Whether or not the Cowboys are currently capable of making a postseason run, the team is filled with really talented players. From Dez Bryant to Sean Lee to Morris Claiborne, there are a number of young building blocks on the roster. They might not have the most gifted group of players in the league, but we all remember the squads from the early parts of the millennium; this team is a far cry from your Quincy Carter-led Cowboys.
The problem is that the roster is top-heavy, composed of a bunch of Pro Bowl-caliber players and not enough quality depth. Teams like the Green Bay Packers thrive by finding eventual starters in the third, fourth, and fifth rounds, while the ‘Boys have struggled mightily when trying to fill out their roster in the middle rounds.
Since 2009, the Cowboys’ top pick after the second round has undoubtedly been DeMarco Murray. But after him, it gets dicey. The team’s next-best mid or late-round pick over that time has probably been Victor Butler—a player who really never got a chance to shine in Dallas.
And how about the rest of that 2009 class? Twelve picks, none of whom are still on the roster. Jason Williams, Robert Brewster, Mike Mickens, Stephen Hodge. Yikes.
To determine just how poor the Cowboys have been with their recent mid and late-round picks, I graded every selection since Jerry Jones took over in 1989 using approximate value per season—a good measure of total production and worth. With that metric, tight end Jason Witten has been the best selection after the second round, by far, followed by linebacker Dexter Coakley and offensive tackle Erik Williams.
Of the 159 post-second round picks the Cowboys made between 1989 and 2011, 31 have recorded an approximate value per season of at least 3.0. That’s a “hit rate” of 19.5 percent—or about one pick out of every five. By the way, the hit rate in the third and fourth rounds—the area where the Cowboys really need to improve their drafting to find eventual starters—has been 33.9 percent.
Over the past four drafts, however, it’s been a different story. Since 2009, there have been 29 picks after the second round, but just one player—Murray—has been even remotely successful. That’s a hit rate of 3.4 percent (and 9.1 percent in the third and fourth rounds alone).
If you want to understand why the Cowboys have failed to cash in on the immense talent at the top of their roster, look no farther than rounds three through seven of recent drafts. Unless this alarming trend comes to a halt, the ‘Boys will continue to underperform.
Jonathan Bales is the founder of The DC Times. He writes for DallasCowboys.com and the New York Times. He's also the author of Fantasy Football for Smart People: How to Dominate Your Draft.