The Dallas Cowboys, like 31 other NFL teams, are preparing for the 2013 draft. So while management, the scouts and coaches sift through hours of film and volumes of notes, now would be a good time to measure the impact of the 2012 draft or lack of.
The rule of thumb in NFL circles is that three years is a good barometer to properly evaluate a draft class. While that logic seems rational, sometimes a more critical and annual review is necessary. In the case of the Dallas Cowboys that review is necessary right now.
We know that Morris Claiborne has all the makings of becoming a future All-Pro cornerback, but was giving up two draft picks worth the climb to get him? Preliminary, that answer would be yes, and all indications are that giving up that much to acquire him will be worth it in the long run.
But what about the rest of the 2012 draft for the Dallas Cowboys? Putting aside the three-year moratorium period for judgment, was there enough impact? Were there enough contributions? Have any major contributors and potential starters been identified?
There are some bright spots, some concerns, and many questions. Let's look at the 2012 draft class and see if we can determine which way the arrow is pointing, forecast the future and, most importantly, evaluate any missed opportunities.
It's hard to argue Jerry Jones' logic when he decided to move up and select Claiborne. He was arguably the best defensive player on a lot of draft boards; the Cowboys had the need at cornerback and Claiborne's skills propelled him to superstardom. It was a classic case of falling talent.
Some will argue that the climb to get him was steep but every decision comes with a price. This was a wise investment by Jones and although Claiborne's statistics weren't eye-popping, he improved every single week while playing a very difficult position.
You can easily compare his growth as a rookie to Cleveland's Joe Haden, who happens to be one of the best young cornerbacks in the NFL.
The alternative would've been to sit tight with the pick and select LSU's Michael Brockers or perhaps Stanford's David DeCastro. They wouldn't be bad options but it's hard to say what type of impact either player could have provided.
Overall, the Cowboys were able to solidify their secondary for a long time and be able to match up with the NFC East's elite receivers.
Verdict: Keep the pick
The Cowboys did not have a second-round pick in the 2012 draft, but all indications were that Jerry Jones was going to select Bobby Wagner. But instead of doing that, the pick was used as part of the package to move up and select Claiborne.
So while the Cowboys through moving up two rounds had Claiborne at this point, they could have potentially had Michael Brockers and Bobby Wagner. That would have gone a long way in solidifying their front seven but that ultimately was not the direction they were going.
Wagner did have a tremendous year for Seattle while compiling 140 tackles, two sacks and three interceptions. He is an explosive, fast and instinctive player who will be a fixture in Seattle's defense for years to come. At this point, he would've been a nice 4-3 linebacker for the Cowboys.
Hey, life goes on.
Verdict: N/A: Part of Claiborne deal
On the surface, Crawford wasn't necessarily a bad pick. But 20 tackles and zero sacks might lead some to wonder what the Cowboys missed out on, and I am one of them. I don't think the plan during Crawford's rookie year was to turn him loose but it was more to bring him along at a slower pace into the mix as a pass-rusher.
Running back Bernard Pierce, wide receiver T.Y. Hilton and center Ben Jones were all possibilities with the 81st pick and would've fit needs as well. I'm a little torn at this point and maybe that's why the three-year waiting period is so critical to the evaluation process. This might require seeing how Crawford performs in the new 4-3 alignment.
Verdict: Keep the pick
This looks like the head-scratching round for the Cowboys' 2012 draft. As enticing as the prospect of seeing Matt Johnson perform at safety was, he could not stay on the field. Hamstring and back issues shelved Johnson for the entire season and that was very disappointing.
The Cowboys selected him based on his track record as a playmaking safety but, unfortunately, he became better acquainted with the training staff. Johnson could've provided the Cowboys turnover totals, a much needed boost, but he will have to wait for 2013 for that opportunity.
Initially, the selection of Wilber looked to be a way to improve the pass rush from the outside linebacker position. Wilber was known for his speed and ability to get to the quarterback. But he suffered a broken thumb in the preseason and was pretty much relegated to special teams during the season.
His impact on defense was nonexistent and the biggest disappointment for the Cowboys was absolutely zero production from the fourth-round picks. This is the biggest concern I have with the way Jones structures the selection of draft picks: little to no impact after the first two rounds.
The Cowboys missed out on several opportunities at this point. Some names that come to mind are Vic Ballard, Jerron McMillian and Josh Norman. For my taste, this round needs a redo.
Verdict: Vic Ballard, RB and Jerron McMillian, S
Danny Coale seemed like a great selection in the fifth round. He was a Jason Garrett type of player with sure hands, and he ran crisp routes. Coale also brought a lot of intangibles to the table and kind of reminded you of that Wes Welker type of receiver.
The logic was spot-on but Coale's health became his greatest enemy. A broken foot during offseason workouts and an eventual ACL tear landed Coale on injured reserve with an uncertain future in Dallas. It would be hard to envision any significant contributions from Coale in 2013, and that would be contingent on his ability to overcome the injury and make the team.
The Cowboys at this point had already passed on T.Y. Hilton but I do believe that Coale, if healthy, had a real chance to make contributions last season. But when you see Alfred Morris, LaVan Brazill and Asa Jackson as available talent, it does make you wonder what could've been.
It was hard to see Alfred Morris coming so you can't live too much in hindsight but there were other wide receiver options available.
Verdict: LaVan Brazill
The Cowboys did a nice job with this pick. Hanna really started to make some contributions at the end of last season, and he does possess a nice skill set that will benefit the offense. There is no reason to believe that Hanna won't emerge as Jason Witten's backup in 2013, and the Cowboys need to utilize his athletic ability in the passing game.
The ability to develop Hanna will only lead to better matchups for the offense while creating a headache for opposing defenses. Hanna's development will be critical in securing his own position with this franchise while also providing some relief for Witten.
This looks like the Cowboys finally have a late-round gem.
Verdict: Keep the pick
I was familiar with McSurdy when he was drafted but was more intrigued by what the Cowboys missed out on. The seventh round produced some nice talent around the NFL. Alfonzo Dennard, Marcus Kuhn and Bryce Brown are a few of those prospects. There was one player, Vontaze Burfict, who went undrafted but certainly possessed first-round ability.
And that's where the Cowboys whiffed big time. McSurdy tore his Achilles in the preseason and landed on injured reserve. That's all you need to know about this pick. Even if healthy, this new 4-3 alignment is not a good fit for McSurdy, and the Cowboys needed to look elsewhere.
Verdict: Vontaze Burfict