There is always a debate about drafting players from big schools in comparison to players from small schools. Of the Dallas Cowboys' nine draft picks in May, eight came from big schools, and we’re counting Boise State defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence as a big-school player.
The jump in players from big schools for Dallas can be attributed to many things. Players from small schools might not be ready mentally and physically for the NFL.
However, you can find some gems from small schools, the biggest example is quarterback Tony Romo, an undrafted free agent from Eastern Illinois.
Then again, you have players such as Matt Johnson, a 2012 fourth-round pick from Eastern Washington, who has yet to take the field because of injuries.
“The difference is if you're from a small school and you're coming into this situation you might not be ready for the bright lights,” said Will McClay, the Cowboys’ assistant director of player personnel, who put the draft board together. “The guys who have been through playing those games where there are 90,000 people in the stands, they've had those situations there, they'll [be] a little bit [more] used to it. If they got the same physical traits, I'm going to go with the guy whose been there before, [over] the guy who you got to wait to come up.”
Of course you can find busts or players from big schools who have failed to perform to expectations such as cornerback Morris Claiborne, the 2012 first-round pick, who was selected No. 6 overall.
Claiborne has struggled with injuries and ineffective play since he arrived in Dallas. The Cowboys have had success with big school players in the past such as Travis Frederick (Wisconsin), Tyron Smith (USC), Sean Lee (Penn State), Dez Bryant (Oklahoma State) and DeMarco Murray (Oklahoma).
“Throughout the league, you have guys that are drafted high,” McClay said. “The high-drafted kids, there are teams that have done it before and they haven't panned out. So you err on the side of percentages if the guys [have] the same ability and those types of things.”
Yet, there are some small-school failures like 2010 fourth-round pick Akwasi Owusu-Ansah (Indiana, Pa), David Arkin (2011 fourth-round pick from Missouri State) and the struggles of B.W. Webb (2013 fourth-round pick from William and Mary).
The bottom line is you have to find the best players regardless of where they come from. If not, somebody else will be doing the job.
“Man, we went into [the draft] looking for the best football players, first,” McClay said. “Guys that had the skill set that fit our deal, were from a big school. It was part of the discussion. You look at the big school, small school and you weigh those things and look at the history that's been throughout the league, if 82 percent comes from major schools, well there is some reason for that.”