Dallas Cowboys: Best and Worst Draft Picks of the Last Decade
As the 2014 NFL draft approaches it’s always fun to look back at how the team has performed in previous drafts. Jerry Jones has been the general manager of this team for more than 20 years and, as we all know, he’s had his shares of ups and downs.
If it’s true that championship teams are made in the NFL draft, then we can assume that the draft hasn’t been kind to the Cowboys recently, right?
Maybe we shouldn’t go that far. The Cowboys have had their shares of hits and misses in the draft. They’ve drafted some Hall of Famers and some big time busts.
Let’s look at the best and worst of the last decade.
Fifth-Best Pick of the Decade: Orlando Scandrick, CB, Boise State
Selection: 143rd overall, 2008 NFL draft.
Previous Three Picks: Brandon Carr, Gary Barnidge, Zackary Bowman.
Who Was Still Available: Tim Hightower, Kroy Biermann, Carl Nicks.
The fifth-round of the NFL draft is a little like bobbing for apples. Teams take stabs at players who have a single skill that they like and hope it works out.
Scandrick did more than just work out.
You could argue that he has been the most consistent cornerback for the Cowboys over the last few years. He’s been a productive slot corner who has shut down all caliber of receivers.
In 2013, Scandrick took over the starting role after Morris Claiborne continued to struggle. He finished 2013 with the Cowboys best pass-coverage grade amongst corners, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required) and promises to provide the team some stability for the future.
Fifth-Worst Pick of the Decade: Bobby Carpenter, OLB, Ohio State
Selection: 18th overall, 2006 NFL draft.
Previous Three Picks: Tye Hill, Jason Allen, Chad Greenway.
Who Was Still Available: Antonio Cromartie, Tamba Hali, Johnathan Joseph.
Many will remember Bobby Carpenter by his moments on HBO’s “Hard Knocks” where he was constantly manhandled by Marc Columbo, who appropriated nicknamed him “Barbie.”
Those moments would provide some foresight into Carpenter’s career in Dallas would play out.
In four seasons, Carpenter was never able to crack the starting lineup or meet expectations, recording 96 tackles and only 3.5 sacks as a Cowboy. He ended up as a huge disappointment for Bill Parcells and was gone as soon as his rookie contract expired.
When you think that the Cowboys could have landed a guy like Cromartie, you can’t help but wonder what could have been.
Fourth-Best Pick of the Decade: Sean Lee, LB, Penn State
Selection: 55th overall, 2010 NFL draft.
Previous Three Picks: Jason Worilds, Jermaine Cunningham and Carlos Dunlap.
Who Was Still Available: Ben Tate, Golden Tate and Brandon Spikes.
In 2010 the Cowboys were seeing the decline of Bradie James and Keith Brooking and were in need of a leader, an heir apparent.
Enter Sean Lee.
After a draft-day slide due to injury concerns, Lee was scooped up by the Cowboys, and he flashed moments of brilliance in his rookie season, especially in Indianapolis where he registered two interceptions, returning one for a touchdown.
Lee’s rookie campaign served as a springboard to a productive career, and he is considered amongst the best inside linebackers in the league today.
Though injuries have proven to be an issue with Lee, he remains the leader on the defensive side of the ball for the Cowboys. He’s developed into a tackling machine and defensive playmaker with a knack for creating turnovers.
His story is still being written.
Fourth-Worst Pick of the Decade: Jacob Rogers, OT, USC
Selection: 52nd overall, 2004 NFL draft.
Previous Three Picks: Keiwan Ratliff, Devery Henderson, and Dwan Edwards.
Who Was Still Available: Michael Boulware, Greg Jones and Shawntae Spencer.
Rogers was an All-American tackle out of Southern California. He had great technique, excellent footwork and seemed to be still developing.
Unfortunately, talent isn’t protected from injuries.
Rogers came in and had a tough transition to the NFL and spent his rookie season with the second-team offense. In early 2005, he underwent shoulder surgery but recovered in time to be named the starter in training camp.
As luck would have it, he ended up reinjuring his shoulder and injuring his leg within five days of being named the starter for the 2006 season. Both injuries required surgery, and Rogers was subsequently released by the team.
Third-Best Pick of the Decade: Dez Bryant, WR, Oklahoma State
Selection: 24th overall, 2010 NFL draft.
Previous Three Picks: Jermaine Gresham, Demaryius Thomas, Bryan Bulaga.
Who Was Still Available: Devin McCourty, Jared Odrick, T.J. Ward.
When Dez Bryant started falling due to some off-field concerns, Cowboys fans everywhere started to think that their wildest fantasy could become a reality. After all, the disappointing tenure of WR Roy Williams was coming to an end, and the Cowboys desperately needed a playmaker at the receiver position.
Bryant became everything that the Cowboys envisioned him being. Today, he’s evolved into one of the most dynamic wide receivers in the league and is a threat to take over a game at any time.
Since coming into the league just four years ago Bryant has accumulated 293 receptions, 4,104 yards and 40 touchdowns. Only one player has matched Bryant’s production in his first four years—Randy Moss.
The scary part is that the best might still be yet to come.
Third Worst Pick of the Decade: Jason Williams, LB, Western Illinois
Selection: 69th overall, 2009 NFL draft.
Previous Three Picks: Bradley Fletcher, Alex Magee, Jarron Gilbert.
Who Was Still Available: Michael Johnson, Matt Shaughnessy and Terrance Knighton.
Truth be told, Dallas' 2009 draft class was downright awful. Williams is targeted here because he was the first pick.
Williams was what we would call a “workout warrior.” The expectation was that Williams’ athleticism would make him a playmaker in Wade Phillips’ 3-4 defense. That didn’t’ work out as Williams amassed only six tackles in his tenure as a Cowboy.
What hurts is that all the available players listed above would have turned into valuable assets for the Cowboys defensively. The 2009 draft goes down as a wash and Williams is a big reason why.
Second-Best Pick of the Decade: Tyron Smith, OT, USC
Selection: Ninth overall, 2011 NFL draft.
Previous Three Picks: Julio Jones, Aldon Smith and Jake Locker.
Who Was Still Available: J.J. Watt, Nick Fairley and Robert Quinn.
There was never too much uncertainty about this pick, but there was one major dilemma. While most pundits had Smith as the pick, there was a defensive end that some thought Jerry Jones would be intrigued by—Wisconsin's J.J. Watt.
As we know, Watt turned into an elite defensive end almost immediately while Tyron Smith struggled.
Fast-forward to 2014 and the Cowboys seem to have made the right choice. For a team that badly needed help on the offensive line, they now have an All-Pro caliber left tackle who won’t be 24 until Dec. 12, 2014.
For the Cowboys, it was a win-win, and it’s hard to be upset about how things turned out.
Second-Worst Pick of the Decade: Felix Jones, RB, Arkansas
Selection: 22nd overall, 2008 NFL draft.
Previous Three Picks: Jeff Otah, Aqib Talib and Sam Baker.
Who Was Still Available: Rashard Mendenhall, Chris Johnson and Brandon Flowers.
Felix Jones was drafted to be the answer for the Cowboys running game after the departure of the underachieving Julius Jones.
Much to fans dismay, this didn’t work out.
Jones ended up as the definition of injury prone, missing 20 games over his five-year stay in Dallas. Despite having “home run” speed, Jones never had more than 200 carries, never exceeded 1,000 yards rushing and never surpassed more than three rushing touchdowns in a season.
The Cowboys needed a workhorse back and missed out on guys like Chris Johnson and Ray Rice.
The selection of both Julius and Felix Jones will forever make Cowboys fans weary of selecting a running back in the first round.
The Best of the Decade: DeMarcus Ware, OLB, Troy
Selection: 11th overall, 2005 NFL draft.
Previous Three Picks: Antrel Rolle, Carlos Rogers and Mike Williams (USC).
Who Was Still Available: Shawne Merriman, Jammal Brown and Derrick Johnson.
Bill Parcells’ first pick had to be a big one! With the “Big Tuna” coming into clean up the mess that Dave Campo left behind, the Cowboys desperately needed a franchise player on defense.
They got one.
The funny story here is that Parcells actually didn’t want Ware. He wanted outside linebacker Shawne Merriman. Thankfully, Jerry Jones vetoed Parcells’ wish and drafted Ware anyway.
Ware went on to have a Hall of Fame-type career for the Cowboys, amassing 117 sacks over his ten-year stay.
The Worst Pick of the Decade: Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU
Selection: sixth overall, 2012 NFL draft.
Previous Three Picks: Trent Richardson, Matt Kalil and Justin Blackmon.
Who Was Still Available: Mark Barron, Luke Kuechly, Dontari Poe.
Did Jerry Jones make a mess out of this one or what?
Look, there is still a chance that Morris Claiborne may become a good player but that isn’t the real issue. What is so horrible about this pick is what the Cowboys gave up to get it.
The Cowboys traded their first-round pick, 14th overall, and their second-rounder to acquire Claiborne. They did so leaving blue-chip players like Mark Barron, Luke Kuechly, Michael Brockers and David DeCastro on the board. All of the aforementioned players would have had an equal or greater immediate impact on the franchise than Claiborne has had.
What’s worse? The Cowboys second-round pick could have produced linebacker Bobby Wagner.
Overall, this trade was the ultimate backfire. The Cowboys lost big-time value in this maneuver and haven’t as of yet seen any benefits from it. Unless Claiborne turns it around in the 2014 season, this pick will be considered a bust.