top spot here is because it happened just two years ago. The 1992 draft listed above produced no talent worthy of Canton; there is still time for the 2013 draft to redeem itself. The small pocket of talent that came out of the 2013 draft can still rise to excellence.
When it comes to the NFL Draft, mistakes happen — particularly in the first round. Sometimes there are colossal misses (Robert Griffin III, Trent Richardson, Johnny Manziel), and other times mistakes are minimal. Regardless, teams are forced to admit they were wrong when it comes to picking up a player's fifth-year option.
The option for first-round picks was instituted with the 2011 collective bargaining agreement and it's made it easier to separate draft busts from stars. It also allowed teams to turn a four-year contract into one that lasts five years without the player hitting free agency. If a team exercises a player's fifth-year option, he's usually viewed as a solid starter. If not, well, you know — he's not worth keeping around.
The deadline for signing 2013 draft picks to fifth-year options came and went on Monday, and it further proved how bad the class really was. That was a well-known idea prior to this week, but the number of players whose options were declined is staggering.
When you have a pick in the top 10 of the NFL Draft, you hope that you're going to get a franchise-altering player. If not, you'll settle for a consistent, above-average starter.
A lot of teams didn't get either of those things at the top of the 2013 NFL Draft.
No. 3 pick Dion Jordan, who was suspended for the entire 2015 season for violating the league's substance abuse policy on Tuesday, is the most glaring example of a bust. But when you look at it, the 2013 Draft was pretty rough across the board.
The 2013 NFL Draft was an unusual one at the time, and it looks even weirder in hindsight. Not only were there a high number of offensive linemen selected at the top of the draft, but it was a subpar class for quarterbacks, leaving needy teams in the lurch. Three years later, it's safe to say that the 2013 draft is one of the worst ones of the modern era.
That is a pretty universal condemnation of a draft class. For some time, we here at BTB have taken quite a bit of pleasure in seeing how wrong the "experts" were about the trade back to take Frederick and also get Williams, but the pans of the overall quality of the class make it clear just how well the brain trust of the Cowboys nailed that year's draft. Finding good players in a talent-laden group is not too hard, but finding gold among such a huge pile of dross is a real accomplishment. And that is just what the Cowboys did.
Dallas has committed to building the roster through the draft, especially since Jason Garrett became head coach, and they may have done the best job in the entire league during his tenure. We are all well aware of the string of first round successes, but until you look at the big picture, you may not realize just how good a job the team has done overall. When you add in UDFA gems like Cole Beasley, it just looks even better.
One of the most important things that the Cowboys have done is avoiding reaches due to need and focusing more on acquiring talent. They have clearly not batted 1.000, but the evidence is mounting that they are hitting on far more than just about anyone else. Even the much-maligned 2013 pick Gavin Escobar has paid off this season, as he has been forced into a bigger role by the injuries to James Hanna and Geoff Swaim.
This year, the Cowboys will obviously not have a high pick to cash in as they did with Elliott. But we can have a great deal of faith that they will continue to maximize the selections they do have. It is also very good news that it appears that Will McClay is not going to be lured away from Dallas any time soon, as he is widely credited with making the process even better since being promoted to his current position overseeing the scouting and aligning it with the needs of the coaching staff. Stephen Jones made McClay's value clear in a recent interview.
Jones said he and assistant director of player personnel Will McClay have studied both their hits and misses from last year as they've ramped up preparations for the 2017 draft and admitted that they've asked themselves, among other things, how they took defensive end Charles Tapper 34 picks before they took Prescott.
Right now, we are correctly focused on the playoffs. But football never ends, and draft season is coming. The Cowboys are not only working on winning now. They are building a team that can sustain success. The draft is the biggest factor in that. If they can continue to do well, no matter the depth of the pool of available players, then the future is very bright indeed at the Star in Frisco.