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Dallas Cowboys 2011 NFL Draft: A look back

One statement that is true about the Dallas Cowboys going into the 2014 NFL draft is that: Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. This famous quote by Spanish philosopher George Santayana applies to the subject today of trying to understand where the Cowboys are as a franchise by reviewing their earlier draft classes. What were the hits, what were the misses and most importantly, where do we go from here?

Tyron SmithSo let’s start with the first foundational piece of 2011 in Tyron Smith of USC. The Cowboys drafted Smith with the 9th overall selection in 2011, and he has finally developed into a Pro Bowl quality player this past season. Finding a starter at the left tackle position is no longer as paramount as it once was, but there are teams who have them and teams who don’t. Luckily the Cowboys have one, and it will hopefully not be a position of need for a while. That doesn’t mean the Cowboys shouldn’t consider adding depth at the OT position, but Tony Romo can rest a little easier knowing he has solid help from edge pressure on the left side of the line.

Dallas Cowboys v Arizona CardinalsAfter the Cowboys took Smith, they picked probably the most frustrating second-round pick up to this point in Bruce Carter of North Carolina. The young linebacker has flashed phenomenal athleticism and big play ability throughout the last three seasons, but he has so far proven he can’t stay healthy. Carter sustained a torn ACL during his senior season at North Carolina. He wasn’t activated to full duty while recovering from that ACL until October 29, 2011. The 2012 season was a breakout season with 70 tackles, but he was soon placed on I.R. for a dislocation of his left elbow on Thanksgiving Day.

He missed five games as a result of being placed on I.R. in 2012.  And in 2013, he was only active for 15 games and only started 13. Where he also had a noticeable slide in his overall play partly due to learning a new defense under Monte Kiffin, but also his own mistakes. The 2014 season will be a big make it or break it year for Carter, because either he lives up to the potential he had North Carolina, or becomes only effective enough to be a spot starter for the rest of his career. Linebacker doesn’t seem like a need in the 2014 draft, but it wouldn’t hurt to consider some nice sleeper guys in the later rounds with so much uncertainty at the linebacker position.

In the third-round, the Cowboys decided to draft another injury-prone player with superstar potential in DeMarco Murray of Oklahoma. Murray made his first Pro Bowl in 2013, but it took two seasons for him to actually start 14 games. His rookie season was a coming out party for his fast and violent running style after taking the starting role after Felix Jones suffered a high ankle sprain in October. A promising season in 2011, led to a frustrating season in 2012 where he sprained his foot in Week 6 and didn’t return to action until 6 games later. 2013 was an improvement, but he still missed 2 games and only saw 270 touches. Running back should not be a priority in this draft, because Murray has been great, but his injury history keeps you worried for the future.

After Day 2, the Cowboys were a mixed bag as far as getting players to stick. David Arkin of Missouri State went in the fourth, but was swiftly cut October 26, 2013 when the Cowboys had a huge need at guard. Fifth-round cornerback Josh Thomas of Buffalo didn’t last past training camp. But Dwayne Harris of East Carolina has carved out a role as a change-of-pace receiver. However, seventh-rounders Shaun Chapas of Georgia and Bill Nagy of Wisconsin are no longer members of the Cowboys.

Overall the 2011 draft would be graded as C today. They hit big on the first, three picks, but Bruce Carter and DeMarco Murray are still a little shaky about how long they will really last in the future. Dwayne Harris is a nice spot starter, but hasn’t made a significant impact on the roster. And every other player taken in David Arkin, Josh Thomas, Shaun Chapas and Bill Nagy are either on another team or out of the NFL. Having 4 out of 8 players stick is still a very good batting average by draft standards.

Yet the Cowboy needs are clear in the 2014 draft based on how 2011 turned out. Firstly offensive line depth is a must. Since they missed on Arkin, they need more meat on the line to develop in the future. Then they should also consider cornerback depth. They have starters at cornerback, but not much behind them.

Some of these issues can and have been addressed to a certain extent in free agency. However, nothing helps your team like hitting on draft picks. But I want to hear from you. How do you feel about the Cowboys 2011 draft class? What grade would you give for the players they selected and how they turned out?

James Cobern is a Division Leader and can be contacted at jcobern@thepenaltyflagblog.com or on twitter @Jmcobern1

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