Jerry and Stephen Jones have bought into the strategy that the Dallas Cowboys will acquire their players through the draft and build the team around homegrown talent. While this might not always work, there is definitely merit to this strategy.
Because there is a difference between consistently failing on draft picks yet refusing to spend money and being able to acquire young, cheap, impactful players in the draft and handing them the keys. Dallas has opted for the latter, and while it hasn't resulted in playoff success, you could argue that it has worked.
History suggests there is no reason to worry about the Cowboys drafting strategy
Rewind to April 29th, 2021. The Cowboys seemingly miss out on the top two cornerback prospects and decide to trade back with the Eagles. At pick twelve, Roger Goodell then announces that Micah Parsons will be a Dallas Cowboy.
And for the most part, Dallas fans were pessimistic about this pick.
But Cowboys fans obviously weren't aware that Will McClay and Jerry Jones had just drafted the best defensive talent in the 2021 draft. Dallas obviously doesn't hit on every pick the way they did with Parsons, but their drafting strategy has been solid for the most part.
Since 2005, more than 70% of Dallas Cowboy draft classes have featured at least one eventual Pro Bowler, and 47% have featured at least one All-Pro first-teamer. That means that over the last 17 years, Dallas is more likely to find a first-team All-Pro player in a given draft class than Stephen Curry is to make a three-pointer.
But seventeen years is a small sample size, right? We can’t just assume the Cowboys are great at drafting just because they have seen success lately. So let’s look at what they've done since the Super Bowl era:
For this study, we are only looking at players that the Cowboys drafted. That means no undrafted agents or players who signed in free agency will be included (round 7+ includes the years when the draft was longer than seven rounds). And for All-Pros, this is only looking at the first-team All-Pro roster.
If you believe that Jerry and Stephen Jones need to spend more money in free agency, no one will argue with you. But the Cowboys have been hyper-successful in the draft, and relying on “homegrown” talent might not be that ridiculous.
Because in the Super-Bowl era, Dallas is 61% more likely to draft an All-Pro player in the first round of the draft than the average NFL team, 27% more likely to draft a Pro Bowler. These numbers only increase in the second and third rounds as the Cowboys are 73% more likely to draft an All-Pro in these two rounds than the average.
It is worth noting that Dallas has historically struggled with mid-to-late-round draft picks. They have yet to draft a single All-Pro player in rounds four through six and are below the NFL average in Pro Bowlers drafted in the fifth and sixth rounds.
But considering the fact that only 4.9% of players in rounds four through six make the Pro Bowl and only 1.7% make an All-Pro team, the difference is negligible. The Cowboys might not excel at finding late-round talent, but then again, no team does.
So, here are the players in the last twenty years to make the All-Pro first team that were drafted by the Cowboys in the top three rounds:
- Micah Parsons: 1 All-Pro (AP), 1 Pro-Bowl (PB)
- Trevon Diggs: 1 AP, 1 PB
- Ezekiel Elliott: 1 AP, 3 PB
- Zack Martin: 5 AP, 7 PB
- Travis Fredrick: 1 AP, 5 PB
- Tyron Smith: 2 AP, 8 PB
- DeMarco Murray: 1 AP, 3 PB
- Dez Bryant: 1 AP, 3 PB
- Sean Lee: 1 AP, 2 PB
- DeMarcus Ware: 4 AP, 9 PB
- Jason Witten: 2 AP, 11 PB
- Roy Williams: 1 AP, 5 PB
This is consistent with the graphic below that shows that personnel has never been the issue despite the lack of playoff success.
It is once again worth noting that Dallas players get a disproportionate share of the spotlight. Therefore, there is greater name recognition for Cowboys players when it comes time for award season. But there has been no shortage of talent in Dallas in the last 26 years, and that is important to remember as we enter the offseason.
When discussing which players can better the team and set the Cowboys in a position to win, we should have faith that Will McClay will make the correct decisions in the draft. Because although the front office has committed to the homegrown player strategy, it has paid off for the most part.
And we shouldn't be surprised Jerry likes to construct his roster almost exclusively from the draft. He built his brand as an owner drafting Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, and Alvin Harper with first-round picks in his first three years.
Not every draft class will be loaded with talent across the board, and there will assuredly be some misses this year. However, no draft is perfect from top to bottom. And Will McClay has specifically done a great job, so we can feel confident that the 2022 draft will be another success.