The Cowboys, God bless their generous hearts, managed to leak their draft board for the fourth time in 12 years. Apart from confirming what we already knew - the Cowboys are a circus, and some might even say a clown show - there are some takeaways from those four boards that are worth looking into a bit deeper, especially in the context of this year’s draft.
But before we go there, let’s first take a look at the first 34 names on this year’s draft board, with a hat tip to a bunch of enterprising Twitter Cowboys for the first 16 names, and a huge hat tip to Jon Machota of The Athletic for the remaining 18 names.
|4||Garrett Wilson||Ohio St.||WR||10||NYJ|
|6||Derek Stingley Jr.||LSU||CB||3||HOU|
|8||Kyle Hamilton||Notre Dame||S||14||BAL|
|9||Ikem Ekwonu||NC State||OT||6||CAR|
|12||Charles Cross||Miss. State||OT||9||SEA|
|15||Chris Olave||Ohio St.||WR||11||NO|
|19||Breece Hall||Iowa State||RB||36||NYJ|
|20||Kenyon Green||Texas A&M||OG||15||HOU|
|22||Zion Johnson||Boston College||OG||17||LAC|
|27||Jahan Dotson||Penn State||WR||16||WAS|
|28||Jermaine Johnson II||Florida St.||DE||26||NYJ|
|30||Arnold Ebiketie||Penn State||DE||38||ATL|
Before we delve into the specifics of the board, here is what we already knew before the board was deciphered:
- At the end of March, Jerry Jones said, “Famous last words: We’ll get [an offensive lineman] unless Lamb or Parsons is there.” Which is exactly what they did.
- Two days before the draft, perhaps trying his hand at some subterfuge, Stephen Jones said the Cowboys had 14-16 first-round graded players on their board. After the first round, Stephen Jones clarified that number and specifically mentioned 14 first-round grades. Which is exactly the amount they had.
- In the press conference after the first round, Jerry Jones flashed the draft board and explained that the Cowboys had Tyler Smith ranked 16th, and the two guards (Green & Johnson) ranked below him. We now know this to also be true.
Taken together with what we’ve seen from previous draft boards, there are a couple of key takeaways from this:
- The Cowboys don’t lie. When they say they have a player ranked in a certain spot, or above another player, this has been born out by the leaked draft boards repeatedly. In 2016, Jerry Jones said that Ezekiel Elliott had the highest grade of any player on their draft board and that Jalen Ramsey was ranked No. 2 on their board. When we eventually got our hands on the draft board, it turned out to be correct. In 2013, Jerry Jones said their top three picks (Travis Frederick, Terrance Williams, Gavin Escobar) were all in the ‘early 20s’ on their draft board. Jones was initially ridiculed for that, but when we got hold of the draft board a month later, the three players were ranked 22, 23, and 25. This of course has caused some fans to wonder whether the boards were leaked intentionally, and I know that conspiracy fantasies are a big thing right now, but sometimes the simplest explanation is the best: your big dumb team did something stupid again. For the fourth time no less.
- What is it that keeps pushing Jerry and Stephen to divulge these details? Is it that they think they are the smartest guys in the room, and they need to show everybody how smart they are? Or is this driven by a deep-rooted insecurity about their football acumen that results in a need to validate themselves by blabbing out internal stuff? Who in their right mind pulls out a draft board at a press conference, and why?
- If you ask Bill Belichick why he picked a given player, he’ll tell you “we picked the player because we liked the player.” And that’ll be the end of the discussion.
On to this year’s draft class.
The offensive guard narrative.
To anybody watching the Cowboys last year, it was abundantly clear that the team needed help at guard. And through the miracle of mock drafts and other offseason content, guards were linked to Dallas on an almost daily basis, with the occasional center thrown in for good measure. In many ways that slow drip of mock draft goodness, along with exhaustive draft analysis about Dallas’ interior OL needs, plus the Top 30 invite list conditioned us to expect the Cowboys to pick a guard with their first pick.
Since 2010, the Cowboys have drafted 10 offensive linemen in the first four rounds of the draft, care to take a guess how many of those 10 linemen were guards in college? Here’s an overview:
Connor McGovern is the only one of those 10 players to play mostly at guard in college: Two centers were added to the mix, the rest played tackle in college. The Cowboys like to draft tackles which they can then move inside. We should have known this, and we shouldn’t have been surprised that they took a tackle, but a lot of us were.
What Tyler Smith’s second-round grade could tell us.
We now know that Smith had a second-round grade on the Cowboys’ board. We also know that Smith needs some development before he’ll be a starter, inside or outside. But that second-round grade tells us something about what the Cowboys expect from him down the line. And to figure out what that could be, we can take a look at previous Cowboys draft boards and figure out the career arc of other tackles with a second-round grade. The table below summarizes the four players that fit the bill:
|Year||Player||POS||Cowboys Grade||Pick||Starter Seasons||wAV|
That’s quite a peer group! If you’re a tackle and the Cowboys had a second-round grade on you, a long NFL career apparently awaits. Decker and Conklin have been primary starters for their teams in five out of six possible seasons, Pugh has been the starter in every one of his nine NFL seasons, and Fluker notched seven out of nine starter seasons. This augurs well for Tyler Smith.
Where were Williams and Tolbert graded?
The Cowboys have been remarkably tight-lipped (so far) about where they had Williams and Tolbert graded.
We know via Bobby Belt that the team considered both Williams and Tolbert for their second-round pick at 56.
Cowboys were considering Sam Williams and Jalen Tolbert at 56. They thought Tolbert was more likely to reach them at 88.— Bobby Belt (@BobbyBeltTX) April 30, 2022
They played it just right.
This suggests the two players were ranked very close to each other (perhaps similar to the Frederick/Williams/Escobar situation in 2013). What we don’t know is whether both players had a second- or third-round grade. What we do know is that
- in 2010, the Cowboys’ draft board had 24 players with first-round grades, but only 16 players with a second-round grade.
- in 2013, the Cowboys had 18 players with first-round grades, and 22 with a second-round grade.
- in 2016, the Cowboys had just 16 players with first-round grades and 24 with second-round grades.
It’s probably just pure coincidence that all three boards have exactly 40 players with first- or second round grades, but it chimes nicely with this year’s draft board.
We know that the list Jerry flashed into the camera contains 38 names, the last four of which are undecipherable. Are there more second-round grades on the next page that Jerry didn’t show, and are Williams and Tolbert part of that group? Or are Williams and/or Tolbert perhaps part of the four undecipherable names? We may never know the answer to these questions, but for now we’ll assume both had second-round grades.
With that assumption, we can again look back at the three previously leaked draft boards and look at the career arcs of defensive ends and wide receivers with a second-round grade on the Cowboys’ board, conveniently summarized in the following table:
For Williams, the second-round peer group looks promising. If Williams’ career arc would follow that of Hughes, Graham, or Ogbah, the Cowboys will have hit a homerun with the pick. Of course, Margus Hunt and Kevin Dodd are stark reminders that not every draft pick pans out, even if they were highly graded out of college.
The risk overall appears to be higher for Tolbert, based on this analysis. There are two bona fide stars in DeAndre Hopkins and Demaryius Thomas on that eight-name WR list, but there are also a lot of misses among the names. We can hope for a DeAndre Hopkins- type trajectory for Tolbert, but more realistically we might be better off expecting a Terrance Williams-type career arc.
Day Three picks.
We didn’t have to wait for a leaked draft board to figure out how the Day Three picks were graded, the Cowboys generously broadcast that information entirely of their own volition. Here’s what was posted on DallasCowboys.com:
They had a fourth-round grade or better on five of the six selections. Tight end Jake Ferguson, offensive tackle Matt Waletzko, cornerback DaRon Bland, linebacker Damone Clark and linebacker Devin Harper had fourth-round grades. Clark had a third-round grade and was drafted with the 33rd pick in the fifth round, No. 176 overall.
The only exception was defensive tackle John Ridgeway, who had a fifth-round grade and was selected in the fifth round.
And that gives us a good picture of how this draft class was graded:
|2||De Williams||DE||2nd or 3rd|
|3||Jalen Tolbert||WR||2nd or 3rd|
Going back to the idea of peer groups, here’s what Damone Clark’s peer group of third-round graded linebackers looks like:
If and how Clark recovers from his spinal fusion surgery will go a long way to determine his future in the NFL, but his draft board peer group suggests there’s a 50/50 chance he turns into a multi-year starter.
Here are the peer groups for the fourth-round graded players:
TE Jake Ferguson: At first glance, the TE peer group looks rather weak in terms of weighted AV, but all three guys were starters for their teams (for a while), and at the very least were very serviceable No. 2 TEs. That’s probably a good expectation for Ferguson, who’ll play behind the franchise-tagged Dalton Schultz this year, but might be asked to step up next year if the Cowboys fail to reach a contract extension with Schultz.
OT Matt Waletzko: Waletzko caused quite a stir with Cowboys fans thanks to his freakish size and athleticism (6-foot-7, 9.96 RAS). His peer group contains a multiple Pro Bowl left tackle in David Bakhtiari, a nine-year NFL veteran in Vlad Ducasse, and a guy (Dallas Thomas) who started 26 games at guard over a four-year NFL career. That’s not a bad floor for a fifth-rounder, and certainly an exciting upside.
LB Devin Harper: Linebackers picked in the sixth round usually have to work their way onto the team via special teams. But the fourth-round graded peer group looks more promising: six of the eight players in that group turned into multi-year NFL starters. That’s encouraging, but Harper will have to work his way up through a crowded LB room before becoming a starter.
CB DaRon Bland: Of the eight corners listed in the table above, only three turned into multi-year starters, so the odds are not stacked in Bland’s favor. But one of the guys listed is the Cowboys’ own Anthony Brown, and if Bland can mirror Brown’s NFL career arc that would definitely be a plus for the Cowboys.
DT John Ridgeway: There are only two comparables in Ridgeway’s peer group, and I didn’t include them in the table above. Akeem Spence (2013, 4-100) started 57 games so far in the NFL with four starter seasons, while Josh Boyd (2013, 5-167) started just four games over a three-year NFL career. That can mean everything and nothing. As Cowboys fans we keep hoping for another Jay Ratliff, but more often than not we end up with guys like Joey Ivie or Jordan Carrell.
Given the data above, which draft pick are you most optimistic about?