The DC Times

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

By Jonathan Bales

Dallas Cowboys 2010 Motion Statistics

Jonathan Bales

Last offseason, I argued that the Cowboys should use pre-snap motion less often.  In my 2009 study on Cowboys motions, I found the offense was generally less successful on motion plays, averaging 0.7 less yards-per-pass and a full yard less per run.  As a result of those findings, I wrote:

Garrett should steadily decrease the motion rate until the defense compensates enough that the Cowboys’ yards-per-play reaches its peak.  My guess is that this is around 25.0 percent. At this point, it is likely the rate of big plays and negative plays will also be maximized and minimized, respectively, creating situations of generally optimal efficiency for the Cowboys’ offense.

Garrett used motion on 42.5 percent of snaps in 2009.  As I suggested, that rate dipped this past season.  Here are the Cowboys’ 2010 motion numbers. . .

Right off the bat, you can see the Cowboys’ motion rate dropped to 34.4 percent–not quite the 25.0 percent I suggested, but still an improvement.  With that fall came an increase in efficiency, at least in the passing game.  The Cowboys averaged over 0.8 “extra” yards-per-pass on motion plays and garnered a higher rate of big plays (10+ yards)–31.3 percent versus 22.3 percent on non-motion plays.

Once again, the Cowboys motioned on a higher rate of run plays than pass plays.  The 175:176 ratio is incredible, and those 175 runs represent 45.8 percent of all Cowboys’ runs–very similar to the team’s 48.9 percent rate from 2009.  Note that the “actual” run totals are slightly skewed because I count only “called” runs, not quarterback scrambles, kneel downs, etc.

The reason for the increased motion rate on run plays seems simple enough; the Cowboys frequently remain static pre-snap in situations where the defense knows they are going to pass.  For example, Dallas motioned on only 12 of the 197 plays they lined up in “Gun TE Spread” (left)–that’s a rate of just 6.1 percent, down from 12.5 percent in 2009.

Thus, while the run/pass ratio after motions is a bit “off,” it creates no real competitive advantage for the defense.

So we know the Cowboys motion more on run plays, but is there any causation behind this correlation?  My initial thought was that the the drop in yards-per-rush was caused by a possible tendency to motion on short-yardage plays.  Thus, the upside would be limited and the averages would suffer.

However, on short-yardage plays (which I defined as three yards-to-go or less), the Cowboys motioned just 12 times out of a possible 97–only 12.4 percent of the time.  That’s far below the overall rate of 34.4 percent.  Thus, while it is good that Garrett effectively spreads out motions among various downs and distances, the low yards-per-rush on motions cannot be attributed to an abundance of short-yardage plays.

Another possibility for the lack of success on motion runs is predictability.  After watching as much film as I do, there are times when I can predict with great precision what play the Cowboys are going to run.  How and where they motion is a big factor in my ability to do this.  Dallas will frequently motion the fullback to the play-side just before the snap, for example.  Only rarely does the fullback motion to the side of the formation opposite the play-call.

If I can read these tendencies, NFL defenses can do it.

Of course, the Cowboys simply need to run the ball more effectively on all types of plays.  They weren’t particularly dominant on non-motion runs either.

Conclusions

I love that I saw a decrease in motions from Garrett and the ‘Boys in 2010.  The Cowboys found much more success via the pass on plays which invoked a pre-snap motion, and, although the team’s run efficiency plummeted, the relationship between motion and non-motion runs actually converged.

We also saw a greater rate of big pass plays and a lower sack rate (by far) on motion plays as compared to 2009.  The rate of total negative plays remained steady at 11.1 percent.

Ultimately, I still think 25 percent is the magic number.  If the Cowboys can motion around one-in-four plays in 2011, I think they’ll see an increase in overall offensive efficiency.

Of course, regression to the mean tells us we’ll probably see that anyway.

By Jonathan Bales

All-Time Dallas Cowboys Football Team, Part II: Linebackers

All-Time Dallas Cowboys Football Team
By Vince Grey

I thought since it was kind of a dead period between actual football and the draft, I’d have some fun creating my version of the all-time Dallas Cowboys team.  After some consideration, I decided to do it as a 53-man roster and coaching staff, as if I were building the team to compete this upcoming season in the NFL.

A couple of notes on that. . .First, I took some “artistic license” as it were, in order to include players from the distant past. Obviously, an All-Pro 260 pound offensive tackle from the 60s, large for that time, would be 50-70 pounds light by today’s standards.  I went with the assumption that had that same player been of this era, with better training and diet, he would have added size/speed to equate to this era’s players.  Also, I decided to only include a player at his level of play during the time he was with the Cowboys.  For example, Herb Adderley was a HoF defensive back for the Packers, but only played for the Cowboys at the tail end of his career.  He couldn’t make my team because he wasn’t “All-Pro Herb” with us.  Got it?  Good..

Click for Part I: Defensive Line

  • LINEBACKERS (Seven players)

In the first part of this series, we studied one of the deepest position in Cowboys history (defensive line).  Now we take aim at one of the least deep.   The linebacker spot is the only area of the Cowboys, including coaches, with no Hall of Fame inductees.

Looking over Dallas’ linebackers since the team’s inception, you see a common theme: small, quick players rather than Dick Butkus-type brutes.  No real surprise, as both Tom Landry and Jimmy Johnson favored speed and quickness over size on defense.  Even since we’ve switched over to a 3-4 scheme, Dallas has shied away from the big bruisers you see on other teams (I like that approach, by the way, and eight Super Bowl appearances means it’s obviously a successful one).

  • Weak Side “Will” Backer

1.  Chuck Howley

2. Dexter Coakley

Howley is far and away the most accomplished Cowboys linebacker of all-time. Five-time first-team All-Pro, six-time Pro Bowler, Super Bowl champion (1971) and Super Bowl MVP (1970).  Personally, I think he’s a very viable Hall of Fame candidate.  No offense, but if Dave Wilcox is a Hall of Famer, then Chuck Howley is darn sure one as well.  Howley did everything very well, and he was very capable of making the big play, as he so often did. `Nuff said.

Coakley was a three-time Pro Bowler, playing from 1997 to 2006.  Bad timing, really, because he just missed all the Super Bowl fun of Troy and the ‘Boys.  He was released when Dallas switched to a 3-4.

But, Dex could really play.  He was an outstanding weak-side linebacker. He was very short at about 5’ 10”, but packed a wallop at 235 pounds.  Dexter is tied for the Cowboys record for most defensive touchdowns (five), four of those being interception returns.

He was also a rock-solid tackler.  Obviously, his game was speed and quickness, and he used it extremely well.  Like Howley, Coakley excelled in pass coverage.  Both covered more like strong safeties than linebackers. I think either player, in a 4-3 defense, would be special in this era’s wide open game.

  • Middle “Mike” Backer

1.  Lee Roy Jordan

2.  Bob Breuing

Frankly, I was surprised when I looked up Lee Roy Jordan’s awards.  He was a five-time Pro Bowler, but with only two All-Pro selections (one as first-teamer). I was a little perplexed at that, but then I realized Jordan played middle linebacker in an era when the NFL had a boatload of  Hall of Fame-caliber middle `backers.  Looking at it from that aspect, I suppose it speaks to his ability that he made the All-Pro team at all.

Jordan was pretty small even by the standards of his day, standing 6’ 1” and weighing 210-215 pounds.  Were he playing today, I doubt he would get to more than 230 or so, but what Jordan lacked in size, he made up for with intelligence, quickness, and toughness. He was just a tough, hard-nosed player who gave everything he had on every play.  Very football savvy.  Lee Roy is a member of the College Football Hall of Fame and is also in the Cowboys Ring of Honor.

I can honestly say that I’ve seen 99 percent or more of Bob Breunig’s playing career as a Cowboy and I can’t specifically recall a single play.  Not one.  That, in a nutshell, was Breunig.  Mr. Steady. He made just about every play he was supposed to, but not many passed that. Very smart (Stanford), excellent tackler, kind of a liability in coverage. Very good, but not great, at diagnosing plays. Limited speed and quickness.

Breunig played the middle for Landry’s flex from 1977 to 1984.  He never missed a game until late in his career.  Bob was a captain on some really dominant defensive teams, but truthfully, I give much of the credit for Breunig’s success to the system (Tom’s defense protected the “Mike” from blockers extremely well) and to the defensive line he played behind.

Still, he did make three Pro Bowls and go to three Super Bowls.  NOTE: Wikipedia has Breunig named All-Pro 4 times. I think that’s incorrect.  I don’t recall him ever making AP All-Pro, and I can’t find anything to collaborate that notion.

  • Strong Side “Sam” Backer

1.  Ken Norton Jr

2.  Dave Edwards

This one’s virtually a toss up.  Norton had more awards, barely, as he was named to the Pro Bowl one time (1993), and he has two Super Bowl victories to Dave’s one, but Edwards played longer (11 seasons compared to six for Edwards), and almost never missed a game. Both players were very, very good, but just a shade below All-Pro/multi-Pro Bowl level.

I give Norton the slight edge due to his versatility, but he was also the largest of my group, weighing about 240-250 pounds on a 6’ 1” frame.  His natural position was “Sam” LB, but he could play the middle, and even the weak side, without losing much production. Edwards, as far as I can determine, was exclusively a “Sam” LB.  That’s not to say he couldn’t play the other positions, only that he never did as far as I know.  Dave was taller at 6’ 3,” but listed at 230.  However, extrapolating that out to today, I could easily see him going 250 or so.

I had a major dislike for Norton after he defected to the Niners in 1994.  I didn’t mind him leaving so much (this was the infant days of the salary cap and Dallas refused to pay their LBs any real money back then), but going to despised `Frisco was just too much to bear.  Of course, the fact that Ken was from California didn’t seem relevant at the time.  All I knew was that he went over to the dark side and suddenly we couldn’t beat the 49ers anymore.  I’ve mellowed some on Norton since that time, forgiving. . .but never forgetting.

  • The Seventh Man

Hollywood Henderson

With two true middle linebackers and another who could play that spot as well, I didn’t want anymore players at that spot.  While I briefly considered Dat Nguyen and Bradie James, I didn’t go there.  I also thought of Darrin Smith, an underrated “Will” backer from the early-mid 90s, but decided against it.

I decided to get creative, going with Hollywood Henderson.

Yes, I know.  Loudmouth.  Pop-off.  Coke head.

But, also, arguably the fastest and best all-around athlete at linebacker in Dallas Cowboy history.  Thomas was a really, really good backer for the Cowboys for four seasons before he blew up in 1979.  He started on three Super Bowl teams, made a lot of big plays, and, here’s the real kicker, was an outstanding special teams player.

Henderson was a natural “Will” who was forced to play the “Sam” in Landry’s defense.  I can almost guarantee had he played the weak side, Thomas would have made multiple Pro Bowls.

And, if and when Hollywood stepped out of line, there was always Randy White available to kick the crap out of him.

Again.

NEXT: Secondary

————————————

JB’s All-Time Dallas Cowboys Linebacker Corps

1.  Chuck Howley
2.  Ken Norton Jr.
3. Thomas “Hollywood” Henderson
4. Lee Roy Jordan
5. Dexter Coakley
6. Bradie James
7. Dat Nguyen

Not much to add here.  Howley leads the pack (although if we were including 3-4 outside linebackers, I would have Ware already rated No. 1).

Despite the off-field issues, Hollywood Henderson was an absolute beast.  As Vince pointed out, he was the most physically gifted of any Cowboys linebacker ever.

By Jonathan Bales

Rob Ryan’s Defensive Fronts: The 46, Psycho, and Cloud

Jonathan Bales

I recently came across an awesome post at Code and Football that captures a few of Rob Ryan’s defensive looks during his time in Cleveland last season.

In short-yardage, Ryan uses regular goal line looks and the “46″ defense that his father made popular.  You can see the “46″ below.

The “46″ defense utilizes “regular” 4-3 personnel, with a twist (literally).  Check out the alignment below.

You can see the all of the down-linemen are shifted to the weak side of the formation.  The three linebackers are all lined up over the strong-side offensive tackle or even further out.

Ryan generally uses the defense only in short-yardage situations, although he will dial up zone variations of the “46″ in other situations which are meant to confuse the quarterback.

In addition to Ryan’s traditional three and four-man fronts, he also uses alignments that invoke just two, one, and even zero down-linemen.  As Code and Football writes:

Nickel fronts arise when, from the 3-4 you replace a defensive end with a rush linebacker. Psycho fronts happen when both defensive ends in a 3-4 are replaced with a rush linebacker. You can also go from a 4 man front to a nickel front by replacing both defensive ends with rush linebackers. I’ve seen substitutions that look like 4-3 over and under defenses where the weak side DE has been replaced with a rush linebacker. These end up appearing as if they are very shifted 3-4 fronts.

  • Nickel Front: Two Down-Linemen

Likely Cowboys’ personnel: “Regular” with worst pass-rushing defensive end replaced with Victor Butler (or whoever the No. 3 rush linebacker might be this season)

  • Psycho Front: One Down-Linemen

Like Cowboys’ personnel: “Regular” with both defensive ends replaced by Victor Butler and another rush linebacker

  • Cloud Front: Zero Down-Linemen

You can see Ryan’s cloud front at the 1:13-mark here.  You can see an abundance of rush linebackers and defensive backs “floating” around before the snap, giving Drew Brees no indication of who might be rushing.

You can also see the nickel front at the 1:35 mark and two variations of the “Pyscho” front at the 16 and 45-second marks of that same video.

By Jonathan Bales

Dallas Cowboys Potential 2011 Draft Pick: Jaiquawn Jarrett, FS, Temple

Jonathan Bales

I’ve formally analyzed just one safety prospect this offseason because 1) there simply aren’t too many good ones and 2) I really think the Cowboys will sign a free safety in free agency.  When UCLA’s Rahim Moore is the consensus top-rated safety, you know it’s a weak class.

While strong safety Gerald Sensabaugh’s future in Dallas is in limbo, there’s no way free safety Alan Ball will be starting for the ‘Boys in 2011.  If the Cowboys do decide to look to the draft for his successor, I think Temple’s Jaiquawn Jarrett is a strong possibility.  In my view, he’s every bit as talented at Moore.

Scouting Report

Jaiquawn Jarrett’s size is in question.  I’ve seen him listed anywhere from 5’10”, 195 pounds to 6’2”, 210 pounds.  Quite the difference.  On tape, he appears to be closer to the latter measurements.  Jarrett is quick enough to cover slot receivers and big enough to help in run support, blitz, and cover tight ends.

On film, Jarrett appears eager to attack ball-carriers.  Although he’s a bit inconsistent in the angles he takes, Jarrett is a pretty good tackler once he gets into position.  He wraps up well and keeps his feet moving.  Check out the play he makes at the 1:16 mark below.  It’s one of the best tackles I’ve seen, well, ever.  That’s a big boy Jarrett lifts into the air.

The play Jarrett makes at the 2:29 mark also displays his willingness to make a hit.  A free safety flying up to make stick a runner in a short-yardage situation?  Yes, please.

I’m also confident that Rob Ryan will love Jarrett’s blitzing ability.  He has a ton of experience rushing the passer, which may seem like a very minor part of a free safety’s game, but not in Ryan’s scheme.  Ryan places all of his defenders all over the field, so the Cowboys need a safety who can play centerfield at times, yet come down into the box and play with the hogs in other situations.

On the negative side, Jarrett sits in his backpedal too long at times, giving up too much ground so as to not get beat deep.  You can see that at the 15-second mark when, with no one threatening him deep, Jarrett gives far too much cushion to a tight end.  The exact same thing happens at the 3:08 mark.

Nonetheless, Jarrett looks very fluid in his backpedal and displays natural hips.  His change-of-direction is outstanding, and I think he plays faster than he will time (he’s probably a mid-4.5 guy).

Projection

For the majority of the prospects I’ve studied, I’ve held a pretty strong opinion regarding their potential draft position.  For Jarrett, I really have no idea.  I really, really like his game and I think he deserves to be a second-round pick.

Will he get selected that high?  I honestly have no clue, but if he drops into the third or even fourth-round (which is certainly possible), the Cowboys need to jump all over him, even if they’ve already signed a free safety prior to the draft.

The only thing Jarrett has going against him, for me, is that it sure would be a bit*h to type “Jaiquawn” all the time.

Other Potential Dallas 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

Iowa DE Adrian Clayborn

USC OT Tyron Smith

Miami CB Brandon Harris

LSU CB Patrick Peterson

UCLA FS Rahim Moore

Baylor NT Phil Taylor

Aaron Williams, CB, Texas

Muhammad Wilkerson, DT/DE, Temple

Corey Liuget, DT/DE, Illinois

Martez Wilson, ILB/OLB, Illinois

Casey Matthews, ILB, Oregon

Anthony Castonzo, OT, Boston College

Mikel Leshoure, RB, Illinois

Jimmy Smith, CB, Colorado

Brandon Burton, CB, Utah

Drake Nevis, DT/DE, LSU

Ben Ijalana, OT/OG, Villanova

By Jonathan Bales

Name that prospect

By Jonathan Bales

Ratliff to remain at tackle, but will it be the nose?

In a couple of recent articles, I’ve posted information from Rob Ryan that Jay Ratliff would be playing nose tackle in 2011 for the Cowboys.  As reader Chris Stallcup pointed out, Ryan’s exact wording during his press conference was “tackle,” not “nose tackle.”

I hadn’t heard the actual presser and simply assumed Ryan was referring to the nose, but Chris pointed out how the exact verbiage could make a difference here.  As I thought about it, I realized Ratliff will play likely play tackle regardless of what his “normal” position may be in Ryan’s scheme.  That’s because, if Ryan uses a four-man defensive line in nickel situations as the ‘Boys have done in recent years, Ratliff will be playing defensive tackle on those plays.  Thus, even if Ratliff is at defensive end on first downs, he’ll see plenty of snaps at defensive tackle.

Ryan’s omission of the word “nose” when referring to Ratliff’s position might mean nothing, but it could mean my assumption that Ratliff will be staying at nose tackle is mistaken.  If so, “true” nose tackles like Baylor’s Phil Taylor are still in play for Dallas.

Of course, Ryan’s schemes are so diverse that Ratliff could play nose tackle on certain plays and then move to end in similar situations late in the game.  In Ryan’s defense, players line up all over the place (which is why I love it).  Whatever the case may be, the fact that we could see Ratliff at nose tackle doesn’t rule out the possibility of him playing the five-technique or three-technique.

Maybe he’ll even get a little time at free safety.

By Jonathan Bales

Dallas Cowboys Potential Draft Pick in 2011: Ben Ijalana, OT/OG, Villanova

Jonathan Bales

Everybody and their brother knows the Cowboys need a new starting right tackle.  The 63 percent overall grade I gave Marc Colombo in my 2010 Offensive Line Grades was the worst I ever gave a player.  Colombo yielded a ridiculous nine sacks, 11 quarterback hits, and 40 pressures in 2010.

What I haven’t discussed much this offseason is the Cowboys’ need for a guard (or two) of the future.  Although I gave Kyle Kosier the highest grade of any offensive lineman (86.2 percent) and I’m not as low on Leonard Davis as most, both players are aging.  There are rumors that Davis could get released this offseason.  That would be a mistake, in my opinion, but it isn’t like Davis is a Pro Bowl-type player anymore either.

In my Combine Preview article, I suggested you watch Villanova OT/OG Ben Ijalana’s position drills this weekend.  Ijalana was a left tackle at Villanova, but some view him as a potential guard in the NFL.  A player with such versatility would be quite a luxury for the ‘Boys.

Scouting Report

You aren’t going to find bad tape on Ijalana.  He simply dominated everyone he faced while at ‘Nova.  That is to be expected from a potential first-round pick from a Division 1-AA school, but Ijalana really dominated people.

In the running game, Ijalana is powerful enough to drive people off of the ball, but quick enough to get to the second level.  He excels on all types of runs, from powers to counters.  His balance and explosion off of the ball are both superb, and Ijalana never stops moving his feet upon contact.

In pass protection, Ijalana utilizes his above-average quickness and excellent footwork to protect the quarterback.  His overall technique isn’t perfect due to lack of elite competition (he could get away with some things that won’t fly in the NFL).  He sometimes stands too upright and doesn’t always use proper hand placement, but it isn’t as if his technique is completely sloppy either.

Some people believe Ijalana is “too small” to stay at tackle, which I think is a joke.  He’s 6’4”, 320 pounds.  If Tyron Smith is moving up into top-10 consideration (which I believe is warranted) at 307 pounds (his Combine weight today), Ijalana has plenty of size.

In my view, Ijalana can play every offensive line position except center.  He could immediately start at right tackle in Dallas because he’s an incredible drive blocker.  The concerns about his pass protection would be minimized on the right side (as compared to left tackle).

Projection

As we all know, Ijalana didn’t face elite competition at Villanova.  I see that as a positive for whichever team scoops him up.  On my current Big Board (which I hope to publish soon), I have Ijalana as a top-15 prospect.  He’s my second-rated offensive lineman behind Tyron Smith.

The fact that Ijalana’s level of competition was suspect simply creates a situation in which great value can be gained from his selection.  If Ijalana went to, say, USC, he’d be a top-15 pick.

As it stands now, I think Ijalana will still get selected in the first-round.  He’s too talented and versatile to slip much further, so I don’t envision the Cowboys being able to grab him in round two.  He’s in that “gray area” where a trade down from the team’s first pick and a trade up from their second pick both seem too far to maneuver.

Still, I would be thrilled if the Cowboys could move back even a few spots in the first round and select Ijalana.  Even though I have Tryon Smith rated slightly higher, I’d prefer Ijalana and an extra mid-round selection over Smith alone.

Other Potential Dallas 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

Iowa DE Adrian Clayborn

USC OT Tyron Smith

Miami CB Brandon Harris

LSU CB Patrick Peterson

UCLA FS Rahim Moore

Baylor NT Phil Taylor

Aaron Williams, CB, Texas

Muhammad Wilkerson, DT/DE, Temple

Corey Liuget, DT/DE, Illinois

Martez Wilson, ILB/OLB, Illinois

Casey Matthews, ILB, Oregon

Anthony Castonzo, OT, Boston College

Mikel Leshoure, RB, Illinois

Jimmy Smith, CB, Colorado

Brandon Burton, CB, Utah

Drake Nevis, DT/DE, LSU

By Jonathan Bales

Dallas Cowboys Potential Draft Pick in 2011: Drake Nevis, DT/DE, LSU

Jonathan Bales

Thus far this offseason, I have analyzed tape of five defensive tackle prospects: Cameron Jordan (Cal), Cameron Heyward (Ohio State), Phil Taylor (Baylor), Muhammad Wilkerson (Temple), and Corey Liuget (Illinois).  I’ve also taken a look at Iowa defensive end Adrian Clayborn.

As of now, I would rate those six players as follows:

Tier One

Phil Taylor

Tier Two

Cameron Jordan
Muhammad Wilkerson
Adrian Clayborn

Tier Three

Cameron Heyward
Corey Liuget

I see Taylor as a potential monster inside.  It is worth noting that he is the only player who would remain at defensive tackle (nose tackle) in the Cowboys’ 3-4 scheme.  The five other prospects are all potential defensive ends.

Today’s feature, Drake Nevis of LSU, is another college defensive tackle who would transition to defensive end in Dallas.  With new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan claiming Jay Ratliff will remain at nose tackle, Nevis and the other defensive end prospects will be high on the Cowboys’ radar.

Scouting Report

Nevis is extremely quick off of the football.  I can’t stress that enough. . .he has the quickest first step of any defensive tackle prospect I’ve watched this year, by far.  His quickness is what makes him so effective.  At 6’2”, 285 pounds, Nevis is “small” for a defensive tackle (or even a five-technique defensive end), so he doesn’t often overpower linemen.  His bull rush is only average.

Still, Nevis doesn’t get blown off the ball.  He utilizes that quickness and superior leverage to make plays in the backfield.  He’s in the backfield as much as any defensive tackle in this draft.  If there’s a knock on Nevis’ style, it’s that he gets into the backfield by shooting gaps, sometimes taking himself out of plays.

Will Nevis’ game be a good fit in Rob Ryan’s scheme?  Maybe not, as Ryan runs a “two-gap” 3-4 defense, meaning defensive ends (the position Nevis would play) need to be able to hold their ground.  I personally will take a “disruptor” over a “ground-holder” all day, but Ryan might not see it that way.

Most scouts tend to view Nevis as a 4-3 defensive tackle because of his penetrating style of play.  I think he’s capable of playing as a five-technique defensive end as well.  I may be in the minority, but I think Nevis’ major weaknesses can be fixed (and in a hurry).  He’s an athlete who simply makes plays.  I’ll take a “small,” quick player over a load like Igor Olshansky every day of the week.

Projection

I’d place Nevis firmly in the second tier of my defensive tackle/defensive end rankings above.  He’s a player that isn’t getting much hype but, in my opinion, is superior to Heyward and Liuget, and almost equal to Clayborn and Wilkerson.

Because Nevis might be viewed as a player capable of playing only as a three-technique, he could drop a bit in the draft.  It’s always good to be scheme-diverse, and while I think Nevis can be just that, others obviously disagree.

As of now, Nevis is sitting somewhere in the second-round.  Because of his athleticism, it’s unlikely he’ll drop out of that area.  Is he an option for Dallas there?  I’d still prefer a player like Wilkerson (just a bit), but I wouldn’t be very disappointed with Nevis.

Other Potential Dallas 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

Iowa DE Adrian Clayborn

USC OT Tyron Smith

Miami CB Brandon Harris

LSU CB Patrick Peterson

UCLA FS Rahim Moore

Baylor NT Phil Taylor

Aaron Williams, CB, Texas

Muhammad Wilkerson, DT/DE, Temple

Corey Liuget, DT/DE, Illinois

Martez Wilson, ILB/OLB, Illinois

Casey Matthews, ILB, Oregon

Anthony Castonzo, OT, Boston College

Mikel Leshoure, RB, Illinois

Jimmy Smith, CB, Colorado

Brandon Burton, CB, Utah

By Jonathan Bales

All-Time Dallas Cowboys Football Team, Part I: Defensive Line

All-Time Dallas Cowboys Football Team, Part I: Defensive Line

By Vince Grey

I thought since it was kind of a dead period between actual football and the draft, I’d have some fun creating my version of the all-time Dallas Cowboys team.  After some consideration, I decided to do it as a 53-man roster and coaching staff, as if I were building the team to compete this upcoming season in the NFL.

A couple of notes. . .First, I took some “artistic license” as it were, in order to include players from the distant past.  Obviously, an All-Pro 260 pound offensive tackle from the 60s, large for that time, would be 50-70 pounds light by today’s standards.  I went with the assumption that had that same player been of this era, with better training and diet, he would have added size/speed to equate to this era’s players.  Also, I decided to only include a player at his level of play during the time he was with the Cowboys. For example, Herb Adderley was a HoF defensive back for the Packers, but only played for the Cowboys at the tail end of his career.  He couldn’t make my team because he wasn’t “All-Pro Herb” with us.  Got it?  Good.

And one last thing. . .I’m very much a 4-3 guy, but even if I wasn’t, all the great Dallas Cowboy teams have played a 4-3 defense, so that’s what I’m going with here.

  • DEFENSIVE LINE (Eight players)

This is one of the deepest and most talented areas of the Cowboys since their inception.  Even if someone wanted to play a 3-4 by design, they’d be insane to do so with such a great and deep talent pool of defensive linemen.

First-team

Bob Lilly, Randy White, Ed “Too Tall” Jones, Charles Haley

Second-team

Jay Ratliff, Russell Maryland, Demarcus Ware, Harvey Martin

  • Starting DTs

As far as the starting defensive tackles go, the choices are stupid easy.  A couple of no question Hall of Fame players, both great against the run and the pass.  Not much to add here, other than I might give Lilly the slight edge as a run defender and White the slight edge as a pass-rusher.

There’s a considerable drop-off in talent when looking at the backups defensive tackles, but that’s really due to the level of talent from the starters than the poor quality of the reserves, who ain’t bums by any stretch.

Russell Maryland wasn’t much of a pass-rusher inside, but was rock solid as a run defender, and made one Pro Bowl.

Jay Ratliff will play defensive tackle in my 4-3 scheme.  He’s a multi-time Pro Bowler and a one-time All-Pro.  He’s cat-quick 300-pounder with excellent inside pass rush skills and a solid run defender.

  • The DEs

Defensive end wasn’t nearly as easy as defensive tackle.  You have four quality guys who all deserve starting spots:  Haley and Jones (listed), along with Martin and Ware.

So, how did I choose?  I went with “Too Tall” at one end spot because in a 4-3, you need at least one end who plays the run first, at least on first down, and guards against draws and screens.  With White/Lilly inside, no one’s running up the middle much on this team, so that leaves sweeps and other off-tackle plays.  Jones was an outstanding run defender who used his height and long arms to ward off blockers and reach out to grab runners.  He was also underrated as a pass -usher.  No, he wasn’t a sack guy, but Ed knocked down or deflected a ton a pass attempts.  There’s also no telling how many passes the opposing quarterbacks threw off-target, or never attempted, because the 6’ 9” Jones was in his face.

It’s easy to say I chose Haley to start because of his three Super Bowl rings (remember, I only count what a player did for Dallas), but it’s a little more complicated than that.  Harvey Martin, during his prime years in the mid-70s, was a more dominant pass rusher than either Haley or Ware.  The man was a true quarterback killer, one season (1977) recording an incredible 20 sacks.  And recall, this was at the height of the so-called “dead ball” era, when teams didn’t have anywhere near as many pass attempts per game as they do now.  Less pass attempts, fewer chances for sacks.

However, Harvey was never close to that dominant again.  Once the rules were changed in 1978 to help the offensive line, his sack totals began to drop dramatically.  To keep his sack totals in the double-digit range, Martin had to focus more and more on that aspect of his game, and his run defense suffered for it.  He was still a fine pass-rushing end, but no longer a dominant force.

Since I’m building this team to compete under today’s rules, I feel I have to move Harvey back a notch from starter to second string, but that’s no knock on Martin.  Not bad, having a four-time All-Pro as a backup, huh?

So it came down to Ware versus Haley for a starting position.  Right off the bat, I can tell you I’m hesitant to name a guy still playing as a member of my All-Time team.  Still, there are a couple of notable exceptions and Ware is certainly one of them. I know he’s an outside linebacker in our scheme, but I think the guy could play the rush end spot in a 4-3 with absolutely no drop-off.  If I don’t consider the difference in championships (3-0), this call isn’t so cut and dry.

Ware’s per season sack totals are superior to what Haley put up during his time as a Cowboy, and Ware hasn’t had the advantage of playing with the same level of team that Haley often did.  That said, I break this down to my “eyeball” test, and for those of you who didn’t see Haley during the three -out-of-four Super Bowl run, I can tell you that Charles was a more consistently dominant end than Ware, despite the sack differential.  The main difference between the two was that Haley seemed to always be around the quarterback, pushing and harassing.  Even when he didn’t get the sack, his presence was definitely felt.

DeMarcus, on the other hand, has long periods of time where he’s not a factor much at all.  Ware gets his sacks and pressures, but he’s not the consistent force (yet) that Haley was.  To be fair, that could well be because of Haley’s superior teammates, but then I also have to consider Haley’s rings.  They are a factor, just not the factor.

Haley gets the nod as starter.

There’s an interesting little tidbit about pass-rushers Ware, Martin, and Haley:  Despite playing decades apart, they’re all virtually the same size.  All three stand 6’ 4” or 6’ 5” and weigh about 250 pounds. It doesn’t really mean anything I suppose, as great pass-rushers come in all shapes and sizes, but still intriguing.

  • The Rest

Well, that’s it for the defensive line.  What an awesome group.  Two current Hall of Fame players, along with one who will be there soon (Haley), and another who possibly should be there (Martin had 114 sacks. If Richard Dent is a HoFer, then Martin is too).  I can’t think of another franchise whose all-time defensive line group could compare to this one.  Maybe the Rams, with Decon Jones, Merlin Olsen, Andy Robustelli and Jack Youngblood, but I can’t see them matching our depth after that.

Defensive end was so incredibly deep.  I mean, I had no room for George Andrie, a five-time Pro Bowler with the Cowboys in the 60s. Andrie was no runt.  He was 6’6” and would likely be around 300 pounds if he played today.  Then there was Jim Jeffcoat.  Excellent player for many years.  At defensive tackle, there’s rock steady Jethro Pugh, or even underrated John Dutton.  Heck, even though he was kind of an idiot and definitely a pothead, you could add Leon Lett in there as well.  The man made a lot of big plays for Dallas during his time there.  Any of these players would be worthy of a slot (and would certainly take one on a lot of other squads).

NEXT: Linebacker

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Note from JB. . .

I won’t get too in-depth with my selections as Vince has already gone into great detail regarding many of the great Cowboys defensive linemen of all-time, but I wanted to put forth my first and second-teams as well.

First-Team

Bob Lilly, Randy White, DeMarcus Ware, Too Tall Jones

Second-Team

Jay Ratliff, Leon Lett, Jim Jeffcoat, Greg Ellis

Here’s an interesting note: of all the great Cowboys pass-rushers of all-time, only 11 have recorded 20+ sacks in Dallas.  Of course the NFL didn’t keep track of sacks when guys like Bob Lilly played, but still a bit strange.

And do you know which player leads that entire list?  Jim Jeffcoat, with 94.5 sacks.  He was an extremely underrated player.  He still has 354 more career tackles than Ware.

I know Greg Ellis’ presence on my list will surprise some people, but he is third all-time in sacks for Dallas and was really out of position at the end of his career in the team’s 3-4 defense.  Charles Haley was undoubtedly a more dominating player, but he wasn’t in Big D long enough for me to rank him ahead of Ellis as a Cowboy.

Plus, we all know I’m new-school.

By Jonathan Bales

2011 NFL Combine: 10 Things to Watch

Jonathan Bales

This might seem incredibly stupid, but I am pumped for the NFL Combine to begin this weekend.  It isn’t that I put that much stock in the Combine, but rather it’s a chance to get a glimpse of all (or most) of the top prospects in one place.  For those of you who need a good reason to tune in, here are 10 things to watch. . .

As I discussed in my feature on Matthews, I think he’s extremely overrated.  He doesn’t possess very good athleticism and he gets overpowered often.  In my opinion, he should be a seventh-round pick or undrafted free agent.  He’s living off of his name.

When I’ve said that 40-yard dash times and vertical jumps don’t matter, that isn’t completely true.  In the NFL, you need to surpass a baseline of athleticism.  You can put a player with all of the heart in the world out there, and if he isn’t an athlete, he’s going to get killed.

Thus, the Combine drills are important in that they dictate whether a player has enough athleticism to play in the NFL.  If so, the “extra” athleticism is just gravy.  I’ll take a 4.4 receiver with great hands and route-running ability over Darrius Heyward-Bey all day.

A lot of you think Matthews possesses at least the minimum amount of athleticism needed to play in the big leagues.  I’m not so sure.  At his size, he better damn well run a 4.80 or better (and that’s really the minimum).  I haven’t seen that speed on tape, so let’s be sure to keep an eye on that and the fluidity (or lack thereof) he displays in his position drills.

I’m not horribly down on Amukamara, but I don’t see the elite coverage ability others have apparently witnessed.  I see a player who plays big against small competition, but folds versus the big boys.  Oklahoma State’s Justin Blackmon ate Amukamara apart.

The reason I still think Amukamara can be a successful NFL player is his potential versatility.  I envision him as a free safety.  He’s already tremendous in run support and I think his skill set would fit nicely at the position.

But is he only capable of playing safety?  His long speed has been in question for awhile, and if Amukamara has a horrible 40-yard dash time–4.6 or worse, let’s say–a lot of teams will view him as a safety or, at best, a Cover 2 cornerback.

  • Pitt WR Jonathan Baldwin’s short-shuttle time

Baldwin is a player the Cowboys probably won’t target, but he still intrigues me.  He’s enormous (6’5”, 235 pounds), and I’m not really high on receivers who are so big.  First, they are easier to jam (yes, easier).  More importantly, extremely tall receivers take such long steps that it is sometimes difficult for them to get out of their breaks.  Other than deep balls, I’m not sure Baldwin will be a great route-runner.  We know his 40-yard dash time will be good for his size, but his short-shuttle time will more indicative of his future success, in my view.

  • Villanova OT/OG Benjamin Ijalana’s position drills

I really, really want the Cowboys to take a long, hard look at Ijalana.  He possesses so much upside and his versatility could be huge for Dallas.  They desperately need a right tackle and two offensive guards of the future, so why not acquire a guy who could potentially play all three spots?

Ijalana’s position drills (i.e. his footwork, agility, and so on) will go a long way in dictating whether he can remain outside at tackle or should kick inside.

Those of you who saw my scouting report on Solder know I’m not high on him.  I think he’s a third-round talent.  He’s stiff in the hips and a really unnatural bender.  On film, he consistently got beat by the speed rush.

If Solder can’t stop the speed rush, he’d have a hell of a difficult time in the NFC East.  Ware.  Cole.  Umenyiora.  Tuck.  Orakpo.  Does Solder even possess the short area quickness to improve in pass protection?  We’ll find out.

We know Smith is an incredible athlete.  He’s right in the hunt to be the top offensive tackle on my board.  After concerns about his slight frame, Smith has reportedly gained 20 pounds (he’s at 305 now).  That’s still pretty small for an offensive tackle, but the game is changing.  If Smith is still a sub-5.1 guy at his new weight, he’ll probably be a top 15 pick.

  • Maryland WR Torrey Smith’s 40-yard dash time

This one’s just for fun.  The Cowboys have basically zero chance of drafting Smith, but he’s reportedly been running low 4.3′s on a regular basis during his Combine prep.  Times tend to be a bit slower in Indy, but Smith could light it up.

  • Pitt RB Dion Lewis’ short-shuttle time

I’m going to do a scouting report on Lewis in the near future because I love this kid.  He reminds me so much of LeSean McCoy, and not just because of the school.  Both players don’t time well and don’t really even have blazing straight-line speed, but their “game speed” is sensational.

I am a firm believer that football players need to be able to stop just as quickly as they start.  Players run straight for no more than 10 yards on about 95 percent of plays (Note: Although this site is all about stats, that one is completely made up).  Seriously though, straight-line speed isn’t nearly as important for running backs as the ability to make quick cuts.  The short-shuttle is a better indicator of future success (for most positions) than the 40.

I see Taylor as a top 10 talent.  The rarity of 335+ pound men with his quickness is extraordinary.  Taylor’s short-shuttle time will prove he belongs in the top 10-15 discussion.  He’s this year’s Tyson Alualu.  Here’s film from my feature on Taylor. . .

Wilson is a beast at 6’4”, 250 pounds.  Because of that (and his unique ability to rush the passer), many scouts apparently believe Wilson can play outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme like that in Dallas.  I think Wilson is capable of excelling inside for a 3-4 defense, but his versatility certainly adds some upside.  Let’s see how fluid he looks during his pass drops at inside linebacker and what sort of explosion he displays as a potential rush linebacker.

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Note: You can see the official Combine schedule here.