The Dallas Cowboys believe themselves to be in the middle of a championship window, so they will try to use the upcoming draft to accomplish two difficult tasks: solidify their future and find at least one immediate contributor ready to excel at the highest levels. The question is: Can that be done with the 17th pick in the NFL Draft?
Recent history shows that it's possible but difficult to find players who will reach an elite level in the first few years of their careers at this point in the draft. Of the 30 players picked between picks No. 15 and No. 20 in the past five seasons, eight of them have reached Pro Bowls so far.
Below are a few things to be gleaned from recent draft history.
Pro Bowl Selections at Picks 15-20 in the Past Five Seasons
- 2018: Tremaine Edmunds (16th) - Linebacker
- 2018: Derwin James (17th) - Safety
- 2018: Leighton Vander Esch (19th) – Linebacker, Cowboys
- 2017: Marlon Humphrey (16th) - Cornerback
- 2016: Keanu Neal (17th) - Safety
- 2016: Ryan Kelly (18th) - Center
- 2015: Melvin Gordon (15th) - Running Back
- 2015: Marcus Peters (18th) - Cornerback
What does this suggest?
Of the eight players selected to Pro Bowls, six of them are on defense. The only two Pro Bowl-caliber offensive players are Ryan Kelly and Melvin Gordon, who is no longer on the team that drafted him.
It also appears to be a good spot for defensive backs, an apparent need for the Cowboys this year. NFL teams are often hesitant to use high draft picks on defensive backs. In the past five seasons, only two defensive backs have even been drafted in the top five of the draft. But the 15-20 range has already produced five Pro Bowlers over that same time.
While some fans might argue the Cowboys should move up a few spots to draft an impact player, recent history begs the question: is the 10-14 range any better than 15-20? Let's take a look.
Pro Bowl Selections at Picks 10-14 in the Past Five Seasons
- 2018: Minkah Fitzpatrick (11th) - Cornerback
- 2017: Patrick Mahomes (10th) - Quarterback
- 2017: Marshon Lattimore (11th) - Cornerback
- 2017: Deshaun Watson (12th) - Quarterback
- 2016: Laremy Tunsil (13th) - Offensive Tackle
- 2015: Todd Gurley (10th) - Running Back
- 2015: Andrus Peat (13th) - Offensive Tackle
What does this suggest?
There have been seven players selected in the 10-14 range in the past five seasons who have made Pro Bowls so far, compared to eight in the 15-20 range, which suggests similar value throughout the entire range of picks in the teens.
Picks in the early teens may provide a higher probability of being able to land a franchise quarterback as evidenced by the selections of Watson and Mahomes, but Pro Bowl-ready linebackers and defensive backs seem just as available at No. 17, where the Cowboys sit as they are at, say No. 12, where the Las Vegas Raiders will be selecting.
Is No. 17 Good Luck?
Derwin James (2018) and Keanu Neal (2016), both safeties, have been the No. 17 picks that have provided the most immediate impact in recent years. But the Dallas Cowboys have struck gold with No. 17 in club history and altered the course of their franchise.
Dallas has owned the right to the No. 17 pick four times in the past. Two of those picks were Emmitt Smith (1990) and Mel Renfro (1964), both of whom have already been inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The other two picks were Kevin Smith (1992) and Kevin Brooks (1985) who were both multi-year starters in Dallas.
It's a small sample size, and it doesn't say anything about the future, but it shows a pattern of pretty remarkable success.