The Dallas Cowboys didn't have a quality 2013 draft. It might seem premature to make that claim, but the value of decisions should be determined using the evidence that was available at the time of the choice, not afterward. The latter sort of ex post facto determination assumes that the value of decisions is dictated by the result.
Logically, we know that's not the case. When head coach Jason Garrett calls a particular play, it has a certain probability of working out. If he chooses a high-probability play that has a 95 percent chance of converting but the Cowboys offense fails to make it work, that doesn't mean Garrett made a poor choice; if he maximized the chances of success, it was a smart call before the play as well as after it, regardless of the outcome.
Similarly, each draft choice comes with a certain probability of succeeding in the NFL. The Cowboys and every team are searching for predictors of future success. If a particular choice doesn't have a fruitful NFL career, it doesn't necessarily mean he was a bad pick.
Running back Joseph Randle is an example I have and will continue to use. I don't need to see Randle's NFL career to know that he was a poor choice. With backs like Zac Stacy and Andre Ellington still on the board, Dallas opted for a player with a weight/speed combination that few players have ever been able to overcome. Even if Randle somehow breaks out, the pick was subpar since all of the evidence at the time pointed to him possessing a low probability for NFL success.
With that in mind, here is my seven-round Cowboys mock draft that focuses on players with the predictors of success at each position to suggest they're the optimal choices in each respective round.
The Cowboys have an obvious need for defensive linemen. Despite defensive tackle being an area of major concern, I think defensive end is just as important.
George Selvie is decent as a No. 2 rusher, but he probably won't develop into an elite player, and veteran DeMarcus Ware has clearly taken a fall. Yes, Ware has suffered injuries, but that's kind of the point; aging players get injured and take a long time to recover.
When looking at pass-rushers, I'm interested in two things: college production and arm length. Stanford's Trent Murphy is elite in both areas. In 13 games in 2013, Murphy racked up 14 sacks and an unreal 21.5 tackles for loss, both leading the Pac-12.
We'll need to wait to know Murphy's arm length for sure, but at 6'6", all signs point to arms in the range of 33.5 inches or longer, which is more than adequate.
Projected to go somewhere in the back of the first round, I think Murphy will rise before April. All of the signs for NFL success are there.
Defensive tackles tend to rise in the predraft process, so the chances of landing someone like Arizona State's Will Sutton in the second round are minimal. If the Cowboys indeed bypass defensive tackle in the first round, Florida State's Timmy Jernigan makes sense in the second.
Jernigan is a lean, athletic interior defensive lineman at 6'2", 298 pounds. He had 4.5 sacks, 44 tackles and 10.5 tackles for loss in 2013.
My favorite Jernigan trait is his age. As a true junior, Jernigan is one of only a handful of junior tackles coming out in this class. None of the other elite players at the position are juniors. In my view, drafting underclassmen is one of the best ways to acquire value.
First, younger players can obviously contribute for more years in the NFL. Second, they typically don't cost as much in the draft because their stats are often inferior to older players. No matter how much teams employ scouts to watch film, they still emphasize college stats to a large degree.
When a player like Jernigan produces at a major school at a young age, it's a good sign that he's going to offer value at the next level. In effect, drafting juniors is like "buying low" on stocks that figure to increase in value in the near future.
The 2014 safety class is really weak, which could force a player like USC's Dion Bailey up the board. Bailey is grouped with a handful of other players in the second tier of safeties, however, so it's unlikely he'll move up past the mid-second.
If he falls, Bailey makes sense for Dallas as a versatile safety who could come in and potentially start next to Barry Church. One reason Bailey might fall is that he hasn't played a whole lot of free safety in college, instead working at outside linebacker and as an in-the-box strong safety at USC.
But all of the signs for above-average coverage skills are there, including a 6'0", 200-pound frame and 11 picks in three seasons.
I'm probably in the minority in thinking that Dallas desperately needs another playmaker in their receiving corps. Tight end Jason Witten is all but done, and rookie wide receiver Terrance Williams probably shapes up better as a No. 3 wide receiver than a starter.
There are two reasons I'm not overly bullish on Williams. First, he was a 24-year old rookie, two years older than Browns second-year receiver Josh Gordon, so we should expect more from him.
Second, he doesn't have the big body and physical skill set that typically leads to efficient red-zone play. The Cowboys need another receiving threat to take pressure off of Dez Bryant in the red zone.
Enter Rutgers wide receiver Brandon Coleman. He's 6'5", 220 pounds and has proven to be a dominant red-zone force. In addition to his big-play ability (19.2 yards per catch average), Coleman converted 20 of his 94 career receptions into touchdowns. That's a big-time number.
With Coleman and Bryant on the outside, Williams working the slot and tight end Gavin Escobar helping out near the goal line, the Cowboys would have a receiving corps with truly elite potential.
Offensive linemen rarely come out of school early. Of the top 20 guards in the CBS Sports 2014 draft rankings, 14 of them are redshirt seniors!
Miami guard Brandon Linder is a true senior and a big-bodied player at 6'6", 317 pounds. With that size, it should be easier for Linder to get into the chest of defensive tackles to neutralize them.
Although guard Mazkenzy Bernadeau played pretty well down the stretch, he's not a long-term solution for Dallas on the inside. Left guard Ronald Leary struggled worse, allowing 27 pressures, which Pro Football Focus (subscription required) tracked as the 11th-most for any guard in the NFL.
Dallas would be smart to bring in competition at the position.
Drafting a late-round running back again in 2014 might seem strange, but it's smart for Dallas to admit that they made a mistake on running back Joseph Randle as quickly as they can.
Selecting a low-risk late-rounder at the position would be the equivalent of saying, "OK, we messed up last year, and we're going to rectify it now."
I'm of the mind that you should basically never give running backs contract extensions in the NFL. I predicted DeMarco Murray's 2013 breakout and I love him as a player, but you can't give a contract extension to a back who will already be 26 years old this February. I've found that running back efficiency typically peaks the moment a back enters the NFL, and it slowly declines from there.
And because running back is such a dependent position, it's really difficult for scouts to separate a quality back from his offensive line. They typically value the wrong sorts of things, and it allows for talented players such as Andre Ellington to slip in the draft.
My favorite undervalued back this year is Colorado State's Kapri Bibbs. Bibbs is a redshirt sophomore who didn't receive a single snap until 2013. Incredibly, he ran for 1,741 yards and 31 touchdowns in 14 games. He's 5'11", 203 pounds and has been clocked as fast as 4.45 in the 40-yard dash.
My only concern is that Bibbs had only eight receptions this year, but few college running backs post elite receiving numbers. Bibbs has all the tools to be a dynamite NFL running back.
Cowboys right tackle Doug Free got off to a hot start in 2013, but he was rather poor down the stretch.
In his first five games, Free averaged only 0.8 pressures allowed per game, according to PFF. Over the final 11 contests, though, that number soared to 2.7. Free deserves to come back in 2014, but his long-term contributions are still up in the air.
It wouldn't hurt Dallas to use a mid- or late-round pick on an offensive tackle with upside. Fresno State's Austin Wentworth is 6'5", 306 pounds and blocked for the No. 3-ranked offense in college football in 2013. The line allowed only 11 sacks all season.