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How much contribution did the Cowboys get this year from their last five drafts?

Taking a look at contributions to playing time from the past five drafts.

NFL Draft Max Faulkner/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/TNS via Getty Images

With free agency just a couple months away, some of us die-hard fans have already started the countdown as that will be the moment where the Cowboys 2018 roster starts getting some new blood. Unfortunately, the Cowboys don’t spend a lot of money in free agency these days. They tighten their belts during this period and look at some young, bargain-priced players that could potentially offer some upside. Sometimes that strategy pays off and they’ve landed guys like Jeremy Mincey or Benson Mayowa, who turned out to be nice bridge players for the Cowboys. And other times it doesn’t work and the team ended up cutting players like Cedric Thornton or Nolan Carroll, resulting in a dead money hit.

Regardless of the end result, this approach never gets the team in any huge financial crisis from taking on a ballooned contract from a severely under-performing free agent. Sure, they miss out on some players this way, but in the end it saves them a lot of money to invest into their own players where they have a real strong idea about what they are capable of. When Zack Martin and DeMarcus Lawrence land nice deals this offseason, make sure to thank your lucky stars that the front office has been so responsible during free agency.

If the Cowboys are building their team through the draft, how have they been doing over the last five years? We all know about the epic 2016 draft where Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott took the league by storm with great rookie seasons. We also know that Travis Frederick, Martin, and now Lawrence are all stars in the league. If a team is averaging close to one All-Pro per draft, that’s pretty darn good. The Cowboys certainly don’t have shortage of draft gems in recent years, but what about the other guys?

Let’s take a look at each draft over the last five years and see what their snap contribution has been for the 2017 season. Keep in mind, some of their draft picks like J.J. Wilcox gave the team some much needed reps and that value shouldn’t go unnoticed, but without a second contract, they are no longer included in the grand scheme of things. Also, while ability is “availability,” we’re well aware that some of these snap contributions are more important that others. But I’m not interested in that at this point. Right now, I just want to focus on what the last five drafts have done in terms of putting players on the field for the Cowboys.

Here is a breakdown of each player’s contribution in 2017 and the fraction that they were on the field for their respective unit. For example, Jourdan Lewis led all of this year’s rookies with 71% of the defensive snaps and made up 0.71 of a defensive starter who didn’t miss a snap. In addition, adding up the percentages creates an overall player number. For example, the 2.29 total at the bottom of the first chart would show that the 2017 draft created the equivalent of 2.29 “players” (with “players” meaning playing on 100% of the Cowboys 2017 snaps).

(Note: Special teams is not included for this comparison)

2017

The Cowboys most recent draft has some promising pieces, but isn’t quite the 2016 draft so far. It’s also much harder to acquire good players picking 28th instead of 4th in each round.

The Cowboys didn’t get the contribution they were hoping for with their first- and second-round picks. Taco Charlton’s development was slow and the breakout season by Tank cut into his playing time. Hamstring injuries hindered Chidobe Awuzie. Third-round pick, Jourdan Lewis and six-round pick, Xavier Woods had great rookie seasons and look to be a big part of the secondary going forward.

2016

There is really not much to say about this group that isn’t already known. With the suspension of Ezekiel Elliott and some low-rep games of Jaylon Smith, the numbers of this draft class doesn’t really do it justice. Expect to see this group rise in subsequent years.

2015

It is strange that the best player from this group is a player that the Cowboys didn’t even draft. Undrafted free agent, La’el Collins saves this group from being a complete disappointment. Credit the Cowboys organization for moving swiftly on this one and bringing Collins to Dallas. That signing takes a little bit of the sting out of an otherwise weak haul of players. Byron Jones is a good player, but he hasn’t been able to play consistent enough to justify him being a first-round pick. Second-round pick Randy Gregory has turned out to be a big mistake. And it looks like third-round pick, Chaz Green, was a mistake, too.

2014

While this group will finish last of these five in terms of snap percentages, you can’t help but be very pleased with how these players turned out. Lawrence emerged into one of the games stronger pass rushers and just like that - the Cowboys found themselves a stud defensive end. Hitchens flashed great play this season, making him a key part of this defense. And what can you say about Martin? He’s just quietly been an All-Pro every season he’s been with the Cowboys. He’s arguably the best guard in the NFL and soon will be paid like one.

2013

The selection of Travis Frederick didn’t excite too many people, but it wasn’t long before he was greatly appreciated in Dallas. The love for Terrance Williams has been pretty erratic - sometimes fans love him, other times they hate him. And then there’s Jeff Heath who is the most lovable, least-talented player this organization has had in a while. He’s a fan favorite because sometimes he does fan-favorite sort of things, but for the most part - he’s just Jeff Heath. Like him or not, he’s on the field quite a bit for the Cowboys.

Over the last five years, the Cowboys drafts have resulted in the equivalent of just over 13 players for the 2017 season. That makes up 60% of the total offensive/defensive snaps. Whether the players the team has selected are the right guys or not is something we will always debate, but one thing is certain - they’re using them. If you believe in how this team drafts, then ultimately, this team is on the right path to building a winning football team.

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