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2016 Cowboys’ Draft Class Was Best Ever For Rookie Approximate Value

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The Dallas Cowboys have had some great drafts in their storied history, but using one metric, no other draft class matches the 2016 group in approximate value.

NFL: Dallas Cowboys-Rookie Minicamp Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

We just used Approximate Value, a metric developed by Pro Football Reference, to create a comparison between Ezekiel Elliott and Jalen Ramsey from the 2016 draft. Now we are going to use that same statistical metric to evaluate the Cowboys drafts all the way back to 1961.

Here’s the table. It’s a very long one, but it’s easiest to see the point this way. Thanks to Pro Football Reference’s player season finder query for these results.

Rk Player Year ▼ Age Draft Tm G GS PB AP1 AV
1 Ezekiel Elliott 2016 21 1-4 DAL 15 15 1 1 16
2 Dak Prescott 2016 23 4-135 DAL 16 16 1 0 16
3 Maliek Collins 2016 21 3-67 DAL 16 14 0 0 7
4 Anthony Brown 2016 23 6-189 DAL 16 10 0 0 4
5 La'el Collins 2015 22 UDFA DAL 12 11 0 0 4
6 Byron Jones 2015 23 1-27 DAL 16 11 0 0 4
7 Zack Martin 2014 24 1-16 DAL 16 16 1 1 14
8 Anthony Hitchens 2014 22 4-119 DAL 16 11 0 0 6
9 Travis Frederick 2013 22 1-31 DAL 16 16 0 0 8
10 Terrance Williams 2013 24 3-74 DAL 16 8 0 0 7
11 Morris Claiborne 2012 22 6-Jan DAL 15 15 0 0 6
12 Tyron Smith 2011 21 1-9 DAL 16 16 0 0 9
13 DeMarco Murray 2011 23 3-71 DAL 13 7 0 0 7
14 Dan Bailey 2011 23 UDFA DAL 16 0 0 0 4
15 Dez Bryant 2010 22 1-24 DAL 12 2 0 0 7
16 Tashard Choice 2008 24 4-122 DAL 16 3 0 0 4
17 Nick Folk 2007 23 6-178 DAL 16 0 1 0 4
120 Pat Watkins 2006 24 5-138 DAL 14 9 0 0 4
18 DeMarcus Ware 2005 23 1-11 DAL 16 16 0 0 8
19 Rob Petitti 2005 23 6-209 DAL 16 16 0 0 7
20 Marcus Spears 2005 22 1-20 DAL 16 10 0 0 6
21 Marion Barber 2005 22 4-109 DAL 13 2 0 0 4
22 Al Johnson 2004 25 2-38 DAL 16 15 0 0 7
23 Julius Jones 2004 23 2-43 DAL 8 7 0 0 6
24 Terence Newman 2003 25 1-5 DAL 16 16 0 0 8
25 Willie Blade 2003 24 3-93 DAL 15 14 0 0 7
26 Roy Williams 2002 22 1-8 DAL 16 16 0 0 10
27 Derek Ross 2002 22 3-75 DAL 14 9 0 0 6
28 Antonio Bryant 2002 21 2-63 DAL 16 15 0 0 4
29 Andre Gurode 2002 24 2-37 DAL 14 14 0 0 4
30 Kelvin Garmon 2001 25 7-243 DAL 16 16 0 0 6
31 Markus Steele 2001 22 4-122 DAL 15 10 0 0 5
108 Solomon Page 1999 23 2-55 DAL 14 6 0 0 4
117 Jason Tucker 1999 23 6-167 DAL 15 4 0 0 4
32 Greg Ellis 1998 23 1-8 DAL 16 16 0 0 8
33 Flozell Adams 1998 23 2-38 DAL 16 12 0 0 6
34 Mike Kiselak 1998 31 UDFA DAL 15 7 0 0 4
35 Dexter Coakley 1997 25 3-65 DAL 16 16 0 0 9
36 Richie Cunningham 1997 27 UDFA DAL 16 0 0 1 5
37 Antonio Anderson 1997 24 4-101 DAL 16 5 0 0 4
38 Randall Godfrey 1996 23 2-49 DAL 16 6 0 0 4
39 Larry Allen* 1994 23 2-46 DAL 16 10 0 0 5
40 Darrin Smith 1993 23 2-54 DAL 16 13 0 0 7
122 Kevin Williams 1993 22 2-46 DAL 16 1 0 0 4
41 Robert Jones 1992 23 1-24 DAL 15 13 0 0 8
112 Kevin Smith 1992 22 1-17 DAL 16 6 0 0 4
42 Larry Brown 1991 22 12-320 DAL 16 13 0 0 6
43 Alvin Harper 1991 23 1-12 DAL 15 5 0 0 4
105 Russell Maryland 1991 22 1-1 DAL 16 7 0 0 4
44 Emmitt Smith* 1990 21 1-17 DAL 16 15 1 0 8
45 Jimmie Jones 1990 24 3-64 DAL 16 6 0 0 4
123 Ken Willis 1990 24 UDFA DAL 16 0 0 0 4
46 James Dixon 1989 22 UDFA DAL 16 7 0 0 4
47 Michael Irvin* 1988 22 1-11 DAL 14 10 0 0 5
121 Dave Widell 1988 23 4-94 DAL 14 9 0 0 4
48 Ron Francis 1987 23 2-39 DAL 11 11 0 0 6
49 Kevin Gogan 1987 23 8-206 DAL 11 10 0 0 5
50 Roger Ruzek 1987 27 UDFA DAL 12 0 0 0 5
111 Daryle Smith 1987 23 UDFA DAL 9 7 0 0 4
51 Herschel Walker 1986 24 5-114 DAL 16 9 0 0 12
52 Mike Sherrard 1986 23 1-18 DAL 16 4 0 0 6
53 Eugene Lockhart 1984 23 6-152 DAL 15 8 0 0 5
54 Everson Walls 1981 22 UDFA DAL 16 12 1 0 10
55 Michael Downs 1981 22 UDFA DAL 15 15 0 0 8
113 Ron Springs 1979 23 5-136 DAL 16 3 0 0 4
116 Bruce Thornton 1979 21 8-219 DAL 16 0 0 0 4
56 Larry Bethea 1978 22 1-28 DAL 16 0 0 0 4
109 Tom Randall 1978 22 7-194 DAL 11 0 0 0 4
57 Tony Dorsett* 1977 23 1-2 DAL 14 4 0 0 16
58 Guy Brown 1977 22 4-108 DAL 14 0 0 0 4
59 Jim Cooper 1977 22 6-164 DAL 14 0 0 0 4
60 Andy Frederick 1977 23 5-137 DAL 13 0 0 0 4
61 Bruce Huther 1977 23 UDFA DAL 14 0 0 0 4
62 Mike Hegman 1976 23 7-173 DAL 14 0 0 0 4
110 Greg Schaum 1976 22 7-186 DAL 12 0 0 0 4
63 Burton Lawless 1975 22 2-44 DAL 14 10 0 0 6
64 Thomas Henderson 1975 22 1-18 DAL 13 0 0 0 5
65 Bob Breunig 1975 22 3-70 DAL 10 0 0 0 4
66 Kyle Davis 1975 23 5-113 DAL 14 0 0 0 4
67 Randy Hughes 1975 22 4-96 DAL 14 0 0 0 4
68 Billy Joe DuPree 1973 23 1-20 DAL 14 14 0 0 6
69 Drew Pearson 1973 22 UDFA DAL 14 6 0 0 6
70 Jim Arneson 1973 22 12-307 DAL 12 0 0 0 4
71 Rodrigo Barnes 1973 23 7-176 DAL 14 0 0 0 4
104 Harvey Martin 1973 23 3-53 DAL 14 0 0 0 4
119 Bruce Walton 1973 22 5-126 DAL 7 0 0 0 4
72 John Babinecz 1972 22 2-39 DAL 14 0 0 0 4
73 Ike Thomas 1971 24 2-51 DAL 7 1 0 0 5
74 John Fitzgerald 1971 23 4-101 DAL 14 0 0 0 4
118 Rodney Wallace 1971 22 10-259 DAL 11 0 0 0 4
75 Duane Thomas 1970 23 1-23 DAL 14 8 0 0 9
76 Mark Washington 1970 23 13-335 DAL 14 0 0 0 5
77 Charlie Waters 1970 22 3-66 DAL 14 6 0 0 5
78 Bob Asher 1970 22 2-27 DAL 6 0 0 0 4
79 Cliff Harris 1970 22 UDFA DAL 11 5 0 0 4
80 Steve Kiner 1970 23 3-73 DAL 14 0 0 0 4
81 Calvin Hill 1969 22 1-24 DAL 13 13 1 1 11
82 Halvor Hagen 1969 22 3-74 DAL 12 0 0 0 4
114 Thomas Stincic 1969 23 3-68 DAL 14 0 0 0 4
83 Larry Cole 1968 22 16-428 DAL 14 10 0 0 7
101 D.D. Lewis 1968 23 6-159 DAL 14 0 0 0 4
107 Blaine Nye 1968 22 5-130 DAL 13 0 0 0 4
84 Willie Townes 1966 23 2-22 DAL 13 8 0 0 6
106 John Niland 1966 22 1-5, 13-116AFL DAL 13 4 0 0 4
85 Bob Hayes* 1965 23 7-88, 14-105AFL DAL 13 13 1 0 11
86 Obert Logan 1965 24 UDFA DAL 14 9 0 0 6
87 Ralph Neely 1965 22 2-28, 2-15AFL DAL 14 14 0 0 6
88 Mel Renfro* 1964 23 2-17, 10-79AFL DAL 14 14 1 0 15
89 Dave Edwards 1963 24 25-194, 25-194AFL DAL 14 6 0 0 4
90 Lee Roy Jordan 1963 22 1-6, 2-14AFL DAL 7 7 0 0 4
91 George Andrie 1962 22 6-82, 12-96AFL DAL 14 14 0 0 6
92 John Meyers 1962 22 3-31, 4-25AFL DAL 14 14 0 0 6
93 Guy Reese 1962 23 15-200, 11-83AFL DAL 14 14 0 0 6
94 Mike Gaechter 1962 22 UDFA DAL 14 9 0 0 5
95 Clyde Brock 1962 22 2-20, 8-63AFL DAL 14 0 0 0 4
96 Lynn Hoyem 1962 23 19-254, 29-226AFL DAL 14 0 0 0 4
97 Joe Bob Isbell 1962 22 20-159, 20-159AFL DAL 9 0 0 0 4
115 Don Talbert 1962 23 8-100, 34-271AFL DAL 14 4 0 0 4
98 Don Perkins 1961 23 9-106 DAL 14 14 1 0 8
99 Bob Lilly* 1961 22 1-13, 2-14AFL DAL 14 14 0 0 6
100 Charley Granger 1961 23 26-202, 26-202AFL DAL 8 7 0 0 4
102 Warren Livingston 1961 23 UDFA DAL 8 8 0 0 4
103 Amos Marsh 1961 22 UDFA DAL 14 7 0 0 4

(To read the table, rank, player, year and age are easy to understand. Draft is the round and the overall pick number. For 1966 and before, some players were drafted by the NFL and the AFL, thus the two numbers. Games, games started, Pro Bowl, All-Pro, and approximate value round out the chart.)

Only players with an AV of 4 were included to keep this manageable. And this is only for the player’s rookie season. So Hall of Famer Randy White does not appear, because he played out of position as a rookie and had an AV of 2. Even in his second year it was a 4. Then he was moved to defensive tackle, scored a 9, and was in double digits for the next eight years. Roger Staubach started only one game as a rookie, and put up a 2 AV. He didn’t hit a consistent stride until his fifth season. Troy Aikman was 0-11 as a rookie, and scored a 2 AV.

With that in mind, the 2016 draft was off-the-charts good.

  • It was the only Cowboys’ draft with more than two rookies scoring double digit AVs.
  • It had the two highest scoring rookies of all time, scoring 16 AV. Only Tony Dorsett also scored a 16 AV his rookie year. Mel Renfro is next at 15 AV, followed by Zack Martin at 14 AV, Herschel Walker at 12 AV, Calvin Hill and Bob Hayes at 11 AV, Everson Walls and Roy Williams at 10 AV.
  • The cumulative total of the four players who ranked in 2016 - Elliott, Prescott, Maliek Collins and Anthony Brown - was 43. The next highest was the 1962 draft, with eight players scoring 39 AV, then 1977 with 32 AV, 1970 with 31 AV, 1973 with 28 AV, 1961 with 26 AV, 2005 with 25 AV, 2002 with 24 AV, 1975 with 23 AV, and 1987 and 2011 with 20 AV.
  • Maliek Collins, who scored a 7 AV as a rookie, is tied with eight others for 22nd all-time.

The 2016 draft also has three red-shirt players in Jaylon Smith, Charles Tapper, and Rico Gathers. Kavon Frazier played very little.

The claim here is not that 2016 was the best Cowboys’ draft of all time, though it has the potential to be if Prescott, Elliott, and Smith have stellar careers, and Collins, Tapper, and Brown turn into solid to above-average contributors, with Frazier and Gathers as wild cards.

The claim is that it was the highest value draft in the player’s rookie season, which is all we have to go on at the moment.

It also means, as the Cowboys approach the 2017 draft, that fans shouldn’t expect anything approaching a repeat of last year’s draft. For some perspective, please see this article on the Cowboys’ last seven drafts.