Producing pieces that involve National Football League franchises being able to go back and “re-draft” players is not an easy task for a variety of reasons. That is particularly true as it pertains to the Dallas Cowboys. While those who are critics of the Cowboys may crack jokes about the club’s draft techniques over the past decade or so, the truth of the matter is that Dallas has made good use of the team’s first-round picks in each of the past several years. The best example of that is that the Cowboys have built up what may, all things considered, be the best offensive line in the NFL today.
Why, then, do the Cowboys continue to fail the team’s passionate fan base and fall flat either during regular season or January games? The answers go beyond just the club’s drafts. Any and all insults that NFL fans may have about Tony Romo aside, it has not helped Dallas’ cause that Romo has been banged up on multiple occasions throughout the past several seasons. This could understandably lead some who follow the Cowboys to ask the obvious question: Would the Cowboys have been better off using a first-round pick on a top-tier QB at some point over the last five years?
There is one QB, in particular, who the Cowboys could have drafted several years ago, a young man who could have had the goods to lead the team to playoff glory and maybe even a berth in a Super Bowl. Dallas fans should not feel too badly about the Cowboys not selecting that player, though, as literally every team in the league passed on the QB before he was scooped up by a NFC club. It goes to show that supposed experts who are paid fortunes to scout college players get things wrong time and time again. The NFL Draft is not an exact science, and even the Cowboys hitting on draft picks in the 2000s has not resulted in Dallas winning a Super Bowl.
Note: Since the 2016 NFL season has not yet started, we’ll begin with the 2015 NFL Draft
15. 2015: Byron Jones
Original Pick: DB Byron Jones, 27th Overall
Those who would even consider giving up on defensive end Byron Jones after a single season are crazy. For starters, Jones has already completed the switch from cornerback to safety to the point that he is atop the Dallas depth chart at the position heading into the summer months. There are reasons that former NFL running back and current NFL Network LaDainian Tomlinson has listed Jones as a potential breakout star for the 2016 season. Jones’ athleticism cannot be denied and the Cowboys are hoping that some additional seasoning is what Jones needs to take that next figurative step toward greatness.
That being said, his skeptics can point to a rookie season that left a lot to be desired. He started in 11 of 16 games, generating exactly zero takeaways, while getting beat a little too often. He’s still a rookie and Jones has way too much talent to be looked over.
14. 2014: Zack Martin
Original Pick: T Zack Martin, 16th Overall
You can grab every hot take about the Cowboys potentially drafting either Teddy Bridgewater or Derek Carr over Zack Martin and bury them ten miles beneath the earth where they belong. Yes, the Cowboys could certainly use a talented QB who can stay healthy for longer than a few weeks. And both Bridgewater and Carr have been terrific in their first two years while breathing fresh air into teams that desperately needed it.
That reality does not change the fact that Zack Martin is arguably the top young offensive tackle in the game today, a player who has the goods to be an All-Pro throughout the next decade. Hell, he’s already made on All-Pro team. Besides, imagine what would have been had Jerry Jones gotten his way and the Cowboys would’ve drafted Johnny Manziel over Martin. Woof.
13. 2013: Travis Frederick
Original Pick: C Travis Frederick, 31st Overall
For the third straight time in this piece, we are sticking with the player selected by the Cowboys in the actual NFL Draft for the year in question. It is funny, looking back, to remember when critics sneered that the Cowboys reached by taking center Travis Frederick in the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft. Actually, experts did far more than sneer as most publications gave the Cowboys a failing grade after the first round for not addressing their needs and reaching for a player who wasn’t on the radar of many teams.
All the Cowboys got in Frederick is a mainstay of the team’s offensive line who is consistent as a run blocker and also in pass-protection, and a young center who will still be on his rookie contract through the end of the 2017 NFL regular season. Not bad. He’s already made two Pro Bowls and has started in every single game for the Cowboys. That kind of consistency isn’t easy to find.
12. 2012: Russell Wilson
Original Pick: CB Morris Claiborne, 6th Overall
This, as you probably could have guessed, has less to do with Morris Claiborne and more to do with what we’ve seen from Russell Wilson since he was drafted by the Seattle Seahawks in the third round of the 2012 NFL Draft. Knowing all we know now, Wilson would have received an opportunity to play for the Cowboys at some point between 2012 and 2015. Would Wilson have impressed to the point that the Cowboys would have considered moving on from Tony Romo in order to give the keys of the offense to Wilson? We think so and we think the Cowboys would be better off for it.
In terms of Claiborne himself, he hasn’t been as bad as some experts have stated he is, but he also hasn’t been as good as fans were hoping he’d be. While many expected him to be a true number one cornerback, injuries and ineffective player have held him back.
11. 2011: J.J. Watt
Original Pick: T Tyron Smith, 9th Overall
The first round of the 2011 NFL Draft was absolutely stacked. Cam Newton, Von Miller, Marcell Dareus, A.J. Green, Patrick Peterson and Julio Jones were all selected before the Cowboys were first called to the podium. One player who was taken after Dallas made the team’s first selection of the 2011 NFL Draft was none other than defensive end J.J. Watt. Watt is a three-time Defensive Player of the Year, widely perceived to be the best overall defensive player in the NFL and a man who is just now entering his physical prime. Watt would look really good with the Dallas star on his helmet.
Despite Tyron Smith being left on the draft here, he’s been an absolute stud for the Cowboys. He’s made three Pro Bowls and is a one-time All-Pro player. He’s only missed one start in the last five years and the Cowboys are incredibly luck to have him.
However, he’s still a notch below one of the best defensive players in the league.
10. 2010: Dez Bryant
Original Pick: WR Dez Bryant, 24th Overall
We thought about listing Tim Tebow here just to see if readers would actually try to reach through their screens in anger, but we didn’t want to be responsible for any broken monitors. Obviously, the Cowboys did well in selecting wide receiver Dez Bryant in the first round of the 2010 NFL Draft. Bryant may be a headache from time to time, but his physical gifts and his ability to get to the ball make him one of the top-tier receivers in the NFL today. There have, of course, been times when Bryant and Tony Romo have not been on the same page, but these things happen. For what it’s worth, Rob Gronkowski was selected in the second round of this draft. Would you take Gronk over Dez?
In his six year career, Dez has made the Pro Bowl twice and one All-Pro team. In total, Dez has 5,825 yards and 59 touchdowns, including 16 touchdowns in 2014, which led the league.
Note: Cowboys had no first round pick in 2009, but Dallas did have two first round picks in 2008
9. 2008: Matt Forte
Original Pick: RB Felix Jones, 22nd Overall
The Cowboys obviously believed that the club needed to use a high pick on a running back in 2008. Matt Forte would have done well in Dallas from 2008 up through 2015. Forte not only proved himself to be a solid back while with the Chicago Bears. Forte was, during his stint with the Bears, also a reliable option as a receiver from out of the backfield. While Forte has since moved on from the Bears to the New York Jets, Jones is currently out of the NFL. Imagine what Forte and Tony Romo could have accomplished together for eight seasons.
If we quickly compare their stars, the difference becomes incredibly obvious. Forte, over eight seasons, has 8,602 rushnig yards, 4,116 receiving yards and 87 total touchdowns. Meanwhile, Felix Jones, over six seasons, has 2,912 rushing yards, 1,129 receiving yards and 14 total touchdowns. Big difference.
8. 2008: DeSean Jackson
Original Pick: CB Mike Jenkins, 25th Overall
Mike Jenkins was named to a Pro Bowl squad during his Dallas career, but the Cowboys likely would have been better off selecting DeSean Jackson. For starters, Jackson would have been a home-run hitter of a wide receiver with any team when he was in his physical prime. The Cowboys selecting Jackson would have kept him away from division rivals the Philadelphia Eagles, and Jackson could have possibly burned the New York Giants on several occasions while wearing Dallas white and blue rather than Philadelphia green. On top of that, he also burned the Cowboys on numerous occasions and Mike Jenkins himself, so they could’ve avoided that as well. Just think what could have been had Jackson and Dez Bryant been paired up even if only for one season.
Mike Jenkins would only last eight years in the league, also playing for the Raiders and Buccaneers, to poor results.
7. 2007: Eric Weddle
Original Pick: DE Anthony Spencer, 26th Overall
When you have a minute, go back and look at every round of the 2007 NFL Draft to appreciate just how much talent came from that college class. The San Diego Chargers landed a pure steal when the club drafted Eric Weddle in the second round. In Weddle, the Chargers acquired a safety who once led the NFL in interceptions and who was named to three different Pro Bowl squads during his stint with the Chargers. Dallas fans looking to stick it to the New York Giants regarding this draft could have also gone with Aaron Ross, Kevin Boss or Ahmad Bradshaw. No wonder Big Blue won the Super Bowl that year.
In terms of their actual pick, Anthony Spencer wasn’t a terrible player, he just never developed into an elite one, though he did manage 11 sacks during the 2012 season before injuries would ruin his 2013.
6. 2006: D’Qwell Jackson
Original Pick: LB Bobby Carpenter, 18th Overall
We are looking at this one based on who the Cowboys drafted as well as the talents of the two players. What you have to remember about D’Qwell Jackson is that his best years occurred while he was on some awful Cleveland Browns teams. It was also during that time when Jackson was arguably the best overall tackler in the NFL and an outstanding leader on and off of the field. Had Jackson been able to play for a solid Dallas side and also remain healthy during the bulk of his prime, he could have been a perennial All-Pro. Nick Mangold and Mathias Kiwanuka are two other possibilities for the Cowboys here.
On the other hand, Carpenter will be remembered as a huge draft bust for the Cowboys, only staying with them for four years and starting three games.
Note: The Cowboys had a pair of first-round picks in the 2005 NFL Draft
5. 2005: DeMarcus Ware
2005 Re-Draft Pick: DE DeMarcus Ware, 11th Overall
Defensive end DeMarcus Ware already has a spot reserved for him in Canton at the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The only thing that was missing from the resume of the 33-year-old was a Super Bowl championship, but that problem was remedied in February 2016. Ware twice led the NFL in sacks as a member of the Cowboys and it is likely that Ware will be remembered as one of the best defensive players to ever suit up for the club. It is easy for anybody to be cynical about draft picks that were made over a decade ago, but all have to admit that Dallas hit a home run with Ware. He ended his Cowboys’ career with 117 sacks over nine years, a truly legendary amount.
4. 2004: Aaron Rodgers
Original Pick: DE Marcus Spears, 20th Overall
All things considered, this is probably the one that stings the most for Dallas fans. There Aaron Rodgers was, just sitting in the green room and waiting for some team to take a chance on him and, at the very least, make him a backup. You know how the story instead ended. The Green Bay Packers ultimately selected Rodgers, Rodgers sat behind Brett Favre for several seasons, and Rodgers then became one of the best overall quarterbacks of his generation and a player who will one day be enshrined in Canton. Dallas haters everywhere are thankful the Cowboys passed on Rodgers.
Spears never ended up becoming an impact players for the Cowboys, though he did remain with them for eight years, providing decent depth and run support.
Note: The Cowboys had no first-round picks in 2004
3. 2003: Troy Polamalu
Original Pick: CB Terence Newman, 5th Overall
It is seemingly only a matter of time before former Pittsburgh Steelers safety Troy Polamalu has his day at the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Polamalu was not always the best in coverage, but he was a phenomenal tackler who had elite close-down speed and who could have featured at multiple positions on the field during his physical prime. If all of that wasn’t enough, Polamalu was also an emotional leader who routinely left everything he had on the football field. The Steelers and Cowboys were once responsible for the best rivalry in all of pro football. Here is yet another instance where the Steelers beat the Cowboys.
Despite Polamalu’s legendary status, Terence Newman was still a solid CB for the Cowboys, making two Pro Bowls and covering the opposing team’s best wide receiver. He’s still player to this day, having a solid season with the Minnesota Vikings last year.
2. 2002 Re-Draft Pick: S Ed Reed
Original Pick: DB Roy Williams, 8th Overall
You would not at all be criticized were you to say that you would take DE Dwight Freeney over both Roy Williams and Ed Reed. For this simulation, however, we went with Reed because of need and also because of what Reed brought to the table during his spectacular career. There is now little question that Reed, a mainstay on Pro Bowl squads for the majority of his career, will be in the Hall of Fame at some point. Reed and Polamalu may even go in together. Had the Cowboys selected Reed back in 2002, the club would not have needed to re-draft Polamalu a year later.
Similar to Terence Newman, Ed Reed’s selection doesn’t mean that Roy Williams was a flop in The Lone Star State. In seven years with the Cowboys,the physical safety made five Pro Bowls and one All-Pro team.
Note: The Cowboys had no first-round picks in 2001 or 2000
1. 1999: Joey Porter
Original Pick: DE Ebenezer Ekuban, 20th Overall
The 1999 NFL Draft Class is, nearly two decades after the fact, remembered as one of the worst in the history of the league. This does not mean that the Cowboys could not have landed a gem of a defensive player in the first round. Linebacker Joey Porter made it all the way to the third round before the Pittsburgh Steelers took a chance on him. Porter is considered to be one of the top linebackers of the 2000s and there is a solid case for Porter one day earning a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Ebenezer Ekuban wasn’t a horrible pick, but the Cowboys would have done better in drafting Porter. He’d remain with the Cowboys for five years, never putting up exceptional numbers, but offering solid depth to the defense.
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