The Dallas Cowboys and their fans haven't had a lot to celebrate over the last decade, but Mike Tanier of Sports on Earth has come to the conclusion that they did one particular thing better than anyone else during that span.
Of the 320 team drafts that have taken place in the last 10 years, Tanier thinks the Cowboys' haul from 2004 was the best, beating out Atlanta in 2008 (Matt Ryan, Sam Baker, Kroy Biermann, Curtis Lofton, Thomas DeCoud, Harry Douglas) and New Orleans in 2006 (Jahri Evans, Marques Colston, Roman Harper, Reggie Bush, Zach Strief, Rob Ninkovich).
The Cowboys drafted the nucleus of a Super Bowl team in 2005. They just never got around to drafting ribosomes, mitochondria or an endoplasmic reticulum to support that nucleus. Ware and Ratliff remained the core of their front seven through last year, with Spears easing into a supporting role after years as a starter. Burnett and Canty are still NFL starters. Barber was a very good multi-purpose running back from 2005 through 2009 but faded quickly.
Add in Jason Witten and Tony Romo (both acquired in 2003), and this draft tells the story of roughly a decade of Cowboys football. Ware and company helped the Cowboys to 13-win seasons and numerous playoff berths, and they still keep the team anchored around .500 and competitive.
My first thought: Nobody could manage to do better than that? I mean, those Saints and Falcons drafts don't look particularly special, either. Have we really not seen better drafts than that in the last decade?
My second thought: Jerry Jones doesn't get enough credit for his drafting. Or rather, Jones and his associates don't get enough credit for their drafting. Because while I'm a bit surprised to see that this draft was ranked No. 1, you can't deny that it's one hell of a group.
There have been some bad picks since, but the good has still outweighed the bad for much of the last decade. There was Bobby Carpenter at No. 18 in 2006, but there was Anthony Spencer at No. 26 in 2007.
It's not a good sign that the best players who came out of 2008 and 2009 are Victor Butler, Mike Jenkins, Orlando Scandrick and Martellus Bennett, but it looks as though they've made up for it in 2010, 2011 and 2012 with Dez Bryant, Sean Lee, Tyron Smith, Bruce Carter, DeMarco Murray and Morris Claiborne. That's 6-for-7 on picks in the top three rounds, with Tyrone Crawford the only major question mark.
Was that '04 rookie class the best of the decade? The jury's still out, I'd say, and these things are difficult to assess. I'm partial to the Cardinals' haul from 2005 (Larry Fitzgerald, Darnell Dockett, Karlos Dansby, Antonio Smith), and I think the Seahawks' 2012 draft could blow everyone away, but there's no doubt it was a very good one...even if it only led to a single playoff victory.
I'd like to get your thoughts, biased or not.