Sports Outside the Beltway

Dallas Cowboys 2008 Draft Grades

NFL Draft 2008 Logo As those who read my live blog know, I thought the Dallas Cowboys, under the questionable leadership of Jerry Jones, really flubbed this draft. The passed on Rashard Mendenhall, a consensus Top 10 running back, in favor of Felix Jones because they thought he’d be a better backup. They took a tight end in the second round, also as a backup, because they thought they’d needed one after giving away Anthony Fasano, whom they’d taken in the 2nd round two years earlier, for a 4th rounder. Then they traded down five consecutive times on Day 2 before finally picking someone: Yet another backup running back! And a reach defensive lineman that they were going to convert into another unneeded linebacker.

Aaaargh! Bad Jerry! Shades of 1995!

Grade: F. Well, not really. More like a C+.

Almost all the experts, including guys I really respect like Dallas Morning News superstar Rick Gosselin, gave them above average grades, though. A couple even gave the team an “A.” Partly, that’s a function of having two first round picks and picking two quality guys with them. Partly, it’s a function of my penalizing them for what the could have done (or, in the case of the Fasano trade and subsequent drafting of his replacement, could have avoided). Mainly, I think, they just count the value of the players against an imaginary draft board rather than in terms of the woulda-coulda-shoulda criteria that I use. And, of course, they’re not Cowboys fans and are probably more objective.

Dallas Cowboys 2008 Day 2 Draft Picks

At any rate, without further ado, here are their assessments. I’ll add on to the bottom of the list over the next couple of days, as this will serve as a permanent scorecard to use for looking back in a couple of years in addition to satisfying people’s curiosity in the long months before the opening kickoff in September.

Gosselin [Grade: B -]:

The Cowboys were cruising along with a great draft until reaching for LB Walden in the sixth. RB Choice in the fourth and CB Scandrick in the fifth were superb second-day selections. RB Jones will be a boon to the special teams.

Mel Kiper, ESPN [GRADE: B+]:

Dallas Cowboys: Felix Jones will join Marion Barber in the Cowboys’ backfield and will also return kicks. Cornerback Mike Jenkins has really good ball skills and should be a major contributor this season in the secondary. Tight end Martellus Bennett has talent and should be able to help out in the passing game. Running back Tashard Choice had a knee injury in 2007; otherwise he would have gone a little higher in the draft. He can run between tackles, but isn’t going to run away from anyone in space. I projected Boise State cornerback Orlando Scandrick to go late in the second round, and I was surprised to see him last until the fifth round. However, the Cowboys didn’t draft a wide receiver, which I thought was one of their top three need areas.

Larry Weisman, USA Today [GRADE: B-]:

Dallas Cowboys: Excellent job in filling needs but bypassing Rashard Mendenhall? Had to get RB and did, in explosive Felix Jones. He’ll dovetail nicely with Marion Barber III. Then moved up three spots in deal with Seattle and grabbed CB Mike Jenkins, which gives them some insurance regarding Pacman Jones and his uncertain status (currently suspended). TE Martellus Bennett steps in for traded Anthony Fasano.

Clifton Brown, Sporting News [Grade: B+ ]:

Cowboys. What they got was better than trading for Darren McFadden. Felix Jones may be just as good a running back. Taking Mike Jenkins makes them less dependent on Pacman Jones.

Pete Brisco, CBS Sportsline [Grade: A]:

Best pick: I’m a big fan of Arkansas running back Felix Jones, who went 22nd in the first round. He is a home-run threat every time he touches it.

Questionable move: Hard to find one. They had a good two days, but taking tight end Martellus Bennett in the second round might be it. With Jason Witten on the roster, that was a luxury pick.

Second-day gem: Corner Orlando Scandrick has nice cover skills. Were it not for some attitude questions, he might have been taken higher than the fifth round.

Overall grade: A. With two first-round picks, it was hard to mess things up. Getting corner Mike Jenkins after Jones fills a need.

John Czarnecki, Fox News [Grade: A-]:

The Cowboys didn’t land Darren McFadden, but still had a quality draft. Some may argue that Arkansas running back Felix Jones wasn’t the best one available, but he did score 20 touchdowns in college and has breakaway speed. Georgia Tech RB Tashard Choice is a bruiser much like Marion Barber and adds to the depth at that position. At worse, he’s a special teams player. South Florida CB Mike Jenkins has super coverage skills and Jerry Jones was wise to trade up to get him. Texas A&M tight end Martellus Bennett has the size to be a great blocker and with Jason Witten around, there’s no reason he has to catch the ball.

Paul Zimmerman, SI’s “Dr. Z,” doesn’t actually issue grades but includes the Cowboys under “More Drafts I Like.” They weren’t “Numero Uno” — the Miami Dolphins got that honor — but this was the next highest category.

McFadden’s running mate, Felix Jones, can fly; he averaged 8.7 yards a crack last season. Perfect counterpart for Marion Barber, but farther down the Cowboys got lucky when Tashard Choice, a slashing type of runner, fell to them. Mike Jenkins is a fine corner to team with Terence Newman.

Charean Williams, Fort Worth Star-Telegram:

The Cowboys had a good draft, but it could have been even better with the selection of Rashard Mendenhall. Grade B+

Charles Robinson, Yahoo! Sports:

Picks: RB Felix Jones, DB Mike Jenkins, TE Martellus Bennett, RB Tashard Choice, DB Orlando Scandrick, DL Erik Walden

Positives: Jones, Jenkins, Choice

Negative: No young wide receiver to develop.

Bottom line: B+. Only six picks, but Jones and Jenkins are solid picks. However, taking Jones over Rashard Mendenhall because he was used to playing a backup role makes no sense. That doesn’t make Felix a bad pick, it just links him forever to Mendenhall. Jenkins can return kicks and gives great insurance at cornerback for Pacman Jones. The addition of Pacman also counts, and Dallas doesn’t have a lot invested for the talent level. Bennett is intriguing and Choice could be a steal in the fourth round.

ESPN’s Jeffri Chadiha ranked the “10 best marriages of talent, team needs.”

5. Felix Jones, RB, Dallas Cowboys The Cowboys could’ve taken Rashard Mendenhall with this pick, but Jones wasn’t a bad choice, either. Jones has that electric speed that will make him a nice counterpart to bruising runner Marion Barber. He’s also comfortable as a change-of-pace back after sharing time with Darren McFadden at Arkansas. Throw in Jones’ kick return ability and his underrated pass-catching skills, and you’ve got a versatile weapon who can elevate an already potent offense.

The gang at [GRADE: B+]:

Cowboys took advantage of 2 first round picks by adding Felix Jones and Mike Jenkins who will play immediately. Orlando Scandrick was a quality pick in the fifth round and could surprise alot of people. Tashard Choice is a great back but a bit of a surprise.

Dave Halprin (Grizz), Blogging the Boys [GRADE: B]:

I like Felix Jones and think he’ll add instant speed to the offense and will upgrade our special teams. Mike Jenkins was great value at #25 and is insurance for Pacman and a step towards building a younger secondary for the future. I’m not thrilled with Martellus Bennett in the second round, he’s a great athlete but not enough production for me and thought we could fill the spot of a second TE later. Tashard Choice is a solid pick with good value at that spot although I’m not sure Dallas needed to go for a 2nd RB at that spot. Orlando Scandrick adds another piece to an upgraded secondary and flashes excellent speed. Erik Walden felt like a reach in the 6th round and will be a project, maybe not the best use of that pick.

Paul Needell, Newark Star-Ledger [GRADE: B-]:

Owner Jerry Jones was predictable with his two first-round picks. The thinking here is he should’ve taken RB Rashard Mendenhall instead of RB Felix Jones to replace Julius Jones (Seahawks), but his loyalty to alma mater Arkansas won out. CB Mike Jenkins was a solid choice with the other No. 1. TE Martellus Bennett (third) fills the need created by dealing backup Anthony Fasano to the Dolphins.

Robert Davis, Football’s Future [Grade: A] :

Best Pick: Felix Jones, RB, Arkansas, Round 1. -Everyone knew where Jones was headed, but that is because he makes so much sense. He is a great compliment to Marion Barber, and with Barber being a free agent after next year, is insurance in case he leaves.

Worst Pick: None. The Cowboys had a very good draft, landing talent with a lot of potential at need positions.

2nd Day Steal: Orlando Scandrick, CB, Boise St, Round 5. Scandrick has all the talent in the world to develop at corner. He was an early entrant, and will not be forced to play immediately. He can develop at his own pace, and could be big time in a few years.

Overall: A. An elite team just added big play ability to the offense, and depth to the secondary.

Vic Carucci, [Grade: Solid (Second highest category)]:

The Cowboys did exactly what they set out to do with their two first-round picks. They wanted to get a running back, and opted for explosive and versatile Felix Jones from Arkansas. Some will criticize them for passing on Mendenhall, but they have every reason to feel good about Jones. They also wanted to get a cornerback, and they made a trade with Seattle to move up three spots and select South Florida’s Mike Jenkins, one of the draft’s best at the position. The fourth-rounder the Cowboys traded to Tennessee for Pacman Jones is a risk, even if the talented cornerback is reinstated.

Dave Goldberg, AP [Grade: A -- For the 2005 Draft]:

Drafts can’t be rated with grades the day after the draft although fans seem to consider them must reading. But NFL personnel consider three years the period needed to determine who can play and who can’t. So 2005 grades are the ones given this year.

The three-year results again reflect that the draft, not free agency, is still the way to win.

Even with huge salaries to first-rounders, draft picks are still cheaper than free agents and put less strain on a salary cap. Even if players don’t start right away, good ones can be developed to replace those players who take the money and run to the highest bidder.


The draft was run by Jerry Jones and two guys who are now the Dolphins’ brain trust – Bill Parcells and Mike Ireland (have faith for 2010, Dolphins fans.) They took two Pro Bowlers (running back Marion Barber and linebacker DeMarcus Ware) and the three starters on the 3-4 defensive line (Chris Canty, Marcus Spears and Jay Ratliff, a seventh-rounder who took over at nose tackle when Jason Ferguson was hurt).

Yes, Tony Romo’s development at quarterback after being signed as an undrafted free agent in 2003 is probably the main reason the Cowboys had the NFC’s best regular-season record at 13-3. But you can’t overlook a draft that netted two Pro Bowlers and an entire defensive line.

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James Joyner, you’re a doof.
#1, it’s Anthony Fasano. Sparano was the departed Asst. Head Coach who headed to Miami as HC.

#2, On a team with 13 pro-bowlers, how many players did you think would be drafted to START? I mean, they didn’t go 13-3 by accident. They already have talent on the roster. Jenkins can easily start, and many agree F. Jones could start if it wasn’t for a pro-bowl RB already on the team!

Do you think Mendenhall would start if he was drafted instead? Think TEAM, man. Dallas already has a power runner! Why draft a 2nd one?

Posted by WJ | April 28, 2008 | 12:35 pm | Permalink

It seems to me a lot of the criticism in this draft hinges on two things: That Bennett is going to be a backup tight end, which he isn’t. He is going to be a slot receiver who causes unbelievable match-up problems for every single defense in the NFL. Next, theat Jones is not as a good a back as Rashard. Jones is a much better choice for this system, this year. They simply did not need Rashard this year. If Barber leaves next year or turns out to be more of a 15-20 carry guy, they can get a stud running back next year. Jones gives them more big-play ability than Rashard and is another huge matchup problem in the passing game. The offense is going to be breaking new ground design-wise this season. These guys fit Jason Garrett’s plans.

Posted by Rick Landry | April 28, 2008 | 02:57 pm | Permalink

On a team with 13 pro-bowlers, how many players did you think would be drafted to START?

The point isn’t so much that Rashard would supplant Barber but that he’s the better back. I just think that you draft the best available rather than trying to draft to fill a niche need. We did that in 1995, trying to draft Emmitt’s backup, and that’s just not what you do with a #1 pick.

If Barber leaves next year or turns out to be more of a 15-20 carry guy, they can get a stud running back next year.

But you’re probably not going to get a chance at a Mendenhall-type back late in the 1st round next year. It was a golden opportunity that fell in our lap and we passed on it going with the guy we were planning to take because we didn’t expect Mendenhall to be on the board.

Posted by James Joyner | April 28, 2008 | 06:27 pm | Permalink

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