Dallas Cowboys

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

PHILADELPHIA, PA - JANUARY 02:  Chad Hall #16 of the Philadelphia Eagles hauls in a long reception against Terence Newman #41 of the Dallas Cowboys on January 2, 2011 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Cowboys defeated the Eagles 14-13.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images
Jonathan BalesAnalyst IApril 14, 2011

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

NAMEDRAFT #PRO BWLS
1990MARK CARRIER63
1991ERIC TURNER22
 BRUCE PICKENS30
 TODD LYGHT51
 STANLEY RICHARD90
1992TERRELL BUCKLEY50
 TROY VINCENT75
1993NA  
1994ANTONIO LANGHAM90
1995NA  
1996NA  
1997SHAWN SPRINGS31
 BRYANT WESTBROOK50
 TOMMY KNIGHT90
1998CHARLES WOODSON47
 DUANE STARKS100
1999CHAMP BAILEY710
 CHRIS MCALISTER103
2000NA  
2001NA  
2002QUENTIN JAMMER50
 ROY WILLIAMS85
2003TERENCE NEWMAN52
2004SEAN TAYLOR52
 DEANGELO HALL83
 DUNTA ROBINSON100
2005PACMAN JONES60
 ANTREL ROLLE82
 CARLOS ROGERS90
2006MICHAEL HUFF70
 DONTE WHITNER80
2007LARON LANDRY6

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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