Did you know that the Patriots and Falcons each had eight former 1st-round picks on their 53-man Super Bowl roster? Maybe you did, maybe you didn't.
But did you know that each team also had nine 2nd-round picks on their roster? And that each team had six 3rd-round picks on their roster? And that each team also had six former 4th-round picks on their roster?
Now you do. Uncanny, isn't it?
Here's how the two Super Bowl teams compare by number of players taken in each round.
Perhaps that's one reason the game turned out to be as tight as it did. From a draft pedigree point of view, the teams are about as equally matched as it gets (note that this overview is only about the 53 players listed for the Super Bowl. It does not contain players on IR, on the practice squad, or players otherwise unavailable for the game).
When I initially set out to chart the data, I wasn't sure what I'd find, but I was sure I was going to find some differences between the two rosters. But the similarity here is quite surprising. Which of course leads us directly to the next question:
How do the Cowboys stack up versus the Patriots and Falcons?
For the Cowboys roster, I used the last roster that took to the field in the divisional round game against Green Bay. Because the Cowboys didn't call up anybody to replace Randy Gregory, the Cowboys' roster only had 52 players, but that technicality doesn't influence the overall picture much.
Here's what the season-ending rosters of all three teams looked like in their last game of the 2016 season.
With 10 former 1st-round picks on the roster, the Cowboys look to have a leg up against both the Patriots and Falcons. Sure, Mark Sanchez and Jonathan Cooper count as two of those former 1st-rounders (and neither was active for the game), but even without those two the Cowboys would hold up well in a comparison of 1st-rounders with Dez Bryant, Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick, Zack Martin, Morris Claiborne, Byron Jones, Ezekiel Elliott and Darren McFadden.
The gap between the Cowboys and the two Super Bowl teams is most pronounced in the 2nd round, and the fact that the Cowboys lead with two more 1st-rounders doesn't really compensate for that. At the end of the season, the Cowboys had four former 2nd-round picks on the roster (Sean Lee, Gavin Escobar, DeMarcus Lawrence, and Justin Durant) where the Patriots and Falcons each had nine. Include players on IR/suspension (Jaylon Smith, Randy Gregory) in the tally and the Cowboys have six former 2nd-rounders on their roster, but the Patriots increase to 11 (Gronkowski, Vollmer) and the Falcons still have nine.
I'm not sure that I'd necessarily call it a talent gap, but compared to those two teams, the Cowboys are missing a whole bunch of 2nd-rounders that could well be the backbone of the current franchise.
We know that the Patriots have almost made an art form of collecting 2nd-round picks. In the seven drafts since 2010 (and I'm mercifully excluding the 2009 draft in which the Cowboys traded out of the 2nd round), the Patriots have made 11 picks in the 2nd round compared to just six for the Cowboys. And excluding Sean Lee (who started 15 games last season) the remaining five players (Bruce Carter, Gavin Escobar, DeMarcus Lawrence, Randy Gregory, Jaylon Smith) combined for just four starts in 2014.
In the end, it really comes down to a question of very simple math. The more players you draft, the better your odds of landing good players - especially in the higher rounds.
When you have many picks, you can afford a couple of misses. When you only have a few picks, you need to hit on every one - and every player you lose to injury or suspension, and every player who under-performs versus expectations, hurts twice as much.
Just like in previous years, the Cowboys cannot afford a miss in the top rounds of this year's draft. And they can afford to spend one of those picks to trade up even less.