The DC Times

A New Way to Look at the Cowboys, NFL, and Fantasy Football

By Jonathan Bales

Pittsburgh Steelers O-Line Wears Flozell Adams Jerseys Back to Dallas

Jonathan Bales

Think former Cowboys offensive tackle Flozell Adams isn’t happy to be coming back to Dallas for the Super Bowl a year after the ‘Boys cut him?  Flozell had the entire Steelers offensive line wear his Michigan State jersey on their travel day as they come into Big D.

I will admit I was one of the many people who thought Flozell should have been released.  In hindsight, a move to right tackle probably would have been better for Dallas.  Flozell had a solid season in Pittsburgh, and he couldn’t have been worse than Marc Colombo.

At least the guys weren’t dawning Cowboys jerseys.  Thanks to TerezOwens.com for the photo.

By Jonathan Bales

Dallas Cowboys Potential Draft Pick: Adrian Clayborn, DE, Iowa

Jonathan Bales

I’ve already assessed the play of two prospects who could potentially play defensive end for Dallas: Cameron Jordan from Cal and Cameron Heyward from Ohio State. I really love Jordan’s game and I think he’ll rise before the draft.  Heyward is a solid player, but I don’t think he’s worth a first-round selection.

The Cowboys’ draft depends heavily on the future of Jay Ratliff, who may move to defensive end in Rob Ryan’s 3-4 scheme.  I think that move would help Ratliff, who received only a “B-” overall grade in my 2010 Defensive Line Grades.

Scouting Report

At 6’4”, 285 pounds, Clayborn was a monster defensive end in college.  In the Cowboys’ scheme, however, he’d be on the small side.  As I’ve stated in the past, I don’t necessarily think that is a bad thing.  While the job description of a 3-4 defensive end certainly entails stopping the run, Clayborn has plenty of size and athleticism to do that.  It is his pass-rushing ability that could really aid the Dallas pass rush.

Clayborn is a player who has stood out to me while I’ve been studying film on other players.  He has a tremendous speed rush (for his size) and an overall high motor.  His strength is incredible and he uses it to get to the quarterback and ward off defenders in the run game.  When he isn’t in position to make a play on the ball-carrier, he has the speed to chase him down from behind.

For evidence of Clayborn’s speed and athleticism, check out the 1:11 and 1:36 marks below (when he beats future first-rounder Gabe Carimi).

In the video below, Clayborn shows an uncanny ability to fight off blocks and create havoc for an offense.  He does just this at the 1:22 mark.

Clayborn is also excellent at stringing out the ball-carrier (2:15 mark).  His ability to fight off blocks and secure the edge might allow the Cowboys’ outside linebackers to focus on rushing the passer immediately (which could be a big help to Anthony Spencer).

To me, Clayborn’s only negatives are his hand placement (he sometimes allows blockers to get their hands in on him and neutralize his athleticism, but this isn’t a consistent weakness) and the lack of a dominant second move.  He has relied so much on his strength in college that he hasn’t needed to use counter moves, but that won’t be the case in the NFL.  Clayborn’s future success will depend on his ability to adjust to facing blockers who are even stronger than him.

Projection

Clayborn is all over people’s boards–from the top of the first to the bottom of it.  The strength of the 2011 defensive tackle/end class hurts him, but I still think he’s a top 10 talent.  I haven’t put together a big board yet, but I am confident that he’ll be in the single digits.  Despite other pressing needs, I would have no problem with the Cowboys selecting Clayborn with their No. 9 overall pick–he’s that good.  If they could trade down a few spots and still secure Clayborn, they’d be in prime position to trade back into the first round and acquire a top offensive tackle as well.

Other Potential Cowboys Draft Picks in 2011

Nebraska CB Prince Amukamara

Cal DT/DE Cameron Jordan

UNC DE/OLB Robert Quinn

Ohio State DT/DE Cameron Heyward

Colorado OT Nate Solder

Wisconsin OT Gabe Carimi

By Jonathan Bales

Dallas Cowboys Potential Draft Pick: Gabe Carimi, OT, Wisconsin

Jonathan Bales

I recently completed my 2010 Offensive Line Grades for Dallas, and the results weren’t pretty.  Although I do think Doug Free is the most talented lineman on the team, Kyle Kosier ended up with the highest grade.  Still, it was only a “B” (86.2 percent).

Marc Colombo’s 63 percent, however, was the worst grade I ever gave a player.  If the Cowboys don’t upgrade the right tackle spot this offseason, they deserve another playoff absence in 2011.  Colombo yielded a ridiculous nine sacks, 11 quarterback hits, and 40 pressures in 2010.

I already dissected the game of Colorado offensive tackle Nate Solder.  Others are high on him, but I’m not.  I see nothing more than a third-round talent at best.  Today’s feature–Wisconsin’s Gabe Carimi–interests me a whole lot more. . .

Scouting Report

Like Nate Solder, Gabe Carimi is another mammoth offensive lineman (6’7″, 315 pounds).  Unlike Solder, however, Carimi seems to be a natural bender.  He isn’t tight in the hips, but that isn’t to say Carimi is incredibly light on his feet either.  Although Carimi plays with what I consider to be outstanding leverage and balance, his lack of elite athleticism probably makes him a better fit for the right side than the left (which could fit Dallas well).

Gabe Carimi vs. Cameron Heyward

Check out the 1:56 mark above when Carimi fires off the ball and displays a great leg drive.  He’s an awesome blocker in tight areas and I think he can get to the second level just fine, but working in space (screens, counters, tosses) won’t be his strength.

Carimi vs. Adrian Clayborn

In the first two plays in the above video, Carimi fires off the ball and displays outstanding hand placement (which I consider to be his biggest strength).

At  the 24 second mark, he gets beat off ball initially but has the athleticism and quickness to recover.  That’s a play I don’t see Nate Solder making.

Carimi sometimes struggles with his footwork in pass protection, however.  At the 1:11 mark, you can see him use poor footwork to allow Clayborn to beat him and cause a fumble.  The same thing happens on the next play as well.  When Carimi gets beat, he has a habit of turning perpendicular to the line-of-scrimmage, allowing for counter moves to be effective.

Overall, this was Carimi’s worst game I watched.  By the way, I haven’t done an official assessment of Adrian Clayborn, but he’s looked like a beast in all of the live games and game tape I’ve watched.

Carimi vs. Miami

There are times (3:03 mark) when Carimi fails to fire off the ball in the run game.  That lack of consistency will have to change for him to be an effective tackle (specifically right tackle) in the NFL.

Overall, however, I like Carimi’s game.  Although he gets flack for not being an elite pass protector, I think he’ll be just fine at the next level.  His technique is above average and his skill set seems to coincide with that which one needs to play right tackle.  See ya Colombo.

Projection

Carimi is in a battle with Nate Solder, Derek Sherrod, Tyron Smith, and Anthony Costanzo to be the first offensive tackle off the board.  No matter which of these players might interest Dallas, they can secure him in a spot later than their No. 9 overall selection.  The ‘Boys should be able to trade into the late teens and still acquire a player superior to current starting right tackle Marc Colombo (actually they can pick up an undrafted free agent who is better too).

I like the idea of trading down and receiving additional draft picks, particularly if Carimi is the pick.  While some will despise the fact that he might be better suited for right tackle, I have no problem with it.  The Cowboys need a right tackle of the future, and I don’t think left tackles are that much more important than right tackles anyway.

Other Potential Cowboys Draft Picks in 2011

Nebraska CB Prince Amukamara

Cal DT/DE Cameron Jordan

UNC DE/OLB Robert Quinn

Ohio State DT/DE Cameron Heyward

Colorado OT Nate Solder

By Jonathan Bales

Cowboys, NFL News and Notes: The Future of Akwasi Owusu-Ansah

Cowboys News

  • ESPN recently took a look at the future of Akwasi Owusu-Ansah.  As many of you know, I love this kid.  I had the opportunity to see him play live twice, and I think he possesses the ball-hawk mentality the Cowboys need in their secondary.  I think it might be a stretch to expect him to compete for a starting job this year, but I think he’ll eventually be a solid starting free safety in the NFL.  At worst, he should be the Cowboys’ return man in 2011.  Here was my initial scouting report on AOA.
  • Scout.com is claiming Boston College tackle Anthony Castonzo is raising his draft stock with a strong Senior Bowl performance, while Colorado tackle Nate Solder is doing just the opposite.  Yesterday, I posted a scouting report on Solder and why I think he’s a third-round talent at best.

Around the League with Vince Grey

  • I think there are two legitimate schools of thought on the Jay Cutler controversy, but I’ll say that I have to agree with those who question his decision.  If I’m Cutler, doctors orders or not, the Bears are going to have to physically restrain me from going back in this game.  If I can walk, I’ll play quarterback.  Period.  It’s going to take some winning to get past this one for Cutler.
  • The Jets live (last week against the Patriots, second half of the game on Sunday) and die (first half on Sunday) on emotional play.  They’re going to have to learn to moderate that emotion a bit in order to win multiple playoff games against top competition.  That, or win enough regular season games to get a bye.  This Jets team reminds me so much of the Eagles of the Buddy Ryan era.  Dominate for awhile, then terrible.  There’s just one major difference: Instead of streaky “me, me, me” quarterback Randall Cunningham, I really think they have a winner in Sanchez.  That might be enough next season, but they really need a pass-rusher.
  • I have to give the Steelers credit where it’s due, but color me a huge Packers fan for this Super Bowl.  Other than the 49ers (forever and always tops on the must-despise list) and Eagles (naturally), there’s no team I dislike more than Pittsburgh.
  • There’s so much about the media to dislike these days.  My main pet peeve at the moment is their “group think” mentality and a habit of taking a talking point and beating it to death.  Case No. 1:  Now, suddenly, Tom Brady is “overrated.”  Why?  Because he had the audacity to lose a few playoff games in a row.  Even CHFF has started in.  Brady’s now the guy who “barely” won three Super Bowls and didn’t have the best quarterback rating in those games, winning mainly because of his defense.  Excuse me?  Isn’t that the exact thing Big Ben’s getting praised for today?  Winning, despite bad stats, on a team with a strong defense? And how many quarterbacks won Super Bowls without a strong defense, or, at least, a defense playing great at that time?  Get out of here with that nonsense.  Tom Brady is a GREAT quarterback and one who’s usually clutch.  He’s just not perfect.  Hey, even Joe Montana lost playoff games.  Badly.  Troy Aikman was all but unbeatable for a long time, but he lost a few at the end, and played poorly in those losses.
  • And how about Peyton Manning?  Poor guy, he’s lost more playoff games than he’s won.  He only has one Super Bowl championship.  What a loser!  Did anyone else, besides me, consider this: how many games each year would the Colts have won without Manning?  I seriously doubt any of those Indy teams would have finished above .500 and more likely well under .500. Rather than blast the guy for losing so many playoff games, I stand in awe that he carried the Colts to those playoffs and won many of them.

By Jonathan Bales

Grading the ‘Boys in 2010, Part VII: Offensive Line

Jonathan Bales

Already graded: Defensive lineinside linebackersoutside linebackerssafeties, cornerbacks, and tight ends

——————————————

The ability and productivity of an offensive line is so often positively correlated with their team’s overall success. The play-making ability of the skill position players can be totally neutralized by the ineptitude of their offensive line.  Similarly, great offensive lines can make decent skill position players appear extraordinary.  Simply put, games are won in the trenches.

It’s not wonder, then, why the Cowboys struggled so much in 2010.   The offensive line was unable to consistently open up holes for the running backs or provide adequate protection for the quarterbacks.   While total rushing yards are often only correlated to wins (as opposed to a cause of them), rushing efficiency is vital in that it allows for offenses to generate big plays through the air.   Perhaps the easiest way for the ‘Boys to garner a more potent passing attack is to, ironically, work on their running game.

As you analyze the player grades and stats below, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • The number of rushes and yards listed below are nowhere near the actual final season statistics.  I assigned each lineman with the results of run plays during which he was a blocker at the “point of attack” (see displaybelow).  During each play, there are generally two linemen blocking at the “point of attack” (except on runs outside of the tackle box), and thus there are usually two linemen to receive the statistics from a single run.
  • The snap count totals are pass plays only (to more accurately assign sack, hit, and pressure rates).

  • One would expect the tackles to have worse numbers in pass protection. In a similar manner (but vice versa), we would expect the interior linemen to have inferior run blocking statistics.  This is not only because the middle of the field is clogged with gigantic defensive linemen and linebackers, but also because teams will often run up the middle in short-yardage and goal line situations, thus limiting both the big play possibility and average yards-per-carry.
  • Certain stats (such as average-yards-per carry or sacks yielded) are important within a position (LT vs. RT, for example), but less useful when comparing, say, a center and a tackle.  Averages can be misleading because of outliers (in this case, long runs), so weighing the ability of each lineman to provide big plays yet still minimize negative ones may be a more effective method of determining their productivity.
  • Dallas did a decent job of mixing up the direction of runs, although they may have been well-served running counters and tosses outside of the tackles a bit more.  Actually, I conducted an in-depth study on counters after Week 12, noting the Cowboys were averaging 8.71 yards-per-rush on 17 counters, compared to just 3.20 yards-per-rush on all other carries.
  • The final grades were calculated using a 3:2 pass protection-to-run blocking ratio–approximately the same split of Cowboys plays.

Grades

  • Doug Free

Run Blocking:  C+

Others have commended Free on his run blocking in 2010, and while it wasn’t horrific, I think people are simply pleased with average play due to low expectations.  In reality, the Cowboys averaged just 3.97 yards-per-carry when running behind Free–much, much too low for an offensive tackle.  In comparison, the Cowboys averaged 4.54 yards-per-rush when running behind Free in ’09, and 4.98 behind Flozell Adams the same season.

The fact that 6.6 percent of runs behind Free went for 20+ yards is outstanding, but the ‘Boys need more consistency from their left tackle.  Garrett could aid Free by allowing him to get in space on counters and tosses.

Pass Protection:  B+

I originally planned on giving Free an “A” for his pass protection, but the nine penalties killed him.  There were times when Free was out of position, but I think it is obvious to anyone who watched the ‘Boys that Free was generally doing his job in pass protection.

He yielded one-third as many sacks as Adams in 2009 and half the pressures.  Allowing just three sacks when facing the opposition’s top pass-rushers (especially in the NFC East–Trent Cole, Justin Tuck, Brian Orakpo) is quite impressive.

  • Kyle Kosier

Run Blocking: C-

Kosier’s run blocking numbers worsened across the board in 2010.  Running backs gained only 3.73 yards-per-carry behind him, and only 9.4 percent of plays went for 10+ yards–the worst rate of any offensive lineman.  I realize the Cowboys aren’t generally going to run behind a guard when they are looking for a big play, but that number should be better.

Pass Protection: A

It has become almost cliche to talk about the importance of securing a dominant left tackle, but I actually think guards (specifically left guards) are nearly just as important.  Teams can acquire tremendous value by selecting the top interior linemen in a draft all the way in the back of the first round, or even early second (hello Mike Pouncey).

I attributed zero sacks to Kosier on the season, but more impressively, he allowed just two hits and 14 pressures (12 less than in 2009 when I gave him a “B+” pass protection grade).  I know Kosier is a “boring” player, but he’s been the team’s most underrated one for quite some time.

  • Andre Gurode

Run Blocking: D

The Cowboys averaged nearly a full yard less per run in 2010 when Gurode was at the point-of-attack (as compared to 2009).  Even more alarming is the fact that Gurode led the team in negative plays yielded despite playing a position when he receives a ton of help.

In fairness, I think some of that has to do with Jason Garrett’s play-calling.  When you continually run the same strong side dive from the same formation, defenders tend to catch on.  Nevertheless, I didn’t expect Gurode’s run blocking numbers to be this poor.

Pass Protection:  B+

Gurode has been an unpopular player in Dallas recently, particularly due to BSPN’s take on him (oops, I meant ESPN).  Over the second half of the season, however, Gurode was excellent in pass protection.  His numbers improved across the board from 2009, and he led the team with just a 1.20 pressure rate.  I value pressure totals more than sack totals, so that’s an important number to me.  This grade would have been an “A-” had Gurode not committed seven penalties and snapped the ball whenever the hell he wanted about five times this season.

  • Leonard Davis

Run Blocking: C+

Davis’ run blocking numbers are similar to Kosier’s, except the Cowboys garnered more big plays when running behind the former Cardinal.  It’s clear that Davis still has some value in the run game, but I hate how Garrett uses him.  As I mentioned above, the strong side dive from “Double Tight Strong” kills the upside of certain Cowboys runs.  I gave Davis a grade a bit better than what the numbers dictate because 1) the ‘Boys generally run the aforementioned strong side dive from “right-handed” formations, i.e. right up Davis’ butt, and 2) on film, I don’t see a “C” or “D” player.  Davis still has tremendous strength and, while he needs to be more consistent, his play wasn’t as poor as many people believe.

Pass Protection: B-

This will probably be another unpopular grade, but Davis’ pass protection ability has been ripped because of a very small sample size of plays.  He got absolutely thrashed against the Titans, giving up three sacks in about 20 minutes of play.  He got benched, and everyone jumped on the “Davis is done” bandwagon.

The truth is that the big guy appeared to take that benching as a wake up call.  He allowed just one more sack the rest of the season and even yielded nine less pressures than in 2009.

  • Marc Colombo

Run Blocking:  C

I’m sure you’re asking how I could give Colombo a grade worse than that of Davis and comparable to that of Free despite Colombo’s superior statistics.  Well, let’s not forget Colombo plays right tackle–the position behind which the Cowboys should average the most yards rushing.  The 4.31 yards-per-carry behind Colombo really isn’t that great.  It simply looks better than it is due to the lackluster run blocking from the other linemen.  Plus, Colombo quite often had the aid of the Cowboys’ top blocking tight end–Martellus Bennett.

Last year, the ‘Boys averaged 6.25 yards-per-rush on 52 runs behind Colombo.  It’s impressive that the rate of negative plays Colombo yielded dipped quite a bit, but let’s not overreact.

Pass Protection:  F

This is the kind of performance for which I reserve my “F” grades.  We really don’t even need to talk about this.  40 pressures. . .are you kidding me!?

  • Montrae Holland

Run Blocking: B

Holland’s sample size isn’t enormous so we have to use the eye test to grade him here.  His skill set is made to be a punishing run blocker.  Holland still struggles in space and I don’t think he’s the long-term answer at guard, but he was a viable fill-in for Kosier and Davis.

Pass Protection: C-

Again, not a humongous sample size with which to work.  Holland appeared slow-footed at times and struggled with quick defensive tackles.  He is a tremendous downgrade from Kosier in pass protection.

Final 2010 Offensive Line Grades

1.  Kyle Kosier: B (86.2)

2.  Doug Free: B- (83.0)

3.  Leonard Davis:  B- (80.6)

4.  Andre Gurode: C+ (78.2)

5.  Montrae Holland: C+ (77.8)

6.  Marc Colombo: D- (63.0)

It’s pretty obvious the Cowboys need a new right tackle.  If Colombo is still starting on opening day of 2011 (or even on the roster), I will go berserk.  He is absolutely atrocious in pass protection and, quite honestly, he isn’t outstanding in the run game either.  I would rather start Martellus Bennett at right tackle.

A lot of media types are calling for Gurode and Davis to be cut as well, but there’s simply no way the ‘Boys can part with three-fifths (or more) of their offensive line.  Don’t forget that Kosier is a free agent (although his status is uncertain with the current labor situation).  In reality, Davis and Gurode are both capable players who are no longer dominant.  Their futures are probably linked to the Cowboys’ 2011 draft results, but there’s no reason to part ways with both guys.

The major problem for Dallas is the lack of depth on the line.  Rookie right tackle Sam Young offers upside, but we really have no clue what he’s ready to provide.  The same goes for guard Phil Costa.

With no top offensive line prospects in this year’s draft, the Cowboys might want to look to free agency to secure some aid.  If they could land a quality right tackle and a capable guard/center in the second round, it would go a long way in solidifying a unit that has become extremely detrimental to the future success of the team.

By Jonathan Bales

Dallas Cowboys Potential Draft Pick: Nate Solder, OT, Colorado

Jonathan Bales

I have yet to complete my 2010 Offensive Line grades, but those aren’t needed to know the Cowboys desperately need an upgrade at right tackle.  As I’ve said before, my initial judgment of Jason Garrett’s capability as a head coach will be his willingness to cut unproductive veterans.

No one deserves to go more than right tackle Marc Colombo.  I credited him with yielding nine sacks on the season.  Even more alarming is that Colombo wasn’t even effective as a run blocker.  No matter the criteria for judgment, it’s clear Colombo is one of the worst starting offensive tackles in the league.

Unfortunately for Dallas, there are no elite offensive tackle prospects in this year’s draft.  Theoretically, we might not see an offensive tackle selected in the first 20 picks.  Now tackles tend to rise before the draft and there are a bunch of players at the position projected to go late in the first round.  Still, the Cowboys should be able to trade down and still secure one of the best offensive tackles in the draft.  The question will be whether that player can play right tackle and if using a selection on such a player is worth the cost.

Scouting Report

At 6’9”, 315 pounds, Nate Solder is absolutely mammoth.  At such a height, Solder actually has room to put on some solid weight.  The typical scouting report on Solder says he struggles as a run blocker but can secure the edge in pass protection.  I disagree with that assessment.  As I’ve watched Solder, I’ve noticed a player who is athletic enough to get to the second level in the run game.  Take a look at him at the 1:45 mark in the video below.

The bad news is Solder struggles mightily with the speed rush.  Take a look at the same video above at 0:52, 1:12, and 1:59 in.  You can see him use poor technique when initially beat off the line.  I think a lot of that has to do with his height.  It’s difficult for such a tall player to properly bend, and when he loses his leverage he’s done.  In that particular game against Cal, Solder was absolutely abused all day.

As I watched more of Solder, it appeared his performance against Cal was less of an aberration and more of the norm.  Take a look at his game against Missouri . .

You can see Solder consistently use poor leverage.  Take a look at him at the 2:18 mark.  He plays much too high and it forces him to lunge after defenders.  The same thing happens at the 3:48 mark.

Solder seems to be rising up some boards, but I’m not sure why.  In my opinion, he doesn’t have the ability to be a lockdown left tackle.  His skill set, in my view, is more properly suited for the right side.  If he adds some bulk, he has the potential to be solid in the run game, but not worthy of a first-round pick.

Projection

Solder appears like he’ll be a first-rounder and potentially a top 15 pick.  That is way, way too high.  Maybe I’m missing something, but I don’t see anything more than a third-rounder when I watch him.

The Cowboys should avoid Solder at all costs.  Even moving him to right tackle wouldn’t solve his issues.  Solder seems like Marc Colombo without NFL experience–yikes!

Other Potential Cowboys Draft Picks in 2011

Nebraska CB Prince Amukamara

Cal DT/DE Cameron Jordan

UNC DE/OLB Robert Quinn

Ohio State DT/DE Cameron Heyward

By Jonathan Bales

Dallas Cowboys Potential Draft Pick: Cameron Heyward, DT/DE, Ohio State

Jonathan Bales

Some of you have been talking about Ohio State DT/DE Cameron Heyward lately, so I figured I’d take a look at him and provide my assessment.  Heyward has experience in a variety of defensive fronts, but he would play defensive end in the Cowboys’ 3-4 alignment.

I’ve already graded the Cowboys’ defensive linemen in 2010.  In that post, you’ll notice the highest grade given to a defensive end was a ‘C’ handed out to Stephen Bowen.  That’s pretty sad.  The Cowboys desperately need a defensive end who can rush the passer, even if it means moving Jay Ratliff to the position.

Scouting Report

At 6’5”, 288 pounds, Heyward has the size to hold up at defensive end for Dallas.  He has a good frame which appears could add some additional bulk as well.  To go with that size, Heyward has a tremendous motor.  I watched five or so games of his and never saw him quit on a play, which is quite impressive for a big man.

Heyward has very good strength and uses it well at times.  In the clip below, he dominates Oregon by using a bull rush for the majority of the game.  Still, he shows he’s also nimble enough to get off blocks, retain his balance, and make a play on the ball-carrier.

Heyward’s pass-rushing technique leaves something to be desired.  He relies too much on athleticism and strength, and if that isn’t working, he becomes ineffective.  He doesn’t have secondary moves to use.  In a league where he’ll get neutralized a lot, that could be a problem.  The clip below shows Wisconsin’s Gabe Carimi (one of the best offensive tackles in the country) dominating Heyward.  He appears to be a completely different player from the one who played Oregon.

Heyward’s athleticism and strength alone weren’t enough to beat a player like Carimi, and Heyward showed he has no counter.  Also notice how far Heyward lines up off of the ball (in both clips).  That’s something that can easily be corrected, but I’m not sure why it was happening and what effect it had on his pass-rush.

Overall, I’m not sold on Heyward.  He certainly has great natural ability, but will he hold up week after week when facing offensive tackles who are just as athletic and strong as him?  I’m not sure.

Projection

Heyward will almost certainly be a first-rounder, but it appears likely that he’ll go toward the latter portion of the round.  With players like Nick Fairley, Marcell Dareus, Cameron Jordan, and J.J. Watt all ahead of him, the Cowboys will be able to trade down and still secure Heyward if he’s the player they covet.  That would allow the team to acquire other impact players, but at the cost of forgoing the selection of a true game-changer.

Other Potential Cowboys Draft Picks in 2011

Nebraska CB Prince Amukamara

Cal DT/DE Cameron Jordan

UNC DE/OLB Robert Quinn

By Jonathan Bales

Grading the ‘Boys in 2010, Part VI: Cornerbacks

Jonathan Bales

So far this offseason, I have handed out grades to the Cowboys’ defensive lineinside linebackersoutside linebackers, safeties, and tight ends for their 2010 play.  Today, I’ll take a look at the cornerbacks.

As is the case with every position in football, the success of the defensive backs is very dependent on the play of other positions, particularly those rushing the passer.  Thus, it can become difficult when comparing CBs from different teams because the efficiency of their respective pass-rushers is directly correlated to the cornerbacks’ own success.

It is easier to compare cornerbacks on the same team, particularly if they do not match up with specific receivers.  This is the case on the Cowboys, as Terence Newman and Mike Jenkins generally play one side of the field regardless of where the opposition’s receivers line up.

Playing in the slot can be a bit different, and so we must be careful when comparing Orlando Scandrick’s stats with those of Newman and Jenkins.  The percentage of snaps that Scandrick is targeted, for example, will be higher than the starting cornerbacks because he is on the field in all passing situations, but not necessarily on running downs.

Still, we can gather the numbers and effectively isolate a player’s success to the best of our ability.  Below are the results of the Dallas cornerbacks’ 2010 play and the corresponding Dallas Cowboys Times grades.

Notes

  • Chart Key: TA=Thrown At, Rec=Receptions Yielded, PD=Passes Defended, Yds/Att=Yards Per Attempt Thrown At
  • The best stats are circled in blue, the worst in red.
  • Some of the stats were provided by Pro Football Focus.
  • The final chart details my own custom statistic, the Dallas Cowboys Times Pass Defense Rating.  It incorporates the factors I believe are most valuable in evaluating the success of a cornerback.  The amount of points a player scores in each category is less important than the difference between his score and the average score.  For example, a point total of 20.0 in a category where the league average is 5.0 helps a player more than a score of 100.0 in a category whose league average is 90.0.
  • The final grade is weighted 4:1 in terms of pass defense versus run defense.

Grades

  • Terence Newman

Pass Defense:  C-

Despite being targeted less often in 2010, Newman yielded more receptions, yards, and touchdowns than in 2009.  Over 65 percent of balls thrown his way were completed, which was sadly the top rate of any cornerback.  That alone tells you everything you need to know about the Cowboys’ cornerbacks in 2010, as the worst completion percentage yielded in ’09 (62.9 percent by Scandrick) was still better than the best this past season.

Newman was targeted on 11 percent of snaps–a bit higher than in ’09.  The amount of yards he allowed per attempt (9.33) and snap (1.03) were also far worse than in 2009 (when they were 7.66 and 0.72, respectively).

Newman’s Pass Defense Rating (below) was 170.3–a far fry from the 236.4 mark he posted in ’09.

Run Defense:  A-

Some people don’t seem sold on Newman’s tackling ability, but I’m not one of those people.  Newman has long shown he’s capable of making difficult tackles in the open field.  Although he isn’t a punishing hitter, that’s one of the primary reasons I believe he could benefit from a move to free safety.  Newman missed only 5.1 percent of tackles he attempted in 2010.

  • Mike Jenkins

Pass Defense:  D

I gave Newman a “C-” for his pass defense this season, and Jenkins was worse in just about every category.  His 11.17 yards-per-attempt-against is horrific, as is the 1.07 yards-per-snap number.  Jenkins was still able to get his hands on some balls, but he wasn’t able to reel them in as he secured only one interception.  On top of all that, Jenkins’ seven penalties nearly led the league and is a huge sign that he was frequently out of position.

Perhaps the greatest indicator of Jenkins’ decline is the fact that he allowed over two-thirds of passes his way to be complete after yielded just 49.1 percent in 2009.

In my opinion, Jenkins became overconfident after his stellar ’09 campaign.  He disregarded technique and thought he could get by on pure talent.  He found out the hard way that’s not how it works.

Run Defense:  D-

The only reason I didn’t give Jenkins an “F” for his run defense is that, after the game in Green Bay, we did see an increase in effort.  Should we see 100 percent effort all the time?  Of course, but the fact that Jenkins took responsibility and played decently against the run for the remainder of the year is a good sign.  Plus, he actually missed tackles at a lower rate than in 2009.

  • Orlando Scandrick

Pass Defense:  B

Scandrick began the season poorly, but his play really picked up over the final 10 weeks or so.  His Pass Defense Rating is the worst of any cornerback, but that’s really due to the nature of his position.  He’s on the field during passing situations, meaning the rate of passes he is targeted will naturally be higher.  The 0.88 yards-per-snap that he surrendered was down from 0.95 in 2009.

Run Defense: C+

Scandrick tallied 11 less tackles last season as compared to ’09, but part of the reason for that is that he gave up fewer receptions.  His 11.4 percent missed tackle rate is neither stellar nor horrendous, although it could certainly improve.

Final 2010 Cornerback Grades

1.  Orlando Scandrick:  B- (83.4)

2.  Terence Newman:  C+ (77.0)

3.  Mike Jenkins: D (64.6)

The Cowboys clearly need an upgrade at the cornerback position.  Newman will be 33 this season and has already begun what appears to be a sharp decline.  While others may not like the idea, I think he could move to free safety.  He still has speed and he’s already a better tackler than Alan Ball.  Plus, it isn’t like he needs to be a wrecking ball back there.  A sound tackler who can be the team’s last line of defense is fine.

Also at free safety, Newman would be asked to do little man coverage and would be free to face the quarterback.  The majority of his struggles seem to come when his back is turned to the passer.  He has trouble turning, locating the football, and still maintain proper position to make a play on it.  Being “free” to read the quarterback and drive up on passes could help him.

Jenkins’ 2010 struggles are perplexing.  He certainly has the skill set to thrive, so the key with him will be regaining mental focus and confidence.  And he absolutely needs to become a more willing tackler.

I liked Scandrick’s improvement over the course of the season, but I believe any thoughts of placing him in the starting lineup are a misinterpretation of his skill set.  He’s a small, quick player who is really suited to play the slot.  I think he could get abused outside.

The Cowboys will certainly be looking for an upgrade at cornerback during the draft.  An early-round pick at the position seems likely.  First-round options include LSU’s Patrick Peterson (although he will probably be off the board) and Nebraska’s Prince Amukamara.  The ‘Boys could also trade down and still secure a player like Miami’s Brandon Harris.

I personally believe the easiest way to obtain better cornerback play is to get to the quarterback faster.  Thus, acquiring a pass-rushing defensive lineman might aid the secondary just as much as a fresh face at cornerback.  Whatever method the Cowboys employ, an improvement from the secondary is absolutely vital to their 2011 playoff hopes.

By Jonathan Bales

Dallas Cowboys Potential Draft Pick: Robert Quinn, DE/OLB, UNC

Jonathan Bales

Thus far this offseason, I have produced scouting reports on Nebraska cornerback Prince Amukamara and Cal defensive end Cameron Jordan.  Today I will take a look at another player the Cowboys will look at in the first round–UNC defensive end Robert Quinn.

I’m analyzing defensive players initially because I have almost completed my 2010 Player Grades for all defensive positions.  To know where to go in the future, the Cowboys must properly assess their current roster.  As far as Quinn is concerned, the team’s thoughts on their current outside linebacker group will dictate the value they place on securing Quinn, who would move to that position in the 3-4 defense.

In my opinion, the squad’s outside linebacker group isn’t nearly as poor as everyone makes it out to be.  Everyone knows DeMarcus Ware is a beast and one of the top defensive players in the entire NFL, but most people are very down on Anthony Spencer.  Spencer wasn’t outstanding this season, but I still provided him with a ‘B’ in my 2010 Outside Linebacker Grades.  He actually tallied 11 more tackles than Ware.

Further, I gave second-year man Victor Butler a ‘B+’ overall grade.  I’m extremely high on Butler, particularly since he dramatically improved his run defense.  He’s now a complete player (his .118 pressures/rush beat out Ware) and I think he’s ready to challenge Spencer for a starting job.

Thus, I don’t think the Cowboys need to prioritize the outside linebacker spot early in the draft.  Others may disagree, however, and if Jerry Jones is one of those people, the organization will take a hard look at Quinn with the ninth overall selection.

Scouting Report

At 6’4”, 270 pounds, there are thoughts that Quinn will need to bulk up to remain at defensive end in a 4-3 defense.  In a 3-4, however, he has prototypical size.  To go with that size, Quinn possesses elite athleticism.  Some have compared him to Julius Peppers, and while I don’t think he’s on that level, there’s no doubt that Quinn has the size/speed combo to be on the Raiders’ radar.

Quinn excels as a pass-rusher, utilizing an incredible rip move and overall great hand placement to reach the passer.  I haven’t seen much of a spin move or bull rush, but that could due to the fact that his edge rush was so effective that he didn’t really need to use anything else.

Quinn’s “get off” seems to be average–he doesn’t anticipate the snap like a DeMarcus Ware (but who does?).  He has great speed when he gets going, but I don’t think his quickness is jaw-dropping.  I think his short shuttle time could surprise some people (in a bad way).

Quinn also seems to use poor leverage at times against the run, which is surprising for someone who uses his body so effectively as a pass-rusher.  However, Quinn always seems to be in the right place at the right time.  He plays very under control and doesn’t over-pursue the football, so plays like counters and bootlegs won’t trick him.

Projection

Quinn figures to go anywhere from No. 3 overall to the Bills to somewhere in the early teens, although it’s unlikely he’ll drop that far.  I personally think he’ll get scooped up by a 3-4 team, which could limit potential suitors.  It isn’t like he doesn’t have the skill set to play in any scheme, however.

The Cowboys won’t be able to trade down and still nab Quinn, so they’d have to grab him with the No. 9 selection.  As I stated above, however, the team has more pressing needs than outside linebacker, and unless they deem Quinn a can’t-miss edge rusher, they should pass.

By Jonathan Bales

Jason Garrett turning into a stat geek?

As you know, the backbone of DC Times is stat analysis and film study.  In the “About Me” section of the site, I write:

As a self-proclaimed “numbers guy,” I have always been fascinated by the way mathematics and statistics, if used properly, can thoroughly explain seemingly complex phenomena. Like the motion of the planets or the path of an ant, I truly believe football can be perfectly represented by numbers (the difficult part is determining which numbers are significant and why).

In my opinion, every NFL team should employ at least one statistician to track specific trends, analyze football game theory, and so on.  Well, it appears the Cowboys have done just that.  Last year, they hired a stat guy name Kenneth Kovash who co-authored “PROFESSIONALS DO NOT PLAY MINIMAX: EVIDENCE FROM MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL AND THE NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE.“   (Awesome read if you’re a stat guy and have extra time on your hands–and I’m not a statistician but I’d suppose the chances of both of those traits being true are rather low).

Now I can’t imagine Kovash advised Jason Garrett to punt so often in opponent’s territory (or at all, really) in 2010, so the key to the Cowboys success will be Garrett’s willingness to listen to Kovash.  There is some evidence that Garrett is buying into the mathematical approach just a bit, though.  Last season, the Cowboys gained a higher “win probability” with their punt/go for it decisions in opponent’s territory than all but four teams (Atlanta, Jacksonville, Oakland, and New England).  They also went for it on all fourth downs 35 percent of the time–third-highest in the league behind Green Bay and Detroit.  The complete list of fourth down stats is here.  The fact that Dallas was near the league-lead in these categories is a commentary on the ineptitude of many NFL head coaches today, not necessary an endorsement of Garrett’s decisions.

I know a lot of old-school coaches think running a team in such a “robotic” way is poor coaching, but us math geeks know any time a coach disregards the numbers, he’s making a mistake.  Great coaches put their teams in highest-percentage situations, and the easiest way to do that nowadays is mathematics.