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Ranking the 3 worst Dallas Cowboys draft classes since 1989

They can’t all be winners.

Dallas Cowboys Sale Set Number: X37916 TK1 R3 F3

New technology and data are changing the landscape of talent evaluation. There is now little deviation in opinion, and for the most part, it has improved the drafting process. However, there will always be misses.

Even the best drafting teams over the last several decades had years where none of the prospects met expectations. This includes the Dallas Cowboys. And if you think this is pessimistic, you can read the top three best draft classes here for a little more optimism.

With that said, what are the three worst draft classes for the Cowboys?

Ranking the 3 worst Dallas Cowboys draft classes since 1989

Miami Dolphins v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Just a quick rundown of how these classes are evaluated:

  • We are only considering players drafted in the 1989 class and later, which is when Jerry Jones took over the team.
  • We are evaluating every class after 2016 with a grain of salt because their careers are still developing.
  • A “successful” draft pick includes players that switched to another team and found success there. While the rankings prioritize the time spent in Dallas, there is no penalty for the front office failing to retain them. So, players like DeMarcus Ware that found success in Denver after playing in Dallas is attributed to the Cowboys’ first drafting him.
  • We are excluding any undrafted free agent signings. So, Tony Romo’s class in 2003 will not include the signal-caller since he was signed after the draft ended.

And with that, here are a few draft classes that were bad, but missed the cut:

  • 2001: First five picks were Quincy Carter, Tony Dixon, Willie Blade, Markus Steele, and Matt Lehr
  • 2012: First five picks were Morris Claiborne, Tyrone Crawford, Kyle Wilber, Matt Johnson, and Danny Coale
  • 2006: First five picks were Bobby Carpenter, Anthony Fasano, Jason Hatcher, Skyler Green, and Pat Watkins
  • 2017: First five picks were Taco Charlton, Chidobe Awuzie, Jourdan Lewis, Ryan Switzer, and Xavier Woods

3.) 2000

First five selections: Dwayne Goodrich, Kareem Larrimore, Michael Wiley, Mario Edwards, and Orantes Grant

There are two factors saving this draft class from being number one: a lack of opportunity and Mario Edwards.

2000 will likely be similar to how we look back at the 2019 draft. While Trysten Hill probably wasn't the best pick in the second round, their lack of a first-round selection makes it hard to hold it against the Cowboys. 2000 is similar, they had five total picks including no first-rounder.

However, in the entire second round of the 2000 draft, there were only three players that started one or fewer games in their career. Dwayne Goodrich unfortunately is one of them.

In comparison, Mario Edwards was a superstar. But in reality, he is a player that would go on to start three seasons for the Cowboys, as well as starting in 50 out of his 73 career games. After leaving Dallas in 2003 he was out of the NFL by 2005. But Edwards is the only player keeping this draft class afloat. Because here is what this draft class accumulated, and the parenthesis will show Edwards’ contribution:

  • Pro Bowls: 0 (0)
  • Seasons started: 3 (3)
  • Weighted Average Value: 32 (22)
  • Games started: 59 (50)

It was a bad draft class for the most part but Edwards did his part. However, nineteen picks after Edwards went off the board, a young quarterback named Tom Brady would be taken by the Patriots. What if?

2.) 1995

First five selections: Sherman Williams, Kendall Watkins, Shane Hannah, Charlie Williams, and Eric Bjornson

Another year where the Cowboys did not have a first-round pick. However, they were not low on capital. They had three second-round picks, a third-round pick, and then another three fourth-round picks. Ten total picks and they produced practically nothing.

It is understandable to whiff on a second-round pick. But their three second-rounders started a combined three games in their career. What makes it even worse is that the three players selected immediately after these three players started a combined 247 games in their careers (Kordell Stewart and Frank Sanders are two of them).

Two players selected within the first four rounds never played in the NFL. And of the ten draft selections, only one player became a starter in the league, Eric Bjornson. After riding out his rookie contract in Dallas, he moved onto New England for a year and was out of the league by 2000. But he is a Super Bowl champion.

This draft class was a complete bust all around. Seven of the ten players were out of the NFL by 1997. However, the only reason this draft class isn’t number one is because it was a somewhat weak draft class all around. Only twelve players in the 1995 class made multiple Pro Bowls. Eight of those players were first-round picks, which the Cowboys didn't have.

With that said, the ten Cowboys players in the 1995 class ended up with:

  • Pro Bowls: 0
  • Seasons started: 2
  • Weighted Average Value: 31
  • Games started: 57

1.) 2009

First five selections: Jason Williams, Robert Brewster, Stephen McGee, Victor Butler, and Brandon Williams

2009 is a difficult class to rank. You can look at the twelve names that Dallas drafted and not find a single player that provided a noticeable impact. But at the same time, they didn't have a pick in the top two rounds.

However, when you hold pick 69, 75, 101, 110, and 120th overall, one would assume you could at least turn it into one starting player.

To be fair, there were two players who would start for the Cowboys from this class:

  • David Buehler, whose number was called to kick field goals for the Cowboys in 2010. After going 75% on his attempts, this is the first and last season he would kick field goals in the NFL.
  • John Phillips was the most successful pick from this class. He would start 43 games in his nine-year career, but in those games, he only put up 428 receiving yards and five touchdowns. His weighted average value (measured similar to WAR) across his entire career is 2. In 2021, Noah Brown had a weighted average value of 2. He was remarkably forgettable.

And remember, those are the “good” picks from this draft. Eight players wouldn't make it to 2011. Except for Phillips, none of the twelve players went into an NFL season listed as a starter. Yes, there was no first or second-round pick, but completely whiffing on all twelve picks deserves the number one spot.

Let’s look at some players that were still on the board by the time the Cowboys made their first selection (69th overall): T.J. Lang, Julian Edelman, Louis Vasquez, Mike Wallace, Glover Quin, Jared Cook, Thomas Morstead, Austin Collie, Henry Melton, and Pat McAfee.

Each of those names listed above finished with a career weighted average value greater than the combined WAV of the Cowboys' twelve selections. But instead, Dallas got:

  • Pro Bowls: 0
  • Seasons started: 1
  • Weighted Average Value: 17
  • Games started: 51

Yes, this has been somewhat pessimistic when the draft is moments away. But there are two pieces of good news for Cowboys fans after reviewing these poor draft classes. First, the worst classes happen when Dallas doesn't have a first-round pick. They are picking 24th overall on Thursday so this doesn’t apply.

Also, these weak classes mostly happened before Will McClay and the new era. Yes, 2017 was an honorable mention. But it barely even made the honorable mention list because the class started a combined 179 games despite a miss in the first round.

There will be down years. But given the situation in 2022, this likely won’t be one of them. At the very least, this year assuredly won’t end up on this list in the future.