It’s finally draft week. The NFL will begin one of their most exciting events on Thursday as all franchises are given the chance to build their roster with young talent. The Dallas Cowboys, and their fans, are putting a lot of stock in the draft as a way to improve the roster.
The Cowboys offseason has seen the team jettison some starters (Amari Cooper, La’el Collins) and lose Randy Gregory in a contract situation that was pretty unusual. As is the Cowboys Way, they barely dabbled in outside free agency and have pinned much of their roster building hopes on acquiring quality talent in the NFL draft. And there is a reason the Cowboys front office feels so strongly about the draft as the main vehicle they use to drive the team forward - and that is their success in the draft.
The front office, and especially Will McClay, receive a lot of praise for their handling of the draft. Yes, they have had a few high-profile misses like Taco Charlton and Morris Claiborne, but in general they are viewed as one of the better drafting teams in the NFL.
A recent ranking from ESPN backs this idea up with data. They invented a metric to try and measure how much each player is worth from a draft standpoint and then ranked all NFL teams from 2012 to now. Here is their explanation:
How we rank: To evaluate the players taken in each of the past 10 NFL drafts (2012-2021), we used Approximate Value (AV) — Pro Football Reference’s method of measuring the performance of every NFL player. We took each player’s career AV and measured it against a value based on where that player was taken in the NFL draft — we’re calling it Career Approximate Value Over Expected (CAVOE).
For example, players drafted in the first or second rounds have a higher baseline for performance, so if they struggle they will have much lower CAVOE scores than a sixth- or seventh-round pick who made little impact.
The Cowboys ranked fourth in this method of quantifying how well draft picks perform. Seattle, Kansas City, and Baltimore were the top three franchises. Then the Cowboys.
Best class from 2012-2021 drafts: 2016. When you get your franchise quarterback in the fourth round, like the Cowboys did with Dak Prescott, then there’s no competition. But the Cowboys also landed Ezekiel Elliott, Jaylon Smith, Maliek Collins and Anthony Brown in the draft. The Cowboys believe a healthy Elliott, the fourth overall pick, will rebound in 2022. Smith’s recovery from a knee injury was amazing and he signed a lucrative extension in 2019 but was cut last season. Collins is still a starter in the NFL. Brown has been one of the better sixth-round picks the Cowboys have had over the last two decades. It is possible the 2020 draft class, led by CeeDee Lamb, Trevon Diggs, Neville Gallimore and Tyler Biadasz, could surpass this class but they need more time to produce at high levels. — Todd Archer
CAVOE from Day 3 draft picks (Rounds 4-7): 52.5, 10th
Best Day 3 steal? QB Dak Prescott, fourth round, 2016. One of the biggest draft steals in recent memory, finding a franchise QB in the fourth round is something that’s usually unheard of. Prescott has turned into the face of the franchise for the Cowboys since being drafted. — Reid
Much is made of the 2016 draft. Getting Dak Prescott in the fourth round was a huge steal, but we have to remember the Cowboys almost blew that twice by trying to pick Paxton Lynch and Connor Cook. But as shown, there is more to that draft class than just Prescott.
The Cowboys success seems to be heavier in the early rounds as they only rank tenth in the same metric when restricted to Day 3 picks. That seems to indicate that they generally nail their picks in the Top 100 or so, but are less accurate deeper in the draft.
Some of the notable names that have not lived up to their draft status in this system are Morris Claiborne (Rd. 1, 2012), Gavin Escobar (Rd. 2, 2013), Randy Gregory (Rd. 2, 2015) and Taco Charlton (Rd 1, 2017).
Some of their biggest hits in this same timeframe include Zack Martin (Rd. 1, 2014), Dak Prescott (Rd. 4, 2016), and Xavier Woods (Rd. 6, 2017).
There is one caveat here and that is that Career AV is a cumulative statistic so later classes do not have as much value yet as the earlier classes. Still, it’s an interesting exercise and one that helps confirm the Cowboys are among the best in the NFL when it comes to the draft.