Every year when the NFL Draft comes around, it’s the job of media members to give instant grades of selections and decide if the players will boom or be busts.
In reality, there’s no telling how players will perform until they actually take the field and start playing. We’ve seen first-overall picks like JaMarcus Russell flame out of the NFL after only three seasons, and we’ve seen players like Shannon Sharpe have Hall of Fame careers despite being drafted in the seventh round.
With all that in mind, it’s far easier to look back on NFL Drafts from years ago and give accurate grades now that we’ve seen how the players have performed in the pros. The 2016 NFL Draft was monumental for Dallas, but back then the experts were giving the Cowboys draft grades of B- and C+.
Let’s rewind and breakdown each draft pick and see how with 20/20 hindsight, the 2016 draft was an A+ for the Cowboys:
Rd. 1, Pick No. 4: Ezekiel Elliott
About four months before the draft, Elliott had an incredible game in the College Football National Championship where he ran for 246 yards and four touchdowns in Ohio State’s victory. That left a lasting impression for the Cowboys scouts, and Elliott’s pro career has lived up to that monster performance.
Since 2016, Elliott ranks first in rushing yards and third in rushing touchdowns. After only six seasons, Elliott’s 7,386 rushing yards ranks him third all-time among Cowboys running backs.
It’s safe to say Dallas nailed this pick, but one critique is that Derrick Henry was selected 41 picks later in the second round. The Cowboys could’ve gone elsewhere with its first rounder and grabbed Henry in the second round, but those are champagne problems considering how Elliott’s career has played out.
Rd. 2, Pick No. 34: Jaylon Smith
Smith was a risky choice at the time because months earlier, he’d torn two ligaments in his knee and was bound to miss his first season in the NFL.
But the Cowboys planned for the long-term and selected Smith anyways, and it paid off initially. The Notre Dame-alumni received Comeback Player of the Year votes his rookie season and started all 16 games from 2018-2020.
But in 2021, Micah Parsons came on the scene and dominated, which allowed the Cowboys to cut Smith early last season to save money. He went on to play for the Green Bay Packers. But 27 days after the signing, the Packers would also release Smith and he finished the season with the New York Giants.
This was still a successful draft selection considering Smith posted three consecutive 120+ tackle seasons and made a Pro Bowl while in Big D. Prolonged success would’ve helped Smith’s case, but the front office didn’t give Smith the chance to continue his career with the Cowboys.
Rd. 3, Pick No. 67: Maliek Collins
Collins spent four seasons as a defensive tackle in Dallas before signing with the Las Vegas Raiders in free agency. After one season in the black and silver, Collins signed with the Houston Texans in 2021 and is still with the team.
Collins was a solid player for Dallas, totaling 84 tackles and 14.5 sacks. He dealt with nagging foot injuries early in his career, but only missed three games over the course of his time with the Cowboys.
Rd. 4, Pick No. 101: Charles Tapper
Tapper was a dominant defensive end for the Oklahoma Sooners, but that success didn’t translate to the NFL. Tapper played just two games in his career, recording three tackles and one sack.
In 2018, Dallas cut Tapper and later that year he retired from the NFL. In a social media post announcing the move, Tapper noted he’d be pursuing a career as a financial coach.
Rd. 4, Pick No. 135: Dak Prescott
Dallas has gotten terrific value from this mid-round selection. His value grows considering the Cowboys could’ve wasted some earlier draft capital on any of these QBs that were drafted before Prescott: Jared Goff, Carson Wentz, Paxton Lynch, Christian Hackenberg, Jacoby Brissett, Cody Kessler and Connor Cook.
Prescott has started every game since his rookie year outside of the 2020 season when an ankle injury ended his campaign after Week 5. The Mississippi State-alumni was the Offensive Rookie of the Year, a two-time Pro Bowler and got second place in the 2021 Comeback Player of the Year voting.
Rd. 6, Pick No. 189: Anthony Brown
Brown gets lost in the shuffle of this legendary draft class, but it’s not often a sixth-round pick is still with the team after six seasons. Brown served as a backup cornerback until 2021 when Dan Quinn joined Dallas’ coaching staff and aided Brown in his career-year.
Last season, Brown posted highs in interceptions (3), total tackles (71) and solo tackles (59). Going into this season, Brown has a starting spot locked up unless something unexpected happens in the preseason.
Rd. 6, Pick No. 212: Kavon Frazier
Frazier played out his four-year rookie contract in Dallas before signing with the Miami Dolphins for a season. He was with the Raiders in 2021 but is currently a free agent.
Frazier has started only two games in his career and has been used more on special teams with each franchise he’s played for.
Rd. 6, Pick No. 217: Rico Gathers
Gathers played in 15 games in 2018, starting four times. That sason, he had three receptions for 45 yards. Gathers was cut after the first week of training camp ahead of the 2019 season.