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How Dallas Cowboys Player Rankings Should Affect 2011 Draft Prep

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Jonathan Bales

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 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.
  • 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.

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

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.

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11 Responses to How Dallas Cowboys Player Rankings Should Affect 2011 Draft Prep

  1. Da Cowboys true 1st pick should be (BPA) CB Jimmy Smith!

  2. Scott says:

    I love that Ware’s grade is his jersey number 😉

  3. Jonny Danger says:

    Gasp impostor! I would never have said “jon baldwin & cecil short 2dallas.” I want to trade down and get Smith or Castonzo then trade back up and get either Taylor or Aaron Williams. Come on maaaan!! I do like the idea of getting Watt or Cam Jordan as well.

  4. Tyrone Jenkins says:

    JJJr,

    Jimmy Smith can cover but that’s about it…not a 1st round pick IMO but in this weak class, who knows/

    The more and more I think about it, the more I’m sold on trying EXTENSIVELY to trade up for Patrick Peterson. The guy simply projects to be just that good. Of the 4 elite prospects, he and Dareus project to positions of need. Dareus will probably be a 2 down player if he were in Rob Ryan’s system and it just doesn’t make sense to trade up for that level of use. PP can step right in and be a good to solid corner as well as an option in the return game. Three years from now, he could be a shutdown corner or better yet, a centerfield type FS that is game changing.

    I’ve posted elsewhere, I’d give up the #9 pick, the 3rd round and the 5th round pick to move up just 3 spots to the #6 pick to get PP. That would leave me w/ the 2nd, 4th, 6th and 2 7th round picks (more than enough to get a RT, OG, RB and DE).

    Mark my words – Patrick Peterson will be THAT special.

  5. Ty–You know I am all for trading up for PP if he drops to 6. I will yield the 3rd-rounder (probable compensation) for the ability to have a game-changer at either CB or FS….I don’t think I would give up much more, however. I might do a pick swap, but adding in another pick by itself with all of the current holes would be difficult. Not that I would be too upset if the Cowboys end up doing that.

  6. Kris says:

    I think trading down and grabbing a OT like Carimi or Costanzo would be ideal. Pick up an extra 3rd in the trade. Then take LB Martez Wilson which allows you to let Bradie James walk next season. Cowboys don’t need to pay for a veteran with a lot of miles because they have a young buck with a year under his belt in that scenario. Then use the extra 3rd to trade up and take DT Kendrick Ellis. He will probably need some seasoning but he should be able to play a lot of snaps this season. Then in the 4th grab WR Kerley from TCU, who with a year of experience lets you part ways with Roy next year without having to depend on a rookie for your slot. Then draft a SS (Tyler Sash?) a guard, defensive end, and a cornerback in order of best value.

    Also in my scenario I have Jerry using his midas touch to reel in Michael Huff. Cowboys resign Kosier, Sensabaugh, and Bowen.

  7. Kris–That’s not a bad plan at all and quite similar to my own…do you mean Martez Wilson in the 2nd or 3rd? The Cowboys might be able to trade down into the middle of the 2nd and still grab him, which would aid them in moving back up for Ellis, who I think has just about zero chance of getting out of thr 2nd. I think there are better options in the 4th than Kerley, such as someone like Marcus Gilchrist or Johnny Patrick…and I am assuming you are keeping Newman in this scenario?

  8. Tyrone Jenkins says:

    Lots of options…

    Keep in mind that Dallas probably won’t be able to address ALL of their needs in just one draft – picks in the 4th-7th round are usually projects and really shouldn’t be “counted” on as addressing a need. Late round picks, if they pan out sooner rather than later, are an anomoly.

    This year’s draft class is weak. A 3rd round pick this year is like a 4th or 5th round pick in other years draft. Realistically, there are only 2 needs that Dallas might be able to address w/ someone of quality this year – CB (possibly FS) and DE/NT. As much as I, and I’m sure many others, would like to see RT addressed via the draft, the chances of getting someone of true quality isn’t that probable. All, and I do mean ALL, of the OT prospects projected to go in the 1st round this year probably would’ve been 2nd to 3rd round talent last year. 2010 saw 4 o linemen get drafted in the 1st 23 picks (Russsell Okung, Anthony Davis, Mike Iupati and Brian Bulaga) – all of which had better measurables and success projections better than Tyron Smith.

    Patrick Peterson, Marcell Dareus, AJ Green and Von Miller are the 4 elite prospects in this draft. Every one else projects to be somewhere between good to solid to possibly elite (elite being the unlikely ceiling). Since Green and Miller don’t fit a position of need, I suggest we go after Peterson or Dareus (ie. trade up). Then, pick up whatever OT prospect is available at 40 (or trade up from there too).

    The time to get “healthy” on positions like ILB, RB, etc. is NEXT year.

  9. Kris says:

    Jonathon- I think Newman had an off year. I’m certainly not on the “Newman has to go bandwagon.” So I would like him to stay unless the cowboys make a big splash in free agency to replace him, which seems unlikely with the need to resign Free combined with the leagues highest salary I believe.

    I have Martez going in the 2nd. I think he would be great value and if they had Sean Lee (who I like) rated 16th overall last year and shudder to think where they might have Martez.

    As long as they pick up a WR they feel can play the slot after his rookie year I’m happy. I’m higher on Kerley than most but if the value is there and they can get Patrick or Gilchrist in the 4th that would be great. I’m getting this sinking feeling that Gilchrist will be gone by then though. Seems a lot of people have a high opinion of him, myself included.

  10. JJ says:

    JB-

    I just wish the draft would get here. My head hurts with all of the prognostication. I’d rather spend time evaluating what the Cowboys have done and how it will affect the team. I can’t argue one iota with the notion that Newman is aging and should be a concern. For me, McCann is just a guy with interesting athletic ability. The Cowboys need a CB and a new FS. Whether the draft or F.A., it seems to be a need. Newman rarely completes a season with some injury. It’s a HUGE liability and if they choose to keep Ball on the team as a backup CB, the Cowboys are again taking a big chance.

    However, I also agree that if a top line OT is there, grab him! To hear that there is no interest in Ratliff going to DE concerns me because I feel we are woeful at DE right now. So, OT, CB, DE…all great areas of need.

  11. JJ–Me too! I just want to get some picks in, whoever they are, so I can study them and think about how they will fit in Dallas.

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