The highlight of the Cowboys' 2012 draft was the bold move to trade up and select cornerback Morris Claiborne. What was to come after that was anyone's guess, but the consensus was that Jerry Jones and company would be on the hunt for offensive linemen and defensive assistance.
The Cowboys failed to draft any offensive linemen, but defense wound up being the theme of the draft. Sounded like fundamental logic to me considering last season's defense turned into an apocalypse, but when you take a closer look at the overall impact of the 2012 draft beyond Claiborne, it clearly lacks impact.
It seems as though the Cowboys have improved their drafting as of late with the additions of Dez Bryant, Sean Lee, Tyron Smith, Bruce Carter and DeMarco Murray, but even those selections can't replace the debacle of the 2009 draft and numerous other whiffs by the Cowboys' collaborative and highly unique decision-making process of drafting.
When you analyze the 2012 draft, seventh-round pick Caleb McSurdy, fifth-round pick Danny Coale and fourth-round pick Matt Johnson have all landed on injured reserve. McSurdy, an inside linebacker, could have provided some nice depth and earned some valuable reps with the injuries to Lee and Carter.
Johnson, a safety from Eastern Washington, battled hamstring injuries all season and injured his back rehabbing from a hamstring pull. For Johnson, who was kept on the active roster for quite some time, it has become a lost season and a missed opportunity at solidifying himself as a player in the secondary.
The Cowboys had hopes for Johnson and his playmaking ability, but he can't stay healthy or stay on the field. And that's a problem considering another draft has failed to deliver very little beyond the first two rounds.
Is it the evaluation process? Bad luck? Or just part of the inexact science that is the NFL draft?
The bottom line is that McSurdy, Coale and Johnson haven't played a single down this season, but let's go a little deeper into the analysis.
Right now, the only two players who have made an impact from this class are Claiborne and third-round pick Tyrone Crawford. Claiborne became an instant starter who will only blossom as time goes on, and Crawford is starting to get significant playing time in passing situations due to injuries along the defensive front.
With the impending departures of Kenyon Coleman and possibly Marcus Spears, Crawford should be viewed as a starter next season. When you look at the play of the other fourth-round pick, Kyle Wilber, you see a player who's gotten limited reps on defense and the majority of his time on special teams. Sixth-round pick James Hanna, who had figured to be more involved in the passing game, has displayed some ability but currently has a limited role and still sits behind John Phillips.
Next season, Hanna most likely should be viewed as the backup behind Jason Witten, but that depends on the plan for Phillips. The Cowboys need to incorporate another tight end into this offense because the time for over-relying on Witten needs to come to a halt. He's athletic enough to play in the slot, and his versatility can cause potential matchup problems in a two tight-end set.
The Cowboys need to capitalize on that.
The Cowboys have had their share of injury concerns and depth problems this season, but the frustrating part is that you can't control when they might occur. But that's why developing the youngest players on the roster, and more importantly the draft picks, is the best way to mitigate both dilemmas.
It's not time to declare this draft class a bust or start to second-guess and look back at players who have outperformed the Cowboys' draft picks, but it's hard to be excited about some of these players when it turns out that they're special-teams contributors and spot-duty players.
The pro personnel department has had to work overtime again this season and sign players like Ernie Sims, Charlie Peprah and Anthony Armstrong for depth and injury concerns. Not to take away from these players, but I'd rather find out the futures of McSurdy, Johnson and Coale now instead of their second rookie seasons next year.
For now, the contributions of Claiborne and Crawford from this draft class will have to suffice. But if I'm Jason Garrett (who's fighting for a job) and Jerry Jones (who ultimately made these picks), I would want clarity sooner than later, as time is running out for this team and this cycle of mediocrity is getting a tad bit old.
Can Kyle Wilber replace Anthony Spencer and be effective? Is James Hanna that second tight-end option? Is Matt Johnson the playmaker the Cowboys' brain trust thinks he is? Is Danny Coale even better than Cole Beasley? And is Caleb McSurdy a viable inside linebacker or a seventh-round flier?
Not only do these questions need to be answered in the near future, but the answers may unlock a lot of truths for this franchise that may affect future decisions. To me, that's impactful.
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