Dallas Cowboys 2014 Draft: Aggregating Report Card Grades from Around the Web
There seem to be a lot of different opinions regarding the value of immediate draft grades, but grading the Dallas Cowboys’ 2014 draft right now is actually the best time to do it. The reason is that waiting for the players to perform on the field can actually be misleading.
When teams draft prospects, they’re not getting players who are already set to be busts or All-Pros; they’re drafting players who have a range of potential outcomes, just trying to maximize the probability that the player has a productive career.
They’re not dealing in certainty, but rather trying to shift the odds in their favor a bit. Some players have a higher chance of success than others, but some teams are also better at finding value in players who have a high probability of success relative to the cost of the pick.
When we wait until after a few seasons to grade a draft, we’re only seeing one possible path of how things could have gone—one branch on a very large tree. What if a team makes a really poor pick on a low-percentage player and it just happens to work out? Does that magically turn into a good pick? Of course not.
We need to be careful not to think in such black-and-white terms, realizing we’re dealing in probabilities.
In effect, teams are playing a version of blackjack in the draft. If they hit on 18—i.e. make a poor selection—it doesn’t “become good” if they get a three and hit 21. Just as hitting on 18 is a poor choice even if the next card is a three, drafting a player with a low probability of NFL success is a bad one regardless of how that player performs in the league.
The fact that everyone wants to wait years to grade a team’s current decisions displays the sort of results-oriented thinking that also plagues the league’s most unsuccessful franchises. The draft picks that were made over the past few days are either good or bad right now, and that won’t change in the future.
With that said, let’s take a look at how a few analysts are grading the Cowboys’ 2014 draft.
Rainer Sabin, Dallas Morning News: B-
Rainer Sabin of The Dallas Morning News gave the Cowboys a “B-” for their effort in 2014. Here’s what he had to say about their selection of Boise State defensive end Demarcus Lawrence:
Improving the worst defense in the NFL was the Cowboys’ primary objective heading into the draft. Dallas needed disruptive players capable of amplifying the team’s pass rush that had been weakened by the departures of DeMarcus Ware and Jason Hatcher in March. So it was no surprise the Cowboys made a serious effort to grab a defensive end, trading their second- and third-round picks to Washington to move into a better position so they could take Demarcus Lawrence of Boise State. The Cowboys gave up a lot to get Lawrence, and this draft will likely be judged based on his performance.
Regardless of how or when people grade this draft, Lawrence will have a ton to do with how the class actually performs on the field. He’s effectively Dallas’ second- and third-round selections, and the Cowboys desperately need him to play like a first-round pick right out of the gate.
Pete Prisco, CBS Sports: B
Pete Prisco of CBS Sports gave Dallas a “B”:
They wisely passed on [Johnny] Manziel to take guard Zack Martin to solidify their line. I liked the trade up to get defensive end Demarcus Lawrence in the second as well. That was a must-get in this draft.
As much as I like Lawrence, it’s hard to justify giving up two picks for him. The only way that’s smart is if he’s exactly the player the Cowboys think he is—the third-best pass-rusher in the draft, according to DallasCowboys.com’s Nick Eatman.
The question is, if that’s really Lawrence’s talent level, what are the chances he’d still be available for Dallas in the second round? Not high, meaning there’s a really good chance he was an outlier on Dallas’ board—someone it had ranked at least slightly higher than what was warranted.
Lawrence is a really good player—and he could be an awesome pro—but it’s not a certainty, and thus he probably doesn’t justify using both a second- and third-round pick on.
Mel Kiper, ESPN: B
ESPN’s Mel Kiper also graded the Cowboys’ draft as a “B” (subscription required):
Give Jerry Jones credit: I don’t think it’s unfair to at least be tempted by the prospect of Johnny Football with that blue star on his helmet, playing in that football theatre. But Manziel isn’t making Dallas a better team in 2014, and Tony Romo -- for all the derision -- is a really good QB when he gets protection. The Dallas offensive line with Zack Martin isn’t just the strength of the team, it’s arguably among the top few units in the NFL. They are going to be able to run the ball. I had Martin as high as the top 10, so that’s not a bad pick. I can see why Dallas added Demarcus Lawrence where it did, but a third is pricey in this draft.
Kiper liked the selection of Notre Dame’s Zack Martin, as did a lot of analysts who study film. Martin’s arms are short at 32.9 inches, which is cause for alarm, but so many smart people are in agreement that he was a top-10 talent that it seems like we can feel a little more comfortable with the pick.
Doug Farrar, Sports Illustrated: B-
Sports Illustrated’s Doug Farrar graded Dallas’ draft as a “B-,” saying the selection of Martin wasn’t a reach:
For the second straight season, the Cowboys went offensive line in the first round — but unlike Travis Frederick, Zack Martin wasn’t a reach. The former Notre Dame tackle can be a fantastic guard with a little finishing work. Boise State defensive end Demarcus Lawrence will try to replace a more prominent DeMarcus (Mr. Ware), and he has the nascent tools to do so, though the second round might have been a slight reach. Outside linebackers Anthony Hitchens and Will Smith will reinforce positions needed as Dallas tries to move intelligently to a 4-3 this year, and Baylor safety Will Dixon could be special as long as he stays out of trouble off the field and plays with a bit more discipline on it. Seventh-round Oregon cornerback Terrance Mitchell might be the sleeper here.
A lot of people seem to like Mitchell, but his combination of lackluster size (5’11”, 192 lbs) and poor speed (4.63 in the 40-yard dash) is scary. He’s extremely quick (4.00 short shuttle), but the Cowboys already have a quick, undersized cornerback in B.W. Webb. Mitchell seems like a poor man’s Webb, and Webb wasn’t really impressive himself in his rookie season.
Rob Rang, CBS Sports: B
Finally, Rob Rang of CBS Sports handed a “B” to Dallas:
It looked for a few minutes there like Jerry Jones might throw caution to the wind and nab Johnny Manziel but he exercised restraint and the smarter football choice, nabbing the ultra-safe Zach Martin in the first round. A day later, the gambler in Jones returned with an aggressive move to go get Demarcus Lawrence, a gifted pass rusher who fills a glaring hole with Demarcus Ware [sic] now with the Denver Broncos.
The experts are in agreement that the Cowboys were smart in passing on Manziel. Although he wouldn’t have helped Dallas immediately, he wasn’t as foolish of an option as he might initially seem.
Still, it seems like most are pretty much in agreement; the Cowboys had a good-but-not-great 2014 draft.
Combine results courtesy of NFL.com.