Dallas Cowboys NFL Draft 2011: Should Dallas Avoid a First Round Defensive Back?

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Dallas Cowboys NFL Draft 2011: Should Dallas Avoid a First Round Defensive Back?
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There are certain statements that, when first heard, sound rather profound.  These statements are often picked up by the mainstream media and repeated so often they become an undeniable truth, never, ever to be questioned.

One of these “truisms” is, “You are what your record says you are.” Of course, this is utter nonsense when looked at with any clarity. Was Green Bay a 10-6, barely-made-the-playoffs, good-but-not-a-real-Super Bowl-threat team?  No, the Packers were a well coached team with outstanding young talent that was besieged by injuries much of the season, but got reasonably healthy at the right time.

The more accurate line would be, “You are however good or bad you are playing under the conditions of that time.”

Another one is “Always draft the best player available, regardless of position.” 

This is patently ridiculous.  There are a wide variety of factors that come into play when determining a draft choice, not the least of which is your current roster.  Remember, not all positions are created equal.  Quarterbacks, left tackles, and pass-rushers are always in high demand and get paid accordingly, while kickers and punters are not.  Thus, the highest rated kicker of all time would likely fall into the second or third-round, no matter how he graded out.

I believe that philosophy—that certain positions are unworthy of consideration early in the draft—should be applied to defensive backs as well.  Even a great defensive back, in my opinion, is simply not worthy of a top-ten selection.

It used to be different.  Defensive backs, through great physical play and harsh intimidation, could affect a game even without a great pass rush.  Not anymore.  

Rule changes, far greater quarterback accuracy and much stronger receivers have made it open-season on defensive backfields.  Without pressure, today’s quarterbacks will slice up even the best secondary like it was soft cheese.  On the other hand, strong pressure makes even a below-average secondary look pretty good.

Further, history has shown taking a defensive back high in the draft is a losing proposition more times than not.  Since 1990, the Cowboys have tried that play twice, with less than stellar results:

2002: Dallas takes consensus top-10 safety Roy Williams.  With considerable help and guidance from Darren Woodson, Williams has two or three pretty good years, but then Woodson retires and Williams begins to quickly fall apart.  Soon after, he’s sent to Bengals' purgatory. Probable Hall of Fame safety Ed Reed drops to the Ravens at No. 24.

2003: Dallas takes Terence Newman No. 5 overall.  Newman is fast and athletic, but doesn’t make many plays.  Good for a second-rounder, not so much for the fifth overall selection.  Consensus All-Pro Nnamdi Asomugha is available for the Raiders at pick 31.

However, it’ not just the Cowboys who have suffered when taking a defensive back in the top 10 of the draft.  Here are the defensive backs taken that high from 1990-2007:

DATE

NAME DRAFT # PRO BWLS
1990 MARK CARRIER 6 3
1991 ERIC TURNER 2 2
  BRUCE PICKENS 3 0
  TODD LYGHT 5 1
  STANLEY RICHARD 9 0
1992 TERRELL BUCKLEY 5 0
  TROY VINCENT 7 5
1993 NA    
1994 ANTONIO LANGHAM 9 0
1995 NA    
1996 NA    
1997 SHAWN SPRINGS 3 1
  BRYANT WESTBROOK 5 0
  TOMMY KNIGHT 9 0
1998 CHARLES WOODSON 4 7
  DUANE STARKS 10 0
1999 CHAMP BAILEY 7 10
  CHRIS MCALISTER 10 3
2000 NA    
2001 NA    
2002 QUENTIN JAMMER 5 0
  ROY WILLIAMS 8 5
2003 TERENCE NEWMAN 5 2
2004 SEAN TAYLOR 5 2
  DEANGELO HALL 8 3
  DUNTA ROBINSON 10 0
2005 PACMAN JONES 6 0
  ANTREL ROLLE 8 2
  CARLOS ROGERS 9 0
2006 MICHAEL HUFF 7 0
  DONTE WHITNER 8 0
2007 LARON LANDRY 6

0

 

26 selections, and I see two players worthy of being selected that high.  Even with the draft being a gamble, those are terrible odds. Many of these guys were total and complete busts.  Bruce Pickens?  Tommy Knight?  Pacman?  Yikes.  

You have maybe two, possibly three other guys who could actually play well (Troy Vincent, Chris McAlister, maybe Newman), but for a top-10 pick, kind of a disappointment.  The rest are mostly average players, or worse.

So clearly, it’s a real shot in the dark to take a defensive back that high.  The odds are really against you hitting on a player worthy of that slot.

Remember, it’s all about the pass rush, people.  A good starting defensive lineman or rush linebacker is worth more than an All-Pro defensive back.

The Cowboys need to take the best lineman (preferably defensive lineman) available, wherever they wind up picking in the first-round, and fill in the secondary slots later. It is simply better all-around value.

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Contributed to Dallas Cowboys Times by Vince Grey

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