When Dez Bryant was announced as the Pro Bowl replacement for Julio Jones earlier this week, Bryant joined his teammates Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick, Zack Martin and Sean Lee on the NFC Pro Bowl roster, bringing this year's number of Cowboys Pro Bowlers to seven. With DeMarco Murray and Dwayne Harris also getting a Pro Bowl nod, nine players drafted by the Cowboys over the last seven years made the Pro Bowl. That number is tied with the Vikings for the most in the NFL.
Last week, ESPN's Mel Kiper published his first mock draft of the year to much fanfare and much ridicule. Kiper, along with his ESPN colleague Todd McShay are two of the biggest names in the mock draft business and have been dominating the mock draft headlines for years, so today we ask ourselves what would have happened if the Cowboys had followed the pair's mock draft suggestions in each of the last seven drafts - knowing that the Cowboys already did a pretty good job on their own.
In the mock draft world, there's only one mock that ultimately counts: the final mock draft published before the actual draft. That doesn't stop mock drafters from inundating us with countless mocks before that final one, but none of those carry any real weight. Which is why today we'll look at Kiper's and McShay's final mock drafts from 2010-2016. Before we go there though, here is a summary of the last seven Dallas Cowboys first-round picks, along with some metrics we'll use to evaluate the picks.
Overall, that's a pretty impressive haul. 14 Pro Bowl seasons, 24 out of a maximum of 28 starter seasons, 372 starts and a very strong Approximate Value (AV) of 230. And all of that despite Morris Claiborne failing to live up to his draft pedigree.
Over the last seven years, only one team has had more success with their first-round draft picks (as measured by AV): The Rams accumulated 238 AV points, though they did that with two more first-rounders than the Cowboys had. Here are the total AV points for all first-round picks of the last seven years by team:
|First-round AV points by team, 2010-2016|
|Rank||Team||AV Points||Picks||Rank||Team||AV Points||Picks||Rank||Team||AV Points||Picks|
Note that the AV numbers in this table are allocated to the team drafting a given player, and not to the team the player eventually moved on to. Sam Bradford for example earned nine points in Philly two years ago and 11 points in Minnesota last year, but both numbers are included in the Rams' tally in the table above.
Overall, the table establishes that the Cowboys have gotten more from their first-round picks over the last seven years than most other teams. With that, let's turn to Kiper and McShay to see how their picks for the Cowboys hold up in this comparison. Here are the players Mel Kiper had the Cowboys picking in his final mock drafts of each of the last seven years:
Kiper's picks would not have been a good draft haul for the Cowboys. Even if Kiper did pick Ezekiel Elliot last year, for the most part he would have had the Cowboys drafting mostly solid starters, but the players he picked lack the postseason accolades the Cowboys picks garnered. Kiper's combined AV points would rank this collection of picks a very average 18th in the league. And while his draft is significantly worse than the Cowboys' draft results over the last seven years, it's still better than the drafts the Redskins, Giants, and Eagles put together, so there's that.
On to McShay's final mock picks for the Cowboys:
McShay's picks get a strong boost from the J.J. Watt pick, but from an AV point of view, this would have been a very impressive haul, falling short of the Cowboys by just four AV points. McShay let himself be suckered into the ridiculous Manziel hype in 2014, but that looks like the only miss in an otherwise strong collection of picks. It may be pure luck, but McShay's collection of picks for the Cowboys over the last seven years would have beaten all but two NFL teams in terms of AV points.
Also noteworthy: McShay's picks have accumulated 120.5 sacks since they were drafted. If the Cowboys had followed McShay's picks, their defensive line would easily be the one of the very best in the league today. At the same time, if the Cowboys had listened to McShay, their offensive line would likely look like something the Giants had cobbled together.
What all the numbers above show is that the draft can be a precarious proposition, even in the first round where the best available talent is supposed to be found. Over the last seven years, the Cowboys have been one of the most successful teams at mining this resource. But even for the worst teams in the league, there is some hope, as they could have drafted much worse, just as there is reason for the best teams to improve their efforts, as they are still far away from realizing the maximum potential possible.
Here, for your pre-draft delectation, are the best and worst first-round picks from each of the last seven drafts and what their AV would add up to:
|Best picks||Worst picks|
|2010||DET||Ndamukong Suh||DT||74||2010||DEN||Tim Tebow||QB||12|
|2011||CAR||Cam Newton||QB||84||2011||GB||Derek Sherrod||T||3|
|2012||CAR||Luke Kuechly||LB||61||2012||SF||A.J. Jenkins||WR||2|
|2013||DAL||Travis Frederick||C||39||2013||MIA||Dion Jordan||DE||3|
|2014||STL||Aaron Donald||DT||44||2014||PHI||Marcus Smith||LB||2|
|2015||TB||Jameis Winston||QB||24||2015||CHI||Kevin White||WR||1|
||RB||16||2016||- -||Three players||- -||0|