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Cowboys’ first round picks since 2013 have NFL-best availability rate

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The best ability is availability.

New York Giants v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

A few weeks ago, BTB’s Danny Phantom pointed out that the Cowboys’ last five first-round draft picks have never missed a game due to injury.

But did you know that the five players drafted by the Cowboys in the first round since 2013 have played in 233 of a possible 240 regular season games?

Well, now you do.

In fact, the only missed games by those five first-round picks are Ezekiel Elliott’s six-game suspension in 2017 and the 2016 Week 17 game in Philly that Elliott was kept out of. All other first-round picks, Travis Frederick, Zack Martin, Byron Jones, and Taco Charlton played in every single possible regular season game.

After reading Phantom’s article, I started wondering, how the Cowboys compared to other NFL teams in regards to games played by their first-round picks.

Turns out, 233 out of 240 games is an availability rate of 97%, the highest rate of any team in the NFL - and that’s despite Elliott’s suspension last year. Here’s how the other teams fared:

Availability Rates, 1st-round picks 2013-2017
Team 1st rd. Picks Avail. Games Games played Availability % Team 1st rd. Picks Avail. Games Games played Availability %
DAL 5 240 233 97% MIN 7 448 358 80%
ATL 5 240 227 95% HOU 5 240 191 80%
SEA 1 32 29 91% BAL 5 224 173 77%
TAM 4 160 145 91% PIT 5 240 181 75%
GNB 4 224 200 89% NWE 2 112 83 74%
DET 5 240 214 89% SFO 7 288 212 74%
LAR 6 368 322 88% LAC 5 240 174 73%
TEN 6 256 218 85% NYJ 6 320 232 73%
CAR 5 240 204 85% ARI 5 208 150 72%
PHI 5 240 204 85% WAS 3 96 69 72%
JAX 5 224 189 84% CLE 9 384 275 72%
NOR 7 304 256 84% MIA 5 240 166 69%
KAN 4 208 175 84% CHI 5 224 152 68%
OAK 5 240 200 83% CIN 5 224 145 65%
DEN 5 240 198 83% BUF 4 192 119 62%
NYG 5 240 196 82% IND 4 176 109 62%

If it’s true that “the best ability is availability,” then the Cowboys have done remarkably well with their first-round picks over the last five years.

First-round picks are the NFL’s primary tool for acquiring top-tier talent, even if that pool of top-tier talent is not immune to the occasional bust. And while the first round is not the exclusive round for finding top-tier talent, it is still the best place to find it. And as such it should be in every team’s best interest to have those first-round picks provide the best value (in terms of games played) possible.

Failing to get even a modest return out of your early picks, be it due to poor selections, poor health, poor luck, or simply the commissioner’s arbitrary decision-making, can set a team back significantly.

The data above shows that a high availability rate is a not a prerequisite for success (Pittsburgh and New England are doing just fine with a subpar rate), and neither is having a lot of first-round picks (see Seattle and New England are doing okay with just one and two first-round picks each over the last five years), but it certainly doesn’t hurt. And it certainly hasn’t hurt the Cowboys, even if it hasn’t resulted in sustained post-season success (yet).

Those 2nd rounders though...

If you’ve been reading through the post and are just itching to tell me just how badly the Cowboys suck in the second round, nobody is disagreeing with you. The Cowboys have had mediocre results from their second-round picks, DeMarcus Lawrence notwithstanding. But that doesn’t invalidate their success in the first round in any shape or form.

Still, the second round is where the Cowboys need to improve.

Availability Rates, 2nd-round picks 2013-2017
Team 2nd rd. Picks Avail. Games Games played Availability % Team 2nd rd. Picks Avail. Games Games played Availability %
CAR 6 256 243 95% SEA 7 320 239 75%
KAN 3 96 86 90% IND 3 112 83 74%
LAR 3 128 111 87% TAM 7 320 235 73%
NYG 5 240 208 87% BAL 5 240 176 73%
HOU 5 240 207 86% SFO 4 272 191 70%
DET 5 240 198 83% BUF 7 336 235 70%
JAX 6 304 250 82% PIT 5 240 164 68%
CIN 6 320 262 82% TEN 6 288 190 66%
MIA 5 240 195 81% CHI 5 240 155 65%
PHI 4 208 165 79% LAC 5 240 154 64%
MIN 3 96 76 79% DAL 5 240 152 63%
WAS 5 240 188 78% OAK 5 240 152 63%
GNB 6 256 200 78% NOR 5 192 110 57%
ARI 4 208 162 78% DEN 5 240 136 57%
ATL 4 224 172 77% NWE 5 304 162 53%
CLE 4 160 122 76% NYJ 5 240 82 34%

The same caveats apply here as they did for the first-rounders: a high availability rate for your second-rounders is a not a prerequisite for success (New Orleans and, once again, New England are doing just fine with a subpar second-round rate), and neither is having a lot of second-round picks (Kansas City and the LA Rams both made the playoffs last year with just three second-round picks in five years), but it certainly doesn’t hurt.

That doesn’t make the second-round picture for the Cowboys any prettier, but perhaps this is the year they reverse the trend: Barring injury and/or suspension, the Cowboys should be able to count on a lot of games in 2018 from DeMarcus Lawrence (2014), Randy Gregory (2015), Jaylon Smith (2016), Chidobe Awuzie (2017), and Connor Williams (2018) - even if the ship on Gavin Escobar (2013) has definitely sailed.

Surely the Cowboys must also suck in the third round ...

Well ... no.

As it turns out, the Cowboys also lead the league in the availability rate of their third rounders.

Terrance Williams (2013) played in 80 of 80 games. J.J. Wilcox (2013) missed only six games in his four years in Dallas and is 70 for 80 over his career. Maliek Collins (2016) played in all 32 games, and Jourdan Lewis (2017) only missed the first game of his rookie season. The odd man out in this group is Chaz Green, who only played in 12 of a possible 48 games.

Here’s how Dallas compares to the rest of the league:

Availability Rates, 3rd-round picks 2013-2017
Team 3rd rd. Picks Avail. Games Games played Availability % Team 3rd rd. Picks Avail. Games Games played Availability %
DAL 5 256 215 84% SEA 9 288 185 64%
ARI 6 304 246 81% ATL 4 160 102 64%
BUF 4 224 181 81% DEN 6 272 172 63%
CAR 3 112 90 80% PIT 6 256 161 63%
CIN 6 288 229 80% BAL 7 320 194 61%
OAK 5 240 186 78% NYG 5 240 143 60%
NWE 8 336 256 76% TAM 4 176 104 59%
JAX 5 240 181 75% IND 6 288 162 56%
PHI 5 240 179 75% LAR 7 352 198 56%
CLE 9 416 308 74% CHI 3 144 80 56%
MIN 4 192 139 72% TEN 6 272 151 56%
KAN 7 368 264 72% NOR 7 304 160 53%
WAS 6 304 218 72% MIA 6 304 152 50%
DET 5 240 167 70% LAC 5 240 110 46%
NYJ 5 240 164 68% SFO 8 384 158 41%
GNB 5 224 151 67% HOU 7 384 106 28%

Again, the previous caveats apply, but there’s no denying the Cowboys have done well in the third round - at least as viewed in terms of games played.


In the first three rounds of any draft, NFL teams expect to draft either an immediate starter or an eventual starter. So getting it right in the first three rounds is critical, because when teams fail to get starters in the Top 100 picks of a draft, they usually end up having to fill those voids with expensive free agents.

But “getting it right” is far from easy, even in the top three rounds.

The Cowboys had 15 picks in the top three rounds between 2013 and 2017. Combined, those 15 players have played in 600 of a possible 736 games for an availability rate of 81.5%, the second highest value in the NFL. That’s not bad for a team that some claim “sucks at drafting outside the first round.”

Also, those 600 games played are the fifth-highest total in the league.

In the NFL, the draft is where depth is built. When you get that kind of production from your draft picks, you tend to sign them to contract extensions. Free agency becomes more of a luxury, and you can use it to selectively sign players that can elevate the overall talent level of your roster or plug very specific holes. Plus the pressure on your salary cap decreases.

Here’s how the Cowboys compare to the rest of the league over the first three rounds of the draft:

Availability Rates, Round 1-3 picks 2013-2017
Team Round 1-3 Picks Avail. Games Games played Availability % Team Round 1-3 Picks Avail. Games Games played Availability %
CAR 14 608 537 88% CLE 22 960 705 73%
DAL 15 736 600 82% BUF 15 752 535 71%
JAX 16 768 620 81% SEA 17 640 453 71%
DET 15 720 579 80% BAL 17 784 543 69%
ATL 13 624 501 80% PIT 16 736 506 69%
PHI 14 688 548 80% TEN 18 816 559 69%
GNB 15 704 551 78% DEN 16 752 506 67%
KAN 14 672 525 78% NWE 15 752 501 67%
MIN 14 736 573 78% NOR 19 800 526 66%
ARI 15 720 558 78% MIA 16 784 513 65%
CIN 17 832 636 76% CHI 13 608 387 64%
NYG 15 720 547 76% IND 13 576 354 61%
OAK 15 720 538 75% LAC 15 720 438 61%
LAR 16 848 631 74% NYJ 16 800 478 60%
WAS 14 640 475 74% SFO 19 944 561 59%
TAM 15 656 484 74% HOU 17 864 504 58%