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Sports Illustrated upgrades 2014 Cowboys draft grade from one of the worst to second best

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Widely ridiculed for reaching for DeMarcus Lawrence in the 2014 draft, the Cowboys may be getting the last laugh.

NFL: Los Angeles Rams at Dallas Cowboys Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Four years ago, in grades published immediately after the 2014 draft, Chris Burke and Doug Farrar of Sports Illustrated panned the Cowboys draft with a B- grade:

For the second straight season, the Cowboys went offensive line in the first round -- but unlike Travis Frederick, Zack Martin wasn’t a reach. The former Notre Dame tackle can be a fantastic guard with a little finishing work. Boise State defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence will try to replace a more prominent DeMarcus (Mr. Ware), and he has the nascent tools to do so, though the second round might have been a slight reach. Outside linebackers Anthony Hitchens and Will Smith will reinforce positions needed as Dallas tries to move intelligently to a 4-3 thisyear, and Baylor safety Will Dixon could be special as long as he stays out of trouble off the field and plays with a bit more discipline on it. Seventh-round Oregon cornerback Terrance Mitchell might be the sleeper here.

By SI.com standards at the time, the B- cumulative grade for the Cowboys was terrible. 24 teams received a better grade, only three (!!!) received a worse grade. That ranked the Cowboys draft somewhere between 25th and 29th.

In SI's defense, it was hard to get excited about a draft that only had two picks in the top 100:

  • 1st Rd (16 overall) Zack Martin, T, Notre Dame
  • 2nd (34). DeMarcus Lawrence, LB, Boise State
  • 4th (119). Anthony Hitchens, OLB, Iowa
  • 5th (146). Devin Street, WR, Pittsburgh
  • 7th (231). Ben Gardner, DE, Stanford
  • 7th (238). Will Smith, LB, Texas Tech
  • 7th (248). Ahmad Dixon, DB, Baylor
  • 7th (251). Ken Bishop, DT, Northern Illinois
  • 7th (254). Terrance Mitchell, DB, Oregon

And SI wasn't the only outlet with a lukewarm response to the Cowboys draft haul, as observers were still reeling from the Cowboys not drafting Johnny Manziel.

Zack Martin meanwhile has been to four Pro Bowls in four years and has made first-team and second-team All Pro twice each. DeMarcus Lawrence took his time, but is now also a Pro Bowler and second-team All Pro, and Anthony Hitchens translated 48 starts in 60 games into a five-year, $45 million contract with the Kansas City Chiefs, along with what will likely be a fourth-round compensatory pick for the Cowboys in 2019.

The 2013 (remember that one?) and 2014 Cowboys draft classes are good examples of why it usually takes three full seasons before you can properly evaluate a draft class - and even then, injuries, coaching changes and other factors may make such an assessment a tricky proposition.

Fully aware of that multi-year waiting period, SI.com’s Andy Benoit re-graded the 2014 draft this week, and gave the Cowboys a B+ for their draft haul.

The Zack Martin pick was made by Jerry Jones’ son Stephen—Jerry later lectured him about choosing the guard over Rockstar quarterback Johnny Manziel. The exact quote: “Son, I hope you’re happy. But let me tell you something: You don’t get to own the Cowboys, you don’t get to do special things in life, by making major decisions going right down the middle. And that was right down the middle.”

It was right down the middle like a bowling ball on a strike—an analogy that’s extra ripe considering how Manziel’s career wound up in the gutter. Martin has become arguably the game’s best guard, and arguably the best player on what is inarguably football’s best offensive line.

The Cowboys knocked down all 10 pins on the Demarcus Lawrence pick, too. Lawrence, who had 14.5 sacks last year, took a little longer than Martin to reach stardom, so let’s call it a spare instead of a strike. Nevertheless, he was franchise-tagged this offseason and, as an elite run-defender and dozen-plus sack guy, should get a lucrative long-term deal in 2019.

The Cowboys had to trade the 47th and 78th overall picks to move up and get Lawrence at 34 in the second round. It was worth it, but their diminished draft capital carried a small price, as no other players in this class amounted to much. Anthony Hitchens received $25 million guaranteed from the Chiefs as a free agent this past offseason, but he did not quite become a true every-down player in Dallas. If the Cowboys truly valued Hitchens, they would have re-signed him, rather than spending this year’s first-round pick at his position (Leighton Vander Esch at 19).

Getting stars at Picks 1 and 2 is enough to give most drafts a good grade, even if the rest of the draft - which, granted, had five seventh-round picks - didn't amount to too much.

This time around though, and with the benefit of hindsight, the 2014 Cowboys draft class ranks second overall, quite a jump up from where SI.com ranked it immediately after the 2014 draft.

Of particular note, one team aced the 2014 draft in the 2014 article with an “A+”, the Vikings. Four years later, that draft class merely merits a B-, a textbook example for the folly of instant draft grades.

But that doesn’t automatically mean that bad initial grades will morph into a good grade four years later, or vice versa. In 2014, the Eagles and Colts both got a “C” for their draft effort, the second-worst grade handed out that year. Four years later, they remain at the bottom of the pack with “D+” grades, tied for 28th.

Draft “grades” right after the draft are one of silliest rituals the NFL has produced. Complaining about those draft grades is probably even sillier.

Every year we’ll see a wide range of assessments of draft classes. Some of them offer a reasonable assessment of a given team’s draft, others offer a much more radical take penned by authors clawing and scratching for relevance, who often have no particular football expertise, and only have snarky commentary and click-generating headlines to offer.

Stick with the former.


2018 Rank 2014 Draft Class 2018 SI Grade 2014 SI Grade
1 Oakland Raiders A A
2 Dallas Cowboys B+ B-
T3 Atlanta Falcons B B
T3 Green Bay Packers B A
T3 Jacksonville Jaguars B A-
T3 Los Angeles (then St. Louis) Rams B A-
T3 New York Giants B B
T3 Pittsburgh Steelers B B
T9 Baltimore Ravens B- A-
T9 Kansas City Chiefs B- B-
T9 Minnesota Vikings B- A+
T9 New England Patriots B- C+
T9 Tennessee Titans B- B
T14 Denver Broncos C+ B
T14 Detroit Lions C+ B
T14 San Francisco 49ers C+ B+
T14 Tampa Bay Buccaneers C+ B+
T14 Washington C+ B+
T19 Arizona Cardinals C B
T19 Carolina Panthers C A-
T19 Chicago Bears C A-
T19 Cincinnati Bengals C A-
T19 Los Angeles (then San Diego) Chargers C B
T19 Seattle Seahawks C B-
T25 Houston Texans C- A-
T25 Miami Dolphins C- B-
T25 New Orleans Saints C- B-
T28 Indianapolis Colts D+ C
T28 Philadelphia Eagles D+ C
T30 Buffalo Bills D- B
T30 Cleveland Browns D- B+
T30 New York Jets D- B