The Dallas Cowboys take a lot of heat for turning in poor drafts. While they are far from the cream of the crop, forgoing analytics and instead drafting based on “the eye test,” the Cowboys have been far from the NFL’s worst drafting team, even in the past few years.
There are really two ways that we can grade drafts. The first is to do so immediately following the draft. Most people argue that’s shortsighted and that we need to see the prospects on the field.
However, that concept ignores the fact that the NFL draft is governed by probability. In the same way that it’s dumb to hit on 18 in blackjack even if you got 21 the last time you hit on 18, it’s not wise to repeat an action simply because it worked once or twice in the past.
If the Cowboys did everything right with a particular pick—bringing in the player who had the highest probability of producing and just not having it work out—we can’t say that they made a mistake. That’s like saying the person who stayed on 18 in blackjack but got beat made a mistake.
Sometimes, teams do everything right and have a “poor” draft, and sometimes they do everything wrong and happen upon a couple of Pro Bowl players. Thus, grading drafts immediately based on the probability of success makes some sense.
The other way to grade drafts, of course, is to analyze the actual careers of the players. Again, this doesn’t have much merit on the level of an individual draft because there’s so much inherent variance. But after awhile, teams start to accumulate enough data that we can actually use player performances to determine how well the teams are drafting.
The Cowboys might be lousy in the draft and still have an awesome class, or they might be awesome and turn in a stinker, but over the course of multiple seasons, they’ll come close to showing their true colors in the same way that the house always wins as you play more blackjack hands.
This article is meant to help determine if the Cowboys’ front office—the “house”—is a long-term winner.