RTN: What Kind of Player Can the Cowboys Expect at No. 18?

With the draft just three short weeks away, anticipation among Cowboys fans is building. That's particularly true because we really don't have a strong grasp on the direction the team might go come April 25. Will a top offensive lineman drop to them? Will they target a play-making defender at safety or defensive tackle? Could they perhaps trade down, even out of the first round?

In addition to a wide range of positions, there's also a vast array of potential career outcomes for whoever the Cowboys draft. I wanted to determine exactly what type of player the Cowboys might be able to expect to grab if they stay at No. 18, so I researched the history of recent first-round picks. Below, I charted the total approximate value, a great measure of total production, for every player drafted in each first-round slot since Jerry Jones took over the Cowboys in 1989.

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As expected, the value of picks declines as the draft unfolds. The total production posted by players drafted at No. 18 overall since 1989 has averaged out to an AV of about 35 – right around 65 percent of that of the top overall selections. If we remove players who haven't yet finished their careers, the AV jumps to about 45.

Of course, that number means nothing without context, so take a look at a few names you might recognize who have generated that sort of production over the course of their careers:

  • DT Cullen Jenkins (50)
  • WR Antwaan Randle El (50)
  • DT Ty Warren (50)
  • DE Marcellus Wiley (49)
  • CB Anthony Henry (48)
  • RB Willie Parker (48)
  • S Ken Hamlin (46)
  • DT Leon Lett (46)
  • RB Marion Barber (45)
  • OT Marc Colombo (45)
  • WR Roy Williams (45)
  • LB Barrett Ruud (44)
  • DE Kenyon Coleman (43)
  • DT Igor Olshansky (43)
  • DE Ebenezer Ekuban (42)

Not what you were anticipating? There's a really vast range of potential career outcomes for whichever player the Cowboys end up drafting, but we often forget about the busts; Erasmus James, Matt Stinchcomb, Dana Hall and Brian Williams were all selected at No. 18 overall, and it's certainly possible that the Cowboys miss on their pick and wind up with someone whose career resembles those guys.

Of course, the Cowboys could hit the ball out of the park, too. Of those players drafted right around the No. 18 overall pick, between 17 and 19, the best pick, without a doubt, has been none other than Emmitt Smith. He's joined by the likes of Marvin Harrison and Steve Hutchinson to represent the other end of the drafting spectrum.

Trading Back

Last week, I wrote an article detailing why it's generally advantageous to trade back in the first round. The primary reason is that the "Jimmy Johnson Trade Chart," a guide NFL teams still use today to make trades, gives too much value to most of the first-round picks. The chart actually values top five picks, in particular, as though they're guaranteed All-Pro players, and we know that's not the case.

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Using the new data from above, I graphed the value of picks as predicted on "the chart" versus the actual value those picks have produced since 1989.

The steep decline of the red line indicates that "the chart" is really biased toward early selections. The No. 5 overall pick has historically posted around 84 percent of the total production of the No. 1 selection, yet the value of the No. 5 pick on the chart is only about 57 percent of the top overall selection. That's a big gap.

As long as the red line in the graph is dropping faster than the blue one, it will be tough for teams trading up to find value. You can see that trait, a more precipitous decline for the red line, occurs until near the end of the first round. It's in that range and well into the second round where teams trading back have found all kinds of value. It's also a range in which the Cowboys might want to consider stockpiling picks. [embedded_ad]

Each draft is different, and there's obviously no reason to trade back if an elite player is still on the board. If the Cowboys' top options are all gone when they're on the clock, however, trading back could very well be the best move. The lower pick they'd acquire wouldn't be worth too much less than No. 18 in terms of actual value, but they'd be able to exploit a poorly-constructed trade chart to obtain an extra pick, preferably in the second or third round, that would tilt the scales in their favor.

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