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Cowboys Must Improve Their Late Draft Fortunes

Posted Feb 11, 2014


IRVING, Texas – There has been a lot of discussion in the week since the Super Bowl about the Seahawks’ talent level , not to mention the expense – or lack thereof – of maintaining it.

It’s common knowledge at this point that Seattle discovered many of its key contributors, like Super Bowl MVP Malcolm Smith and All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman, in the late rounds of the NFL draft.

Rather than just point at one or two names, though, it seemed worthwhile to take a deeper look.

Going back to the 2010 NFL Draft, the Seahawks’ first draft with general manager John Schneider and coach Pete Carroll running the show, Seattle has blown the rest of the league away in developing late round picks. In all honesty, it hasn’t even been much of a competition.

Since 2010, the Seahawks have had 29 selections between the fourth and seventh rounds of the draft. Of those 29 picks, eight players have gone on to earn starter status – which, for the purposes of this story is eight or more games in a season. Those eight players, several of which have become household names by this point, have combined for 15 total seasons’ worth of starts in four years.

That includes the likes of Smith, Sherman, Kam Chancellor, K.J. Wright and Michael Bowie. You’re talking about a sizable portion of the Seahawks’ roster that’s being found in the later, bargain-priced rounds of the draft.

All told, 29 players started regularly for Seattle during the 2013 season. Of those 29, 22 were drafted by Seattle, and of those 22, nine were taken in the fourth round or later.

The Seahawks’ proficiency in the tail end of the draft is nothing short of remarkable. Compare those numbers – eight players, 15 seasons – to the rest of the NFL, and it’s more than double the league average. In the past four drafts, the other 31 clubs in the league have combined to find an average of 3.5 starting caliber players, who manage an average of five seasons in those positions between them.

While perhaps not as successful as Seattle, other teams have managed to find success. The Eagles have found seven starter-caliber players in those late rounds – including receiver Riley Cooper, center Jason Kelce and kicker Alex Henery.

>>View photos of the Cowboys Top 10 late round selections in the modern era.

Pittsburgh has also fared well, as the Steelers have dug up receiver Antonio Brown, offensive lineman Kelvin Beachum and linebacker Vince Williams in the later rounds.

Nearly every team in the league has some type of hit in these later rounds.  Houston found starting right tackle Derek Newton in the seventh round of 2011. Oakland found receiver Denarius Moore in the fifth round of 2011. Tampa Bay took a chance on Mike Williams in the fourth round of 2010. Famously, Washington found Pro Bowl running back Alfred Morris in the sixth round of the 2012 draft.

There’s a similar success story on all but a handful of teams in the NFL – and, as might be guessed, the Cowboys are among that handful.

The Cowboys have used 17 combined picks between the fourth and seventh rounds of the past four drafts.  Nine of those picks have been defensive players; the other eight were spent on offense.

Of the 17, only Dwayne Harris – a sixth-round pick in 2011 – has come close to achieving what would be considered “starting-caliber” status. One could hardly justify Harris as a starting receiver, with just 302 receiving yards and three touchdowns in three seasons, but his outstanding work as a return man and special teamer last year merits a mention.

Some of those picks – guys like Sean Lissemore, Josh Thomas and Sam Young – have gone on to decent pro careers, albeit not with the Cowboys.  Seven of the 17 – Jamar Wall, Bill Nagy, Shaun Chapas, David Arkin, Caleb McSurdy, Danny Coale and Matt Johnson – have appeared in fewer than 10 games since they were drafted.

Kyle Wilber and James Hanna were both later picks in the 2012 draft who have showed potential, but have yet to attain starter status. And obviously, the jury is still out on all three 2013 picks – B.W. Webb, Joseph Randle and DeVonte Holloman – though it’s worth noting that all three appeared in at least nine games as rookies.

The numbers improve ever-so-slightly if you go back in time. The NFL draft settled on its current, seven-round format in 1994, and the Cowboys have found their share of late-round bargains in that time fame.

Most recently, the 2008 draft saw Dallas dig Orlando Scandrick out of the fifth round. The 2007 draft yielded current starter Doug Free in the fourth round, three-year kicker Nick Folk in the sixth round and 21-game starter Alan Ball in the seventh round.

The 2005 draft is probably the most exemplary. The Cowboys found Marion Barber and Chris Canty in the fourth round, and they got a full season of starts out of sixth round offensive tackle Rob Petitti. And of course, seventh-round selection Jay Ratliff developed into a four-time Pro Bowler.

There are others. Patrick Crayton was a seventh round pick in 2004, and Bradie James was a fourth round pick in 2003. Matt Lehr was a fifth round pick in 2001. Mario Edwards was a sixth round pick in 2000.

It might be presumptuous, but it’s interesting to note: the Cowboys enjoyed their best season of the last 20 years, 2007, when they got contributions from roughly half a dozen of their late-round picks. That includes, Barber, Crayton, Canty, James, Ratliff and Folk.

There’s clearly something to be said for finding and developing young, inexpensive talent. And it’s clearly something the Cowboys need to improve upon.

>>View photos of the Cowboys Top 10 late round selections in the modern era.

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