The NFL draft is the most important part of the offseason for most teams. It took years for everyone to realize this and even longer for rules to truly benefit it, but the draft is the quickest way to get talent onto an NFL roster if you know how to draft correctly. The importance has started to change depending on what the rookie scale was but now it is easily the best way to get top-flight talent for a roster for at least four years in the NFL.
Most dynasties have been built on that theory, from the Pittsburgh Steelers of the '70s and the San Francisco 49ers of the '80s. But no team created a powerhouse like the Cowboys did in the '90s. After trading Herschel Walker in 1988, the Cowboys were ready to make an incredible roster based on the talent they acquired in the draft directly after that move. They were able to draft a great offensive line, plus Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin in that incredible era.
However, like most dynasties, they lost their way and started drafting players who couldn’t perform at that level. Yes, there were solid players and teams since the '90s but not the Hall of Fame talent that was littered on the roster at that time. Now the Cowboys have started to do a better job at building in the draft in recent years but there was a dark age of drafting and the impact can be seen in the results.
Here is a list of the Cowboys picks over the last 20 years and how they would have selected with a do-over. The only pick that won't be included will be Leighton Vander Esch, the Cowboys' first round selection this year, as it's simply too soon to tell how he'll pan out.
20 2017 Draft - T.J. Watt
Original Pick: Taco Charlton
Taco Charlton was taken with the 28th pick in the 2017 NFL draft by the Cowboys.
Charlton was a defensive end that the Cowboys wanted to complete the pass rush that they have been building for the last couple of seasons.
Charlton had a good season in his rookie year with 3 sacks and is someone who has shown improvement with the team this year. However, he isn’t as good of a pass rusher as T.J. Watt, who was taken just two picks later with the 30th pick. Watt had 7 sacks last year and would have made the Cowboys much better on the defensive line.
19 2016 Draft - Ezekiel Elliott
Original Pick: Ezekiel Elliott
When Ezekiel Elliott was taken with the 4th overall pick in the 2016 draft, people questioned the move. It was the first time in years that a team picked a running back in the top five of the draft. Add that to the fact that the Cowboys had a dominant offensive line already, which meant they didn’t need a great running back to have a good running game. But in his first season, Elliott ran for 1,600 yards and 15 TDs while the Cowboys went 13-3.
Last year he was suspended for six games but still managed to average 98 yards per game. There is no one in the NFL the Cowboys would rather have than Elliott right now.
18 2015 Draft - Ronald Darby
Original Pick: Byron Jones
Bryon Jones was taken in the 27th pick in the 2015 draft by the Cowboys. He was taken because of the measurables that he showed in the combine with his speed, strength and jumping ability as a cornerback. However, Jones hasn’t made the transition well to the NFL and the Cowboys have moved him around several times in the last three seasons, with only 2 INTs in those three years. Meanwhile Ronald Darby was taken in the 2nd round of the draft and has been an impact player in the NFL. With 5 interceptions already, Darby has shown the kind of ability that Jones doesn’t possess.
17 2014 Draft - Zack Martin
Original Pick: Zack Martin
Zack Martin was taken with the 16th overall pick in the 2014 draft. This was a move that people questioned with college quarterback Johnny Manziel still on the market. But the Cowboys were trying to complete an offensive line they had been building over the last four drafts with this pick.
The move of getting Martin was a great one and has made them a top unit in the NFL to this day.
Martin’s ability was clear from his first snap in the NFL and he’s made a Pro Bowl in each season. No other player could have fit as seamlessly as he has with a Cowboys team that is trying to compete.
16 2013 Draft - Travis Frederick
Original Pick: Travis Frederick
Travis Frederick was picked 31st in the 2013 draft for the Cowboys. He was the center that the team needed in the efforts of building up their offensive line that was getting old quick. While some wanted the Cowboys to go for offensive players, the strategy of building up the offense around Tony Romo from the inside was one that had started to work in recent years.
Frederick was another example of that and he’s made the Pro Bowl from 2014-2017. Frederick is someone the Cowboys love as you can tell by the new contract they gave him. Another recent hit on the offensive line for the team.
15 2012 Draft - Stephon Gilmore
Original Pick: Morris Claiborne
Morris Claiborne was taken with the 6th overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft. The LSU corner was seen as the next in a long line of great secondary players from the school. He was seen as a can’t miss prospect but that has not come true in the NFL.
Claiborne played in 47 games for the Cowboys but only had 4 interceptions before moving on to the Jets.
Meanwhile, with the 10th pick in the draft, Stephon Gilmore was selected at cornerback. Gilmore has been great in the NFL with 17 interceptions in his career and a Pro Bowl in 2016. That was everything the Cowboys wanted but didn’t get from their cornerback selection.
14 2011 Draft - Tyron Smith
Original Pick: Tyron Smith
The beginning of the Cowboys revolution in building from the offensive line out was in 2011. They took Tyron Smith with the 9th pick in the draft and never looked back. It was the first time in years that the Cowboys didn’t go for the splashy pick in the draft. Instead, they went with a dependable player whom they could count on for years to come.
Smith has been all of that and more as arguably the best left tackle in the NFL for some time now. He’s made five straight Pro Bowls and his impact can be felt especially when he isn’t there like when the Cowboys struggled last year. He’s one of the most important players on the roster and that hasn’t changed.
13 2010 Draft - Rob Gronkowski
Original Pick: Dez Bryant
Dez Bryant was a player with character issues when he was taken with the 23rd pick in 2010. While Bryant isn’t on the team anymore is time with the Cowboys must be respected and he was one of the best receivers in the game for several seasons. During his eight seasons with the Cowboys, Bryant made three Pro Bowls, accumulated 7,400 receiving yards and caught 73 TDs for the team.
Bryant was still a solid pick, all things considered, but Rob Gronkowski has become arguably the greatest tight end the NFL has ever seen and is still an impact player at this stage. We won't fault the Cowboys too much on this one though.
12 2008 Draft - Chris Johnson
Original Pick: Felix Jones
Felix Jones was taken with he 22nd overall pick in the 2008 draft by the Cowboys. The running back from Arkansas was going to be a game-breaking threat for the Cowboys in a way that no running back had been for a long time. Jones was a great running back, kick returner and receiver in college so clearly, the team was excited.
However, his production never got close to what Chris Johnson had as the 24th overall pick in the draft.
Johnson was one of the most explosive running backs in the league when he was on, and all of it came together for his 2,000-yard season in 2009. That was the speed threat the Cowboys should have gone for.
11 2008 Draft - Brandon Flowers
Original Pick: Mike Jenkins
Mike Jenkins was taken with the 25th pick of the 2008 draft by Dallas. Jenkins was supposed to be a game-breaking cornerback from South Florida and the future of the Cowboys. Jenkins did have a good season in 2009 with 5 interceptions and a Pro Bowl appearance but could never stay at that point consistently.
Brandon Flowers was taken in the 2nd round of the same draft and while he wasn’t a great interceptions guy he was a very solid cornerback throughout his career. He had 21 interceptions and one Pro Bowl in his career. Flowers would have been a much better fit for the Cowboys in the long term.
10 2007 Draft - Eric Weddle
Original Pick: Anthony Spencer
Anthony Spencer was taken with the 26th overall pick in the 2007 draft by the Cowboys. Spencer was a good pass rushing prospect out of Purdue and the Cowboys fell in love with him right before the pick. Spencer was a solid pro for the Cowboys with 33 sacks in his eight years with the team and one Pro Bowl appearance. However, Eric Weddle was still there at safety and got selected 11 spots later at 37th in the draft. Weddle has been a great safety for years now and made five Pro Bowls in the NFL. That is the kind of game-changer the Cowboys have always been missing from their secondary.
9 2006 Draft - Tamba Hali
Original Pick: Bobby Carpenter
Bobby Carpenter was taken with the 18th pick in the 2006 draft by the Cowboys. Carpenter was a star linebacker at Ohio State known for his quickness off the ball and tough tackling.
But in the pros, Carpenter never quite lived up to the lofty expectations set on him since college and only played four seasons with the Cowboys.
Meanwhile, Tamba Hali was taken only two picks after Carpenter and had an amazing NFL career. Hali has made five Pro Bowls and got 89.5 sacks over his long career. He would have been the perfect pairing alongside this next pick.
8 2005 Draft - DeMarcus Ware
Original Pick: DeMarcus Ware
DeMarcus Ware was taken with the 11th overall pick in the 2005 draft. Ware was known as a pass rusher in college and it was clear from his first season that nothing would change in his transition to the NFL. Ware ended up with at least 10 sacks in seven straight years with the Cowboys and was one of the best pass rushers in the league. Ware also ended up making nine Pro Bowls and is a sure-fire Hall of Famer. Ware is easily at least the second-best player in this draft with one guy listed below being first.
7 2005 Draft - Aaron Rodgers
Original Pick: Marcus Spears
Marcus Spears was taken with the 20th pick in the 2005 draft. The Cowboys were trying to get two big-time pass rushers in one draft with this decision after taking DeMarcus Ware earlier. However, Spears never got more than 3 sacks in one season with the Cowboys and was average at best.
Meanwhile, only four picks below him, one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time was waiting to be taken.
Everyone knows how people passed on Aaron Rodgers, but the infamous part of the story is how the Cowboys did it…twice. This is when we officially go back through the rough era of the Cowboys drafting players.
6 2003 Draft - Nnamdi Asomugha
Original Pick: Terence Newman
Terence Newman was taken with the 5th overall pick in the 2003 draft by the Cowboys. He was a cornerback at Kansas St. and a stand out college player. The Cowboys believed that he was be their next version of Deion Sanders in the NFL and couldn’t pass on the chance to take him. While Newman had a very long career in the NFL, he never reached the heights that you would want from someone picked so high. For a period, Nnamdi Asomugha, who was taken 31st in the same draft, was considered the best cornerback in the league. That's something that Newman was never able to say.
5 2002 Draft - Ed Reed
Original Pick: Roy Williams
Roy Williams was taken with the 8th pick in the 2002 draft by the Cowboys. As a safety, he was known as a potential explosive player and a hard hitter across the middle of the field.
Williams did make five Pro Bowls, but some of those were due to the safety spot being weaker in a couple of those years and based solely on his reputation.
But the player taken behind him is headed into the Hall of Famer on merit. Ed Reed was the 24th pick of the draft and is one of the best safeties in the history of the NFL. He made nine Pro Bowls and his explosive ability to take the ball back from being an interception to a touchdown was astounding. Reed is the type of all time great player every team regrets passing on.:
4 1999 Draft - Patrick Kerney
Original Pick: Ebenezer Ekuban
Ebenzer Ekuban was the 20th overall pick in the 1999 draft by the Cowboys. There were trying to rebuilt a defensive line that was mostly retired and they figured that Ekuban was the way to go. The North Carolina prospect was seen as an explosive threat in the NFL. But Ekuban never reached that potential and only played for the Cowboys in five seasons. It wasn’t a great draft for defensive linemen, but Patrick Kerney was taken with the 30th overall selection and became a very good player. Kerney made the Pro Bowl twice and got 10 or more sacks in four different seasons.
3 1998 Draft - Randy Moss
Original Pick: Greg Ellis
Greg Ellis was taken with the 8th pick in the 1998 draft by the Cowboys. In their efforts to reshape the defensive line and build a team from the dynasty that just ended, the Cowboys were going for pass rushers on the defensive line.
Ellis turned out to be a good player in the NFL with 84 sacks in his career and one Pro Bowl.
All of that would have been good if the Cowboys didn’t pass on Randy Moss, who was taken with the 21st pick the draft.
Yes, the infamous story about the one time the players looked at someone’s personal issues and didn’t select them turned out to be one of the five greatest wideouts in the history of the game. Moss proceeded to torch the Cowboys for 3 TDs on Thanksgiving and then the rest of the NFL over his career.
2 1997 Draft - Jason Taylor
Original Pick: David LaFleur
Lafleur was taken with the 22nd pick in the 1997 draft by the Cowboys. He was going to be a tight end that would change the way of the NFL. LeFleur didn’t exactly do that or anything close in his four seasons with the Cowboys. He ended up getting less than 400 yards in each one of his seasons in the NFL and had nothing like the impact they expected.
Meanwhile Hall of Famer Jason Taylor was taken in the 3rd round of that draft and had an amazing career as a pass rusher. Taylor had 139 sacks and made 6 Pro Bowls and is obviously someone the Cowboys could have used.
1 1994 Draft - Isaac Bruce
Original Pick: Shante Carver
Shante Carver was one of the biggest mistakes that the Cowboys ever made in the draft. They took him with the 23rd pick in the draft in 1994 as a pass rusher. He only played four seasons for the team with minimal impact on the defensive line at large. Meanwhile it had become a team that was losing a lot of weapons on the outside and Isaac Bruce was taken in the 2nd round of the same draft. Bruce ended up with 15,000 yards and 91 TDs in the NFL. He would have been the perfect weapon for a team that would be looking for the next 10 years.