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What if Cowboys had listened to ESPN’s Mel Kiper and Todd McShay in the last 10 drafts?

If the Dallas Cowboys had listened to ESPN’s draft experts, here’s what their draft haul might’ve looked like over the past 10 years...

2008 NFL Draft Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

ESPN’s Mel Kiper and his colleague Todd McShay are two of the biggest names in the mock draft business and have been for years. So today we ask ourselves what would have happened if the Cowboys had followed the pair’s mock draft suggestions in the first round of the last 10 drafts, and how that compares to what the Cowboys actually did - knowing the Cowboys had two bona fide draft busts over that span in Morris Claiborne and Taco Charlton.

In the mock draft world, there’s only one mock that ultimately counts: the final mock draft published before the actual draft. That doesn’t stop mock drafters from inundating us with countless mocks before that final one, but none of those carry any real weight. Which is why today we’ll only look at Kiper’s and McShay’s final mock drafts from 2012 through 2021.

Before we check out the two draft experts, here is a summary of the Cowboys’ first-round picks in the last 10 drafts, along with some metrics we’ll use to evaluate the picks.

Year Player All
Pro
Pro
Bowls
Starter
Seasons
Games
Started
wAV
2012 Morris Claiborne -- -- 5 74 25
2013 Travis Frederick 1 5 6 96 60
2014 Zack Martin 5 7 8 120 84
2015 Byron Jones -- 1 7 103 38
2016 Ezekiel Elliott 1 3 6 88 59
2017 Taco Charlton -- -- -- 13 9
2018 Leighton Vander Esch -- 1 4 46 27
2019 Pick traded for Amari Cooper
2020 CeeDee Lamb -- 1 2 27 19
2021 Micah Parsons 1 1 1 16 18
Total 8 19 39 583 339

You know and I know that if we had included 2011 and Tyron Smith in this table, this would have looked much better for the Cowboys, but 10 years was the cutoff for this post, so there we go.

But even without Smith, that’s a pretty impressive haul. 19 Pro Bowl seasons, 39 out of a maximum of 45 starter seasons, 583 games started and a strong Weighted Career Approximate Value (wAV) of 339.

Over the last 10 years, the Cowboys have had a lot of success with their first-round picks (as measured by wAV), despite whiffing on Morris Claiborne and Taco Charlton. Overall, the Cowboys rank third in the NFL with their 339 wAV points behind the Rams (381) and Vikings (380), and slightly ahead of the Bucs (334) and Chargers (325).

Here are the total wAV points for all first-round picks of the last 10 years by team:

First-round AV points by team, 2012-2021
Rank Team Picks CarAV Rank Team Picks CarAV Rank Team Picks CarAV
1 LAR 7 381 T10 NOR 10 287 23 NWE 8 245
2 MIN 14 380 13 PHI 9 282 24 JAX 12 236
3 DAL 9 339 14 KAN 6 279 25 CHI 8 227
4 TAM 10 334 15 HOU 7 275 26 CIN 11 218
5 LAC 11 325 16 NYG 12 272 27 IND 7 212
6 CAR 10 318 17 PIT 9 270 28 ARI 10 204
7 BUF 9 306 18 DET 10 269 29 WAS 9 197
8 MIA 13 299 T19 LVR 12 260 30 GNB 10 182
9 CLE 15 296 T19 NYJ 12 260 31 DEN 9 152
T10 BAL 11 287 21 SFO 13 252 32 SEA 5 107
T10 TEN 11 287 22 ATL 10 249

Overall, the table establishes that the Cowboys have gotten more from their first-round picks over the last 10 years than most other teams. With that, let’s turn to Kiper and McShay to see how their picks for the Cowboys hold up in this comparison.

Mel Kiper

Here are the players Mel Kiper had the Cowboys picking in his final mock drafts of each of the last 10 years:

Year Player POS All
Pro
Pro
Bowls
Starter
Seasons
Games
Started
wAV
2012 Quinton Coples DE -- -- 2 32 17
2013 Sylvester Williams DT -- -- 4 63 29
2014 Ryan Shazier LB -- 2 3 41 27
2015 Preston Smith DE -- -- 6 95 43
2016 Ezekiel Elliott RB 1 3 6 88 59
2017 Marlon Humphrey CB 1 2 4 55 36
2018 Courtland Sutton WR -- 1 2 40 20
2019 Pick traded for Amari Cooper
2020 Xavier McKinney S -- -- 1 20 9
2021 Patrick Surtain CB -- -- 1 15 7
Total 2 8 29 449 247

Kiper’s picks would have been an okay draft haul for the Cowboys, but not a great one. For the most part, Kiper would have had the Cowboys drafting solid starters, but the players he picked lack the accolades the Cowboys picks garnered, and more importantly, the longevity. Coples, Williams, and Shazier all had short NFL careers, and that drops Kiper’s wAV to 247 points, which would rank this collection of picks just 23rd in the league.

Todd McShay

On to McShay’s final mock picks for the Cowboys:

Year Player POS All
Pro
Pro
Bowls
Starter
Seasons
Games
Started
wAV
2012 Michael Brockers DT -- -- 10 152 57
2013 Sheldon Richardson DT -- 1 8 125 61
2014 Johnny Manziel QB -- -- -- 8 4
2015 Shane Ray DE -- -- 1 15 12
2016 Ezekiel Elliott RB 1 3 6 88 59
2017 Tre'Davious White CB 1 2 5 72 45
2018 D.J. Moore WR -- -- 4 56 33
2019 Pick traded for Amari Cooper
2020 CJ Henderson CB 0 0 1 6 15
2021 Patrick Surtain CB 0 0 1 15 7
Total 2 6 36 537 293

McShay gives the Cowboys a run for their money, and if he hadn’t fallen for the Manziel hype in 2014, he might have beaten the Cowboys. Of course, if the Cowboys hadn’t picked Taco Charlton, they’d look much better as well, so that argument goes both ways.

Still, McShay’s collection of picks for the Cowboys over the last 10 years would have ranked 10th overall in terms of wAV points.

The Cowboys did well in the last 10 drafts, and they would still be among the Top 10 teams if they had listened to McShay in those drafts; they certainly would have done better with McShay than they would have with the majority of NFL GMs out there.

But in the end, if you had to pick between Will McClay, Kiper, or McShay, you’d probably stick with McClay, the Cowboys’ VP of Player Personnel.

What all the numbers above show is that the draft can be a precarious proposition, even in the first round where the best available talent is supposed to be found. Over the last 10 years, the Cowboys have been one of the most successful teams at mining this resource.

And here, just to provide some pre-draft fun, are the best and worst first-round picks from each of the last 10 drafts and what their wAV would add up to:

Best picks Worst picks
Year Team Player POS wAV Year Team Player POS wAV
2012 CAR Luke Kuechly LB 118 2012 SF A.J. Jenkins WR 3
2013 HOU DeAndre Hopkins WR 71 2013 NYJ Dee Milliner CB 6
2014 LAR Aaron Donald DT 69 2014 CLE Johnny Manziel QB 4
2015 TB Jameis Winston QB 58 2015 CHI Kevin White WR 2
2016 JAX Jalen Ramsey CB 63 2016 DEN Paxton Lynch QB 2
2017 KC Patrick Mahomes QB 70 2017 CIN John Ross WR 7
2018 BAL Lamar Jackson QB 59 2018 ARI Josh Rosen QB 3
2019 ARI Kyler Murray QB 44 2019 WAS Dwayne Haskins QB 4
2020 LAC Justin Herbert QB 30 2020 TEN Isaiah Wilson OT 0
2021 DAL Micah Parsons LB 18 2021 JAX Travis Etienne RB 0
Total 600 Total 31

Apart from illustrating the vagaries of drafting a QB in the first round, the table shows that even for the worst teams in the league, there is some hope, as they could have drafted much worse, just as there is reason for the best teams to improve their efforts, as they are still far away from realizing the maximum potential possible.