By Matthew Postins
NFL personnel officials will tell you that there should be no rush to grade a draft class. In fact, within the league, most teams will not judge a class as a success or as a failure until three years after the draft. So judging the Dallas Cowboys’ 2012 draft class is certainly premature.
My next few articles are going to focus on how the Cowboys have drafted. So starting with the most recent class is appropriate. After this story we’ll take a look at the 2010 Draft Class, since the 2012 season will have marked those players’ third season in the NFL. Finally, we’ll take a larger look at the Cowboys under Jerry Jones and try to determine if Jones is really as bad a personnel evaluator as everyone thinks he is. My research yielded some interesting results.
But first let’s take a look at the first year of the Cowboys draft class of 2012. How did they do?
First round (fourth overall), CB Morris Claiborne, LSU: 55 tackles, 1 interception, 1 forced fumble.
The Cowboys traded up to get him as they felt they had to address the cornerback position, in addition to signing free-agent Brandon Carr. Overall, Claiborne had a solid first season. He showed some flashes of the talent that earned him a Top-5 draft selection. There were other times when, frankly, he looked like a rookie. Claiborne was tied for 85th in pass-breakups with eight. To put that in perspective, Carr led the Cowboys with 11 and Seattle’s Richard Sherman led the NFL with 27. Claiborne was also called for six penalties, but only two were for pass interference. Unfortunately that led the team. But the league leader was Buffalo’s Stephon Gilmore, who had six. When you consider that Claiborne was inserted into the starting lineup immediately, Claiborne held his own and should improve with a full NFL offseason. Additionally, his frame and ball skills should be aided by the installation of the 4-3 Cover 2 scheme of new defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin.
Third round (81st overall), DE Tyrone Crawford, Boise State: 20 tackles, 0 sacks.
Crawford played in every game this season as a backup, making more than two tackles in just one game, which came against Washington on Thanksgiving Day. Crawford made 16 solo tackles, an interesting percentage of his total tackles. Crawford backed up Marcus Spears this season and will probably be allowed to compete in a larger way for a place in the defensive end rotation in the new 4-3 scheme.
Fourth round (113th overall), LB Kyle Wilber, Wake Forest: 5 tackles.
Wilber played in 10 games, making just five tackles. A broken thumb kept Wilber off the field for the first six weeks of the regular season. Surgery to repair a broken right index finger kept Wilber out of the offseason program after he was drafted. Now with the new 4-3 Cover 2 scheme’s emphasis on smaller, quicker linebackers, it’s hard to know where the 243-pound Wilber fits in.
Fourth round (135th overall), S Matt Johnson, Eastern Washington: 0 tackles.
The Cowboys thought they had a steal when they drafted Johnson with a compensatory pick. But Johnson never saw the field and barely practiced due to chronic hamstring issues. His size at safety fits the profile of a Cover 2 safety. But he has to prove he can stay healthy first.
Fifth round (152nd overall), WR Danny Coale, Virginia Tech: 0 receptions.
Coale was hurt for most of the offseason activities and only got on the field for the final couple of weeks of training camp and preseason. The Cowboys put him on the practice squad and he never came off. The Cowboys liked Coale’s ability as a possession receiver, but one has to wonder if the emergence of Cole Beasley makes Coale obsolete.
Sixth round (186th overall), TE James Hanna, Oklahoma: 8 receptions, 86 yards.
Hanna showed some flashes of being a real find late in the season, catching seven of his eight passes in the final four games. He showed some ability to stretch the field and his blocking seemed to improve. Hanna also had a half-dozen tackles on special teams. With the impending free agency of John Phillips, there is a real chance for Hanna to expand his role in 2013.
Seventh round (222nd overall), LB Caleb McSurdy, Montana: 0 tackles.
McSurdy blew out his Achilles during a practice in mid-August and went on injured reserve, so his rookie season was a lost season. Given his size – 248 pounds – there are real questions as to whether McSurdy is a fit for the new scheme.
Overall: The change in philosophy on defense has a real impact on Claiborne, Crawford, Wilber, Johnson and McSurdy. They were drafted to fit one philosophy and will now have to find a niche in another. Of the five, Claiborne figures to have the easiest transition, based on his athletic ability. Judging this class as a whole one year later the Cowboys didn’t get much bang for their buck, aside from Claiborne. Crawford was a rotation player. Johnson and McSurdy were hurt. Coale stayed on the practice squad. Hanna showed just a little flash. If you peek in the looking glass two years down the road, Claiborne might be the only member of this class still with the Cowboys.