How Dallas Cowboys Player Rankings Should Affect 2011 Draft Prep
A couple of months back, I complete my 2010 Dallas Cowboys Player Grades, ranking the 35 players who received enough snaps for me to provide them with a “statistically-significant” grade. Among the surprises were:
- Victor Butler with a 89.8 percent, Martellus Bennett with an 88.0 percent, and Gerald Sensabaugh with an 87.0 percent–the third, fourth and fifth-highest grades on the team
- Rating the outside linebackers as the second-strongest position on the team
I have pasted these rankings below. If you’d like to go back to review individual position grades, here ya go: Quarterbacks,defensive line, inside linebackers, outside linebackers, safeties, cornerbacks, tight ends, wide receivers, running 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.
- 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.
- Click on a player’s name to see in-depth statistics related to his 2010 play
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.
Jay Ratliff, Bradie James, Keith Brooking, Marion Barber, Igor Olshansky, Josh Brent, Barry Church, Doug Free
Victor Butler, Martellus Bennett, Gerald Sensabaugh, Kyle Kosier, Orlando Scandrick, Sean Lee
2011 Draft Analysis
So, how should these findings influence the Cowboys’ draft plans in 2011? Well, the idea that the team should target an outside linebacker in the first round, such as UNC’s Robert Quinn or Missouri’s Aldon Smith, seems unfounded. Anthony Spencer was by no means outstanding in 2010, but he wasn’t nearly as poor as most people believe. The continued emergence of Victor Butler and the addition of Rob Ryan as defensive coordinator should help Dallas’ defense quite a bit. There are surely more glaring needs than a pass-rusher, at least.
Of course, it is possible that Ryan’s unique schemes that implement a multitude of pass-rushers at one time could have the team viewing outside linebacker as a larger need than usual. Is the “need” and potential value of a pass-rusher enough to justify passing on a surefire starter at a position that is a gaping hole, such as right tackle? Only time will tell.
While I do think Mike Jenkins will rebound at cornerback, I am scared about Terence Newman’s age. He may not even be in Dallas in 2011, and Orlando Scandrick is best-suited for the slot. Bryan McCann showed some good things last season, but it isn’t as if he is ready to take over a starting job. Thus, the ‘Boys may want to take a really hard look at trading up for LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson if he drops to No. 6 overall. As I explained in my article on all of the Cowboys’ potential draft day trade scenarios, that move would probably cost the Cowboys their third-round pick. Is that too hefty a price? Not if Peterson is the top player on your board.
Outside of those two positions, there aren’t many “surprises” in my 2010 player grades. We all know the offensive line, defensive end and safety positions need to be upgraded. I do think the acquisition of a space-eating nose tackle and the subsequent move or current tackle Jay Ratliff to defensive end could upgrade to positions, but that is for another article.
A final thought. . .some might argue that my ranking of the defensive line behind the offensive line suggests the Cowboys would be smart to upgrade the defensive end spot in the first round. I do not think that is true at all, even if the best player available is a defensive end. I have explained this concept at length in past articles on selecting the best player available. Put simply, the quality of the offensive tackles who figure to be available in the second round is weak. Meanwhile, there are legitimate options at defensive end who could very well fall to the 40th overall selection. Thus, even if the Cowboys have a player like J.J. Watt rated slightly ahead of one like Tyron Smith, selecting Smith is the right move because the team can secure a starting-quality defensive end in the second round. A Smith/Cameron Heyward combination, for example, is far superior to a Watt/Orlando Franklin one.
The lone exception to this idea is if the Cowboys feel confident they can trade back up into the first round (or top of the second) to secure an offensive tackle. Thus, trading down to, say, No. 14 and selecting Watt could be justified if the Cowboys have confidence they can move up from the No. 40 selection to grab a player like Ben Ijalana. Another option is trading down and selecting an offensive tackle anyway, then moving back up for a highly-rated defensive end or, as I prefer, Baylor nose tackle Phil Taylor. In that scenario, the ‘Boys would upgrade three spots (right tackle, nose tackle and defensive end) with just two selections.
I actually prefer a trade-down scenario because it allows for the acquisition of two instant-impact players. At this point, it is actually looking as though a trade down may be the likely move. I think it may also be the smart one.
There are bound to be some of you who disagree with these rankings and subsequent draft analysis. Explain why below.