The Cowboys have had starters emerge from the ranks of their late-round picks in the past. In fact, since Will McClay took over as Director of Player Personnel after the 2013 draft, the Cowboys have had five late-round picks (Rounds 5-7) emerge as eventual starters in the NFL (nine starts or more in one season), as the table below shows.
|Cowboys Late-rounders since 2014|
|2014||7th||CB Terrance Mitchell||2016 (3rd season, with KC)|
|2015||7th||TE Geoff Swaim||2018 (4th season)|
|2016||6th||CB Anthony Brown||2016 (1st season)|
|2017||6th||S Xavier Woods||2018 (2nd season)|
|2019||6th||S Donovan Wilson||2020 (2nd season)|
Most late-round picks need two or three years before they finally emerge as starters in the NFL, and Anthony Brown looks like the exception that proves the rule - and he’s an even rarer exception in Dallas: a late-round pick signed to a contract extension.
The 2021 late-round draft class (Simi Fehoko, Quinton Bohanna, Israel Mukuamu, Matt Farniok) may eventually add a starter to the Cowboys’ tally, though they are all probably long shots at this point.
But if you look at the list above closely, you’ll notice it does not include a single fifth-round pick. Here’s a look at how successful the Cowboys have been per round in drafting eventual starters (9+ starts in one season) and their cumulative weighted Approximate Value (wAV).
|Cowboys Draft Classes 2014-2021|
Even the most analytically challenged will recognize that the fifth round does not look good for the Cowboys. Seven picks, not a single starter, and a woeful wAV of 9.
Are other teams doing better? Yes, they are. Here’s a look at how the Cowboys’ fifth-round picks in Will McClay’s tenure compare to the rest of the league:
|5th-round picks by Team, 2014-2021|
The Cowboys’ track record in the fifth round from 2014-21 is terrible. They are the worst in the league at getting a return on their fifth-round picks, and by quite a margin.
The Cowboys would have been better off trading every single one of their fifth-round picks for a veteran player, who would at least have provided some marginal return on their draft capital. But that’s hindsight talking (even though we’ve advocated that point ad nauseam over the years).
This year, the Cowboys once again held on to all of their fifth-rounders and brought in four rookies. Are they destined to wash out, just as the recent fifth-rounders did?
There may be reason for hope yet, for two very specific reasons:
Sample size effect: Keying in on just the fifth-round picks, and only for eight drafts, may have narrowed the scope of the data to such an extent as to create extreme outliers. Broadening the scope to more picks (e.g. all Day 3 picks) will undoubtedly reduce the outliers in the sample size. In the Cowboys’ specific case, this would catapult them to eighth overall in terms of wAV if we look at their numbers for rounds 4-7 over the same period. That’s nothing to sneeze at, but it also doesn’t change the fact that the Cowboys suck in the fifth round.
The volume effect: To a large extent, the draft is driven by luck. Your odds of hitting on a pick increase with the number of picks you have. On average, the NFL got an eventual starter on 44% of their fifth-round picks (133 of 297) over the period. The Cowboys took four players in the fifth round this year. They are bound to get lucky eventually, and one or two of those picks could pan out.
So there is some statistical basis for hope, but you’ve got to wonder what’s going on in Dallas that has them whiffing on every pick in the fifth round.
Are they perhaps overconfident in their ability to identify talent late in the draft, perhaps fixating on “safe” or “can’t miss” prospects late in the draft, when the entire history of the draft proves that there is no such thing as a “safe” or “can’t miss” prospect late in the draft?
Or perhaps it’s that they overestimate the ability of their coaching staff to develop prospects. This is probably taken out of context, but here’s a war room shot of when the Cowboys drafted DT Joey Ivie in the seventh round of the 2017 draft:
Ivie was waived before the 2017 season started.
NFL teams often believe their coaching staff can coach up just about anybody. And if you’re the Cowboys and think one, or perhaps both, of your coordinators are head coaches in waiting, you my be prone to that type of thinking. Again, the history of the draft is proof positive that not even the greatest NFL coaches can coach up every player.
With all of that out of the way, here’s our question to you: Which 2022 fifth-rounder has the best chances - against the recent trend - of becoming an eventual starter?
Which 2022 fifth-round player do you think will eventually emerge as a starter for the Cowboys?
T Matt Waletzko
CB DaRon Bland
LB Damone Clark
DT John Ridgeway