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Cowboys rank No. 2 in number of Pro Bowlers drafted over last 10 years

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

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When the NFL announced this year's 88 Pro Bowl starters and reserves on Tuesday, four Cowboys players made the initial Pro Bowl roster, three offensive linemen (Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick, Zack Martin) and one defensive lineman (DeMarcus Lawrence).

That number will eventually increase, as injured players, dropouts, and players participating in the Super Bowl are replaced by alternates. Last year for example, 37 of the 88 players initially selected were eventually replaced by alternates (like Dez Bryant and Sean Lee) for various reasons. So there's still a chance more Cowboys could be added to the Pro Bowl roster - 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 12 players. Here's the full list of those 12 players:

Drafted Round Pick Name Pos Pro Bowls
2008 1 25 Mike Jenkins DB 1
2008 2 61 Martellus Bennett TE 1
2010 1 24 Dez Bryant WR 3
2010 2 55 Sean Lee LB 2
2011 1 9 Tyron Smith T 5
2011 3 71 DeMarco Murray RB 3
2011 6 176 Dwayne Harris WR 1
2013 1 31 Travis Frederick C 4
2014 1 16 Zack Martin G 4
2014 2 34 Demarcus Lawrence DE 1
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 for the Cowboys' tally. As you probably gathered from the title of this post, those 12 future Pro Bowlers drafted by the Cowboys over the last 10 years are the second-most in the NFL behind only the Kansas City Chiefs, who drafted 13 future Pro Bowlers over the same span.

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 can be a fickle thing. Last year at this time, the 12-2 Cowboys landed just five players on the Pro Bowl roster, while this year's 8-6 team got four players, 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 2008, the Cowboys have selected 82 players in the draft, 12 of which went on to make at least one Pro Bowl. That's a "success rate" of 14.6%. Here's how that success rate compares with the seven best teams in the league over the last 10 years.

Team Draft Picks Pro Bowlers in %
KAN 82 13 15.9%
NOR 59 9 15.3%
DAL 82 12 14.6%
GNB 87 11 12.6%
SEA 91 11 12.1%
MIN 86 10 11.6%
CAR 69 8 11.6%
NFL average 2,547 221 8.7%

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?

Part of the reason for that is the way fans and media allocate credit and blame in Dallas: when the Cowboys aren't doing well, Jones is at fault; when they are doing well, they either got lucky or someone else in the Cowboys front office did a good job (despite Jerry). Or put simply: Jerry Jones gets all the blame and none of the credit for what happens in Dallas.

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 Reese in New York, to pick a completely random example, did exactly that from 2007-2017, and was widely acclaimed for his efforts. Efforts that saw him select just six future Pro Bowlers with 78 draft picks in those 11 years, a mediocre 7.7% success rate.

Jerry Jones doesn't do what a regular GM does, 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 last year's addition Lionel Vital. And the quality of the guys Jones surrounds himself with 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) 16.5% (20 of 121)
NFL average 9.0% 11.1% 10.2%
Cowboys NFL rank No. 1 No. 29 No. 2

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, L.P. Ladouceur, or Dan Bailey 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 15 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 11-17, Jason Garrett
Pro Bowl % 19.4% 18.2% 14.0%
NFL average 13.3% 12.2% 7.3%
Cowboys NFL rank No. 4 No. 3 No. 2

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 eight Pro Bowlers to its credit so far (Tyron Smith, DeMarco Murray, Travis Frederick, Zack Martin, DeMarcus Lawrence, Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, and Dwayne Harris), but that number could easily increase over the coming years, especially with four extra comp picks coming the Cowboys' way in 2018. Even so, under Garrett's tenure, the Cowboys have a higher Pro Bowl percentage among their draft picks than all but one 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. 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 last ten drafts.

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 all but one 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.

Here are the 32 NFL Teams ranked by percentage of draft picks to make 1+ Pro Bowls between 2008 and 2017.

Team Picks Pro Bowlers % Team Picks Pro Bowlers % Team Picks Pro Bowlers %
KAN 82 13 15.9% HOU 79 8 10.1% TEN 85 6 7.1%
NOR 59 9 15.3% ATL 74 7 9.5% LAR 85 6 7.1%
DAL 82 12 14.6% WAS 86 8 9.3% BUF 79 5 6.3%
GNB 87 11 12.6% PIT 83 7 8.4% NYG 70 4 5.7%
SEA 91 11 12.1% CHI 72 6 8.3% CLE 88 5 5.7%
MIN 86 10 11.6% NWE 87 7 8.0% OAK 80 4 5.0%
CAR 69 8 11.6% CIN 93 7 7.5% NYJ 68 3 4.4%
ARI 73 8 11.0% MIA 80 6 7.5% SFO 92 4 4.3%
LAC 66 7 10.6% DET 81 6 7.4% IND 76 3 3.9%
PHI 88 9 10.2% DEN 82 6 7.3% JAX 70 2 2.9%
TAM 69 7 10.1% BAL 85 6 7.1%

And because we've been discussing Garrett's tenure quite extensively above. Let's go for the overkill and look at how the NFL teams have performed between 2011 and 2017, Garrett's tenure as a head coach in Dallas.

Team Picks Pro Bowlers % Team Picks Pro Bowlers % Team Picks Pro Bowlers %
KAN 55 8 14.5% LAC 47 4 8.5% PIT 57 3 5.3%
DAL 57 8 14.0% ATL 48 4 8.3% TEN 58 3 5.2%
MIN 68 8 11.8% SEA 68 5 7.4% CIN 63 3 4.8%
NOR 43 5 11.6% HOU 55 4 7.3% NYG 47 2 4.3%
CAR 43 5 11.6% OAK 59 4 6.8% JAX 50 2 4.0%
PHI 57 6 10.5% CHI 45 3 6.7% IND 51 2 3.9%
LAR 59 6 10.2% BAL 62 4 6.5% BUF 52 2 3.8%
ARI 51 5 9.8% MIA 54 3 5.6% DET 56 2 3.6%
WAS 63 6 9.5% DEN 54 3 5.6% CLE 67 2 3.0%
GNB 63 6 9.5% NYJ 55 3 5.5% SFO 71 2 2.8%
TAM 47 4 8.5% NWE 56 3 5.4%

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