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

By Jonathan Bales

Dallas Cowboys Times’ Final 2010 Player, Position Rankings

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Jonathan Bales

I recently concluded my 2010 “Grading the ‘Boys” Series.  If you’d like to go back to review individual position grades, here ya go: Quarterbacks, defensive lineinside linebackersoutside linebackerssafetiescornerbackstight endswide receiversrunning backs, offensive line.

A few notes before reading my 2010 Final Player and Position Grades:

  • This is not a comprehensive list of everyone who played last season, but rather those players who participated in enough plays to gather statistically significant results.
  • It is also not a ranking of the best players or those with the most production, but rather a list of the most efficient players to the team (as I see it) in 2010.
  • Lastly, players listed in blue are those whose grade I expect to improve in 2011.  I anticipate a decline in production from those players listed in red, and neither a vast improvement or deterioration in play from those listed in black.

1. DeMarcus Ware: A (94.0)

Ware had an “average” season by his standards.  He’s one of the best players–at any position–in the NFL.

2.  Jason Witten: A- (91.0)

Witten appeared to be slowing down early in the 2010 campaign but picked it up over the second half of the season.  I think you’ll see him as a “B” or “B+” guy in 2011, if for no other reason than a reduced snap count (under 1,000 is ideal).

3.  Victor Butler: B+ (89.8)

Butler’s improvement will be contingent on playing time.  The good news is new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan has no loyalty to Anthony Spencer and will play the best outside linebacker.  Butler’s team-leading .118 pressures-per-rush should be in there on passing downs.

4.  Martellus Bennett:  B+ (88.0)

If it came down only to Bennett’s ability, I’d have him in the blue.  Until Witten is gone, however, Bennett simply won’t garner the enough opportunities in the passing game to compile big numbers.  By the way, he’s this high because of his blocking ability, which is probably the best on the team.

5.  Gerald Sensabaugh:  B+ (87.0)

Shocked?  Don’t be.  Sensabaugh was outstanding against the pass in 2010 and was one of the few defenders to show maximum effort all year.  He did overperform a bit, however, so this grade will probably slip in 2011.

6. Felix Jones: B (86.3)

Jones is clearly the Cowboys’ best running back.  His 9.38 yards-per-reception in 2010 was incredible.  He can be an “A” player he if improves his pass protection.

7.  Kyle Kosier: B (86.2)

Zero sacks yielded all season.  I know Kosier is a “boring” player, but he’s been the team’s most underrated one for quite some time.

8.  Tony Romo: B (85.0)

In my view, 2010 was about as bad as it can get for Romo.  Even so, he compiled a 94.5 passer rating and a 130.0 rating on throws of 20+ yards.  He will be an “A” player in 2011.

T9.  Anthony Spencer: B (84.6)

Spencer wasn’t as horrible in 2010 as people think, and I can all but guarantee this grade will be higher in 2011.  Expect at least .02 sacks-per-rush next year (he had .012 this season).

T9. Dez Bryant: B (84.6)

It’s pretty clear that Bryant will improve in 2011.  He led the team with a 4.2 percent drop rate (and I’d bet that will be even lower next season), and displayed an incredible overall skill set.

T11. Miles Austin: B- (83.4)

Austin came into the 2010 season with incredible expectations that he didn’t fulfill.  He wasn’t terrible, however.  His 9.09 yards-per-attempt and 6.32 YAC-per-reception numbers are still quite good.

T11.  Orlando Scandrick:  B- (83.4)

Scandrick will always be targeted more than the other cornerbacks because he plays in the slot, but he improved greatly in 2010.  Yielding 0.88 yards-per-snap is good for a nickel cornerback.

13.  Doug Free: B- (83.0)

I don’t know of anyone who would give Free this low of a grade other than me, but he still has some work to do.  The three sacks he yielded is outstanding for a left tackle in the NFC East, but he also recorded a team-high nine penalties and wasn’t close to dominant in the run game.

14.  Sean Lee: B- (82.4)

I was really impressed with Lee’s improvement as the season progressed.  He led the inside linebackers in tackles-per-play, missed tackle rate, and most coverage statistics.

15.  Jon Kitna: B- (82.0)

Some of you thought Kitna deserved a higher grade, but if Romo puts up a 4:3 touchdown-to-interception ratio this season, fans will go nuts.  Still, Kitna is a luxury as a No. 2 quarterback.

16.  Bradie James: B- (81.3)

James was worse in coverage than I thought, yielding an 83.9 percent completion rate and 7.6 yards-per-attempt.  He’s still stout against the run, but I foresee a decline in production in 2011.

17.  Jay Ratliff:  B- (81.0)

Many of you didn’t like that I gave Ratliff an 87.0 percent in 2009, so his 81.0 this year can’t be popular.  His play will improve in 2011, however, because a move to defensive end seems likely.

18. Leonard Davis:  B- (80.6)

Davis is by no means a Pro Bowl-caliber player anymore, but he isn’t as poor as fans believe.  He was abused in the Titans game, but other than that, he allowed only one sack and zero quarterback hits all season.

19. Tashard Choice: C+ (78.9)

Choice is going to improve upon his 2010 production because either 1) Marion Barber will be gone or 2) it will be for another squad.

20.  Andre Gurode: C+ (78.2)

Over the second half of the season, Gurode was excellent in pass protection.  I still think he has value to the ‘Boys, but his run blocking must improve.  When he was at the point-of-attack in 2010, Cowboys running backs averaged only 2.82 yards-per-carry.

21.  Montrae Holland: C+ (77.8)

Holland is a solid backup, but he is not the future at guard for Dallas.

T22.  Terence Newman:  C+ (77.0)

Newman has been one of my favorite players for awhile, but he looked bad in 2010.  He was targeted 98 times and gave up a 65.3 completion rate.  I don’t have him in the red, however, because 1) I think he underperformed and 2) I think a move to free safety could help him.

T22.  Roy Williams: C+ (77.0)

I just don’t think Williams fits in well with what the Cowboys do on offense.  He has a knack for catching touchdowns (13.5 percent touchdown rate) and led the team in yards-per-attempt (9.12), but how much value can he add to a receiver corps with Austin and Bryant ahead of him?

24.  Keith Brooking: C (76.7)

Brooking’s production may not have a chance to decline if he’s out of Dallas in 2011.  He tallied 23 less tackles in 2010 as compared to the prior season despite playing more snaps.

25. Sam Hurd: C (75.8)

I think it’s about time to part ways with Hurd.  He’s tremendous on special teams, but No. 4 receivers should possess the upside to potentially be a future starter.  Hurd doesn’t.

26.  Stephen Bowen: C (75.4)

Will Bowen even be a Cowboy in 2011?  If so, he seems to be the most likely defensive end to improve.  His 4.9 percent pressure rate was outstanding, so the sacks will come.  Rob Ryan reportedly loves Bowen’s game tape as well.

T27.  Jason Hatcher: C (75.0)

I predicted a breakout season for Hatcher, but it never came.  Receiving only 257 snaps will do that, but he did lead the defensive ends in sack and hit rates.  He’s probably in a battle with Bowen for a roster spot.

T27.  Marcus Spears: C (75.0)

Spears was the Cowboys’ only legitimate run-stuffing defensive end this season.  His tackle rate of 6.1 percent was well ahead of runner-up Jason Hatcher.

29. Marion Barber:  C- (71.3)

Barber would be a “D” player if he wasn’t so good in pass protection.  Still, he offers no value to the ‘Boys anymore as a runner or pass-catcher.  He’s actually a poor short-yardage runner now, converting on only 66.7 percent of plays with 1-3 yards-to-go.

30.  Igor Olshansky:  C- (70.2)

Olshansky is supposedly a stud against the run, but I gave him a “C” in run defense.  I’ll be pissed if he’s in Dallas next year.

31.  Josh Brent: D+ (69.0)

Brent wasn’t as good as people believe (due to low expectations), recording zero sacks, one quarterback hit, and three pressures.  I think he has potential to be a solid rotational player in the future, but right now he doesn’t possess starter ability.

32.  Alan Ball: D+ (67.7)

Ball yielded a 63.0 percent completion rate (despite playing deep on almost every play) and seven touchdowns (on only 27 targets).  I’m undecided on if Ball should stay in Dallas, but he damn well shouldn’t be starting at free safety.

33.  Barry Church: D (66.3)

I liked Church in the preseason, but he missed 28.6 percent of tackles and tallied a terrible 239.51 DCT Pass Defense Rating.  He has nowhere to go but up.

34.  Mike Jenkins: D (64.6)

I’d bet all the money I own that Jenkins will improve in 2011.  If he allows 11.17 yards-per-attempt again, I’d be in utter amazement.

35.  Marc Colombo: D- (63.0)

Nine sacks.  11 pressures.  40 quarterback hits.

————————————————

Last season, I handed out nine As, 13 Bs, 11 Cs, and two Ds.  The Cowboys’ lack of 2010 success was depicted in the overall player grades, as the number of As dropped to only two this season, while the number of Ds jumped to five (there were 16 Bs and 12 Cs).

Average Position Grades

T1. Tight Ends: B+ (89.5)
T1.  Outside Linebackers: B+ (89.5)
3.  Quarterbacks: B (83.5)
4.  Wide Receivers: B- (80.2)
5.  Inside Linebackers: B- (80.1)
6.  Running Backs:  C+ (78.8)
7.  Offensive Line: C+ (78.1)
8.  Cornerbacks: C (75.0)
9.  Defensive Line: C (74.3)
10.  Safeties: C- (73.7)

Although this list is a good baseline for talent evaluation, it isn’t actually how I would rate the positions.  This is because 1) the grades above are for the 2010 season only and 2) they are simply the averages of all players at a position (which may not be the best way to do things since the impact of one player isn’t necessarily the same of another. . .Alan Ball vs. Barry Church, for example).

Perhaps a more proper method of assigning overall position grades is to alter the weight each player contributes to his position by factoring in the number of snaps he played.  Thus, Ball’s grade would count 8.29 times as much as that of Church (987 snaps vs. 119).

After factoring in snap counts, here are the revised position grades:

Weighted Position Grades

1. Tight Ends: A- (90.0)
2. Outside Linebackers: B+ (89.3)
3. Quarterbacks: B- (83.0)
4. Wide Receivers: B- (81.0)
5. Running Backs:  B- (80.9)
6. Inside Linebackers: C+ (79.3)
7. Offensive Line: C+ (77.9)
8. Safeties: C (76.4)
9. Defensive Line: C (75.3)
10. Cornerbacks:  C (74.0)

No dramatic differences, but still interesting nonetheless.  The Cowboys’ 2010 decline is also evident in the number of players I labeled as ‘declining’ (in red), jumping from six (in 2009) to 10.  The good news is the number of players who I expect to perform better in 2011 is the same as last season–13.  A lot of that has to do with players like Jenkins, Bowen, and Austin who simply underperformed so much in 2010 that they’re bound to play better next season.

And finally, listed below are the most overrated and underrated players on the Dallas Cowboys (in no particular order).  These choices are based on a combination of the 2010 grades and public perception.  Thus, guys like Colombo and Ball aren’t overrated because everyone knows they are that bad, while players like Ware and Witten aren’t considered underrated because their talent is clear.

Overrated

Jay Ratliff, Bradie James, Keith Brooking, Marion Barber, Igor Olshansky, Josh Brent, Barry Church, Doug Free

Underrated

Victor Butler, Martellus Bennett, Gerald Sensabaugh, Kyle Kosier, Orlando Scandrick, Sean Lee

————————————-

There are bound to be some of you who disagree with these rankings.  Explain why below.

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25 Responses to Dallas Cowboys Times’ Final 2010 Player, Position Rankings

  1. starred4life says:

    Thanks again for a great read. I don’t disagree with your assessments. I think you’re spot on across the board.
    I’d also like to see Ratliff moved to DE and a real NT brought in (Rogers?).
    I think Bennett could shine with more opportunities.
    I have no idea what we should do with that number nine pick this year (if we can’t trade back). I wouldn’t be surprised at all if one of the “premier” players dropped to us. And by premier I mean Marcell Dareus, or Von Miller etc. If so, I’d wager the phone line might light up with some trade offers. But would we still want to trade down if we could put Von across from Ware, could we pass on it? I know that’s the least pressing need on the team, but it’d be sick. That’s assuming Amukamura was off the board. We need to hit that pick out of the ball park (and our next two as well). I’m rambling now.
    I’m interested to hear your take on free agency. We have no money to be making a huge splash (Asamougha), but a couple of role players could really help us out in draft flexibility. Ex Browns NT Rogers comes to mind. He’s a short term fix, but it’d keep us from having to spend a high pick there. Posluszny from the Bills might be a fantastic fit alongside Lee (assuming they let him walk).

  2. OmarJ says:

    i lreally like your breakdowns but i have to say as long as i like butler he’s not better than spencer, i think its obvious he has better pressure rate per play because he has less snaps, if spencer is benched should be for a robert quinn, aldon smith or whatever, victor butler is a good backup but he wouldn’t be better than spencer,
    i disagree on the statement about sensebaugh showing maximun effort all year, i clearly see him quit sometimes
    kosier was the best OL on this team…on 2009, i think his grade is slightly higher than it should
    just my opinion, still love your analysis

  3. Rick says:

    I wouldn’t include Free as overrated. He’s overrated by Pro Football Focus and whoever else had him as a Top 10 OT this season. But he’s not overrated on a perception status. Thanks to all of the negative comments made about him back in the preseason, there’s still plenty of people out there who believe he’s terrible.

  4. craig kocay says:

    here here rick

  5. Starred–I just saw the Browns GM said Rogers basically gave up in 2010 because the Browns stank and he’s sick of it, BUT he thinks he would play well for a contender. I don’t think Rogers will be brought in because of that sort of attitude, but he’s still a tremendous talent.

    The primary guy I want in free agency is Michael Huff/Eric Weddle. The free safeties in this draft are CRAP, and I think that position can’t be properly upgraded unless through free agency, while DE/CB/RT/OG are all spots that can be upgraded during the draft.

    Omar–I still think Butler would have a better pressure rate than Spencer even if they played equal snaps. Butler is quicker and doesn’t “disappear” during games like Spencer. I think Butler has a chance to compete with Spencer this season.

  6. Rick–You might be right…I was kind of going off the perception that he’s ALREADY a top-flight LT. I do think he has great upside and the potential to be a Pro Bowl-type guy, but he’s not close yet…thus the overrated term. Really nothing to do with Free and everything to do with a subjective take on public perception.

  7. Rick says:

    All I’m saying is, if non-Cowboy fans thought Free was any good, Nate Solder wouldn’t be mocked to them at 9 so often. Amukamara is still their most common mock draft pick by far, but Solder is probably the 2nd most common.

  8. john coleman says:

    First off, great evaluation, as always.

    I was shocked by a couple of the evaluations. Free, Sensabaugh, and Kosier were all points of question. I do however understand how you arrived at your conclusions.

    Free was all I could have asked for going in. He WAS NOT a surprise as I expected him to be solid. As for his run blocking, he was used wrong. He needs to be on more runs where he can get to the second level, rather than just at the point of attack.

    Sensabaugh is a head scratcher for me. He seems to show up on run plays and is usually in the vicinity on throws his way. Yet for some reason he underwhelms me and I lack confidence in him.

    Kosier just seems to get whipped all the time. Yet he doesn’t give up a sack. I thought the same last year when you also had him graded as the most underrated. I will say that I had just as soon resign him as to keep Davis. Davis is a JOKE. I’ll guarantee if I was his size, the man in front of me is history. There is absolutely no excuse for him not being dominant. So obviously he can’t move anymore and MUST GO.

    I was a little surprised by Scandrick’s grade. Although after some thought, I couldn’t disagree. I too, will bet the farm that Jenkins doesn’t have another season like last year. I’m not sure that if Newman doesn’t go to FS that I wouldn’t play him in the slot and play Scandrick outside.

    Overall on the defensive side of the ball, I will take a wait and see approach. Rob Ryan has already said that our CBs are better than most think. Campo is still here, so I’m not sure where Ryan thinks the problem was. I do think he will FIX this unit and we will be markedly better. I think injuries really changed the overall dynamic of the group. I think the new coach and the new season might surprise some people. Most people think Spears is history, I do not. Most think Brooking is history, I think wait and see. I would say there will definitely be some turnover but maybe not who we think. I would be willing to bet the farm that Ball IS NOT our starting FS. Ryan has no allegiance to anyone so the moves will happen.

  9. Tyrone Jenkins says:

    Martellus Bennet rated 4th overall and yet stil rated as “underrated” at the bottom? Really? The backup TE gets a grade of 88.0 (B+) and that’s thought of as low? His primary duty should be to catch passes 1st and block 2nd – if his primary duty was to block, then he wouldn’t be a TE. If he’s that good, move Free to RT and Martellus to LT. As a TE, he was OK but not 4th overall and certainly not underrated at 4th. I understand that Witten is the primary TE – that means that it just sucks to be the 2nd TE in this system and that his grade won’t be higher until he’s primary…

    I also don’t think that Mike Jenkins is worse than Alan Ball. I do think that having bad CBs leads to bad FS play but if Polamalu or Ed Reed or even Nate Allen were back there at FS, I bet they’d have received a better grade than Ball. Ball is terrrible. He’s not a FS, he’s a CB and an average to below average one at that. Not his fault, he just doesn’t posses the talent (speed, instincts, ball skills, etc.) to be better. I’m not in the NFL because I don’t have the talent. Ball isn’t a shutdown corner or ball hawking FS because he doesn’t have the talent – plain and simple.

    But, given the current rankings, if you INVERT that list, wouldn’t that mean that the # 1 need of the Boys would be RT followed by CB followed by FS then DE/DT? If so, target them in the draft and/or FA respecitively.

  10. JJ says:

    Jonathan – Your summary pretty much sums up the season. When a part time player (Butler), a player I’m still not sold on (Sensabaugh) and a player most feel still has not reached potential (Bennett) are in the top 5, it certainly suggests that the team was quite underachieving.

  11. JC–I agree Free will improve if utilized more properly. Overall, I think you’ll see the greatest position grade improvement from the CBs. There could be a new face, but Jenkins and even Newman are bound to improve. A better pass rush will aid them greatly.

    Tyrone–No. Not underrated by me…underrated in terms of public perception. Bennett’s grade is MUCH higher than what the average fan might provide him…and thus he’s labeled as underrated. Obviously I wouldn’t give a player a grade and then say that grade is too high or too low…they’re right on, IMO, because they’re my grades haha.

    JJ–That’s an interesting way to look at it and I think you’re right.

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  14. Mont Seventeen says:

    Ratings have nothing to do with the up-coming season… Not sure why the starting QB has a generous ratings based on the talent around him. I don’t see how much more talent we can add to the offense. Kitna score proves just ab anyone can run this offense, let’s not forget Kitna is 39 and lost 16 games in one season a cpl seasons ago!

  15. james says:

    ALL of the Def. backfield deserves D’s or even F’s if you ask me. Scandrick & Sensabaugh were no better than the rest. Disagree? Show me stats to back up their higher grades. The ENTIRE backfield sucked in 2010.

  16. Ratings have nothing to do with the upcoming season? How could you possibly know which to direction to move as a franchise without a proper assessment of your current roster?

  17. James…click on their names..you’ll see all the stats you need.

  18. Mont Seventeen says:

    I’m starting to believe… The QB we had after Aikman really we’re not all that bad. If Romo can go 1-5 with all of the talent and an uncapped year. What would he have done if he had like Torrin Tucker or Kelvin Garmon blocking for him? Jason Witten alone would have made Quincy Carter a better QB let alone him sitting and learning for 3 seasons. But that’s nnot the point, and I hate living in the past, what’s done is done… The problem now is Romo and what does he need to win more than 1 playoff game.

    Romo is an ok QB that has benefited from an ideal situation, the team can’t continue to get more pro-bowl players without making cuts bc we all know the owners will not accept an uncapped league.

    Now all the Romo-lovers are saying cut high-priced vets, cutting vets will have consequences, if Romo can’t win with this group… He is going to be hard pressed to win with dead money on the cap!

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  22. Collin says:

    Great post and assessment. I think Jenkins can and very likely will perform at a probowl level next year bc he won’t be in so many zone protections and will be given more chances to get into rhythm and make plays out of his great instinct with Ryan at the helm. Hopefully we bring in Cullen Jenkins to start and then have Bowen replace spears on passing downs (or permanently). Also I’m hoping for Nnamdi but JJ or even cromartie would be great (even tho I can’t stand him). I do disagree about witten declining. He’ll have romo again all next year and with dez getting better and hopefully Austin having a bigger year things will open up more so for witten. Again great job on your assesment… The best I’ve read this offseason!

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