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.