The Dallas Cowboys are a young team and the future is promising for this group. One of the reasons for this is the fact that the front office continues to draft well and cycle in quality young players on cheap rookie deals. The 2018 draft was no different as they got significant contribution from their new rookies. But just how well did they do?
If we go by the approximate values assigned to players, this new crop of rookies did pretty well. Recently, our own One Cool Customer provided a complete list of AV numbers for our 2018 Cowboys. As OCC explains, approximate value was developed by Pro Football Reference and is designed to provide a value to a player for that season. The 2018 numbers have now been updated. Let’s review the Cowboys draft picks through the first four rounds and see how they did.
Round 1 - Leighton Vander Esch
By now, we all know the Vander Esch pick was a great decision. But just how great was it? Let’s re-do the top 18 picks of the draft based on AV scores:
We don’t need AV to tell us LVE was a great pick, but this is just another metric that confirms what we already knew. Based on approximate value, the Cowboys picked the fourth best player in the draft. As great as Vander Esch is, an argument can be made that the Cowboys drafted the wrong linebacker. Darius Leonard had a fantastic season, recording a league-high 163 tackles. And if you’re looking for an explanation for the resurgence of the Indianapolis Colts season, it wasn’t just blind Luck. Great drafting had a lot to do with it as they grabbed the two best players in the draft based on AV scores.
I doubt Cowboys fans are having any regrets about the Vander Esch kid. He’s only the fourth Cowboys player to earn All-Pro honors (second team) his rookie season (third in the last five years) and the first ever on defense. This kid’s future is bright. We wrote about him plenty here at BTB and he was our first-round choice to cure our offseason blues:
PROBLEM: The Cowboys lost Anthony Hitchens in free agency and now have to rely on two players who have injury concerns at one of the most brutal positions in the game.
SOLUTION: Draft Leighton Vander Esch in the first round.
Vander Esch is coming off a breakout year with Boise State, recording 141 tackles last season. With only one year of amazing college production, the question begs - can he sustain this high level of play or was that just a fluke? A better question might be - is this kid just getting started?
Vander Esch is a smart player who can diagnose plays well. He’s aggressive, sheds blocks effectively, and has great agility to move around and chase ball carriers. If you’re trying to find the superior athlete through SPARQ rating, he’s your guy as The Cool One has him listed as the top-rated athlete based on those metrics.
For those who were high on Derwin James, DaRon Payne, D.J. Moore, Will Hernandez, and Calvin Ridley - good job. Those guys all had good rookie seasons and showed why teams were interested in them, but Vander Esch still remains the cream of the crop.
Verdict: Outstanding pick!
Props to the BTB community for their contribution helping us configure our 2018 Draft Big Board. Saquon Barkley and Quenton Nelson were no. 1 and 2 on our draft board. Well done.
Round 2 - Connor Williams
It’s been a tough season for the Cowboys new left guard as injuries have both caused him to lose his starting job as well as re-gain it. He showed improvement and should only get better with more practice. While there were some painful moments, the Texas product should be a regular fixture in the offensive line going forward. Gaining a starter is always good, but did the Cowboys grab the right player at 50?
According to AV scores, Williams tied for 36th with a value of five. That’s 14 points higher than where he was drafted. Williams was the 18th pick made in the second round, but only five players selected ahead of him ended up with a higher AV score (Darius Leonard, Will Hernandez, Nick Chubb, Braden Smith, and James Daniels). That’s pretty good.
And if you look as some possible candidates that were taken after Williams who scored better, you won’t find a long list. Fred Warner had a better year and was high on our draft board, but taking him in the second round was too early for our tastes. Plus, after taking Vander Esch in the first round, doubling up on Warner wouldn’t be the way to go. Props to our own Dave Halprin and OCC who chose Justin Reid for their second-round pick during one of our mini-mock exercises. B.J. Hill was also high on our board and would’ve provided some extra help on the interior defensive line.
One guy who didn’t outperform Williams was Dallas Geodert who the Philadelphia Eagles were so worried about the Cowboys taking that they traded up to jump ahead of the Cowboys.
Verdict: Good pick
Round 3 - Michael Gallup
The Cowboys continued to get great value with their third-round pick as Michael Gallup finished 30 spots higher than when he was selected. His AV score matched second-round receivers Christian Kirk and Anthony Miller.
Gallup finished the season with 33 catches for 507 yards, but really came on as the season progressed. He looks like he’ll be a great addition to this wide receiving group for the future.
Were there some other players better at that spot? Maybe, but even in hindsight it’s hard to get yourself to change your mind. Tight end Mark Andrews would certainly help that position group. Josey Jewell was great value for the Denver Broncos in the fourth round, but he wouldn’t have made much sense after Dallas already took Vander Esch.
Gallup looks like the right pick then and the right pick now.
Verdict: Good pick
Round 4 - Dorance Armstrong
While it caught many Cowboys fans off guard, the war room was extremely excited when Kansas’ pass rusher Dorance Armstrong was available in the fourth round. The rookie was active in all but one game this season, but only played in 273 defensive snaps (26%). It was a learning year for Armstrong, but even with limited action he had a solid AV score. He ranked 91st, which is still 25 spots ahead of his draft position.
Both Tre Flowers and Maurice Hurst had great seasons and play a position that would’ve helped the Cowboys defense, but there aren’t that many players who would have ended up being the better choice at this spot.
Verdict: Solid choice
Round 4 - Dalton Schultz
The Cowboys waited until the fourth round to throw a draft pick at the tight end position and they found a solid player in Dalton Schultz. The Stanford rookie played in 380 offensive snaps this season (28%) and had 12 catches for 116 yards. He hauled in 70% of his targets.
The Cowboys are still trying to figure out their tight end situation since Jason Witten retired and they are using a committee to supplement his production. The trio of Geoff Swaim, Blake Jarwin, and Schultz did a nice job helping out. You could start to see the improvement of Schultz the more reps he got.
Yes, there were a few players who scored higher, but Schultz still comes in ranked higher than his draft position.
Verdict: Solid pick
This was a very good draft for the Cowboys. Being able to get good value after the first round is something they’ve gotten better at recently and it’s helped them build this roster. That’s a good thing too because they won’t have a first-round pick in the 2019 NFL Draft. But don’t fret, this team has shown they can still pluck quality players from the draft.