Think about all of the players the Cowboys have drafted over the past few years… Sure, there have been plenty of players that have turned out to be really good. There have also been quite a few that have fallen flat.
It seems like there is one of two extremes: a player either comes in and just gets it immediately, or the player needs development and never finds it.
If we go back to 2010, it is alarming how awful the Cowboys have been at developing players that they draft after the third round. The only players that have turned out to be impactful have come from the top three rounds really.
Dez Bryant (1st), Sean Lee (2nd), Tyron Smith (1st), DeMarco Murray (3rd), Tyrone Crawford (3rd), Travis Frederick (1st), Zack Martin (1st), and DeMarcus Lawrence (2nd) have been the big players from the Cowboys drafts since 2010. I didn’t include anyone from 2015 because it is a bit harsh to judge them so rapidly. You can make arguments for other players, but that is the real core.
Then you look at some other players that were either drafted early and failed, or were mid-round projects that they haven’t been able to make work.
Akwasi Owusu-Ansah (4th), Bruce Carter (2nd), David Arkin (4th), Josh Thomas (5th), Dwayne Harris (6th), Kyle Wilber (4th), Danny Coale (5th), Gavin Escobar (2nd), JJ Wilcox (3rd), B.W. Webb (4th), Devin Street (5th), Ben Gardner (7th), Ken Bishop (7th), and Terrance Mitchell (7th).
The list is much larger than that, but those are some of the mid-round talents that I thought showed potential. The Cowboys haven’t really gotten much from them. Some players like Carter, Wilber, Wilcox, and Street have a ton of talent, but they haven’t been able to refine their weaknesses to become great players.
Is this a drafting problem or a player development problem?
It used to be a pretty good skill for the Cowboys to take mid-late round players, or even undrafted players, and make them into viable starters. For instance, your starting quarterback went undrafted.
If you look around the league, you HAVE to hit on some mid-late prospects or undrafted talents. Chris Harris Jr. went undrafted. Richard Sherman was a 5th round pick a couple picks before the Cowboys selected Josh Thomas. Josh Norman was also a 5th round pick.
JJ Wilcox was a running back turned safety in his final season in college. There is a ton of talent in the player, but he can’t grip the mental side of the game. He often looks lost and has the worst understanding of angles I have seen.
Bruce Carter is an athletic freak. He has the makings of one of the best linebackers in football, but he also can’t grip the mental side of the game. He often is at the wrong spot at the wrong time and loses in coverage. His drops in zone were bad and his coverage in man was awful.
Gavin Escobar is a long tight end with amazing hands, yet the Cowboys could never figure out how to get him heavily involved through the passing game, even with the loss of Dez Bryant.
Kyle Wilber has shown signs, but he seems to be a man without a position for the Cowboys. Something that hurts when there was potential for him to be an impact player.
Devin Street was advanced in route-running for a kid coming out of college, yet the Cowboys haven’t gotten much of anything out of him.
Dwayne Harris isn’t really considered a bust, but the Cowboys never used him as anything other than a gadget player and a special teams player. In one season with the Giants, we saw him used far more as a wide receiver with some decent results.
If you add undrafted signees into the mix, this looks even worse for the team. They have signed some really talented projects after the draft, but most fail to make the team or have little impact. You can’t really include La’el Collins in this, because that was a special circumstance.
If the Cowboys want to take steps forward, they need to hit somewhere other than the top of the draft. While it is great that they have hit on so many great prospects early, it is hard to have any depth when your team adds one to two players every year through the draft. The team must draft better in the middle and back end of the draft, sign the right players afterward, and have a plan to develop these players.