The DC Times

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

By Jonathan Bales

Dallas Cowboys Potential 2012 Draft Pick: Brandon Boykin, CB, Georgia

Jonathan Bales

I’m getting into the portion of the offseason when, despite the urging of everyone else involved, I analyze nothing but cornerbacks.  Luckily, my fascination with the cornerback position comes in handy in 2012, as the Cowboys desperately need a starter opposite Mike Jenkins.

I just posted a comparison of free agent cornerbacks Brandon Carr and Cortland Finnegan, explaining why I prefer the younger Carr.  Either way, I think the team should sign a starter at the position in free agency.

Even if the ‘Boys do sign a free agent cornerback, they could look at a rookie as early as the second round of the draft.  As we saw last year, cornerback depth is essential in the NFL, and the Cowboys don’t have it.  One possible target in the second (or perhaps even third) round is Georgia’s Brandon Boykin.  Boykin is intriguing because he has return ability and can play in the slot.

I posted my scouting report on Boykin at the Times today.  Go there to check it out.  Here is a clip:

At 5-10, 183 pounds, Brandon Boykin (#2) doesn’t have great size.  His height doesn’t necessarily preclude him from playing outside, but there’s a solid chance he will start as and remain a nickel cornerback in the N.F.L.  He’s almost assuredly a second-round selection, but I’m not sure Boykin’s game matches up with his projected draft spot.

Boykin tackles poorly and rarely fights off blocks.  You can see him have trouble getting off a block at the 50-second mark and at the 1:26 mark in the first video below.  At the 1:00 mark, Boykin gets himself so far out of position that he can’t even attempt a tackle.

The above video highlights what Boykin does worst (tackling), as well as what he does best (returning).  He’s a fast, shifty return man who has a knack for finding open areas of the field.  He reminds me a lot of Pacman Jones in that regard.

So how would Boykin fit in Dallas?  Not great, in my view.  A short slot cornerback who doesn’t tackle better be able to cover, and Boykin simply has too many holes in his game to warrant consideration in the early rounds.  He can’t press or play off coverage very well.  His return ability will be enticing, but it certainly doesn’t make up for his weaknesses as a cornerback.  I have a fourth-round grade on him.

Previous Scouting Reports

Michael Brockers, DT/DE, LSU

Devon Still, DT/DE, Penn State

Courtney Upshaw, DE/OLB, Alabama

David DeCastro, G, Stanford

Melvin Ingram, DE/OLB, South Carolina

Quinton Coples, DE, UNC

Janoris Jenkins, CB, Florida/North Alabama

Mark Barron, SS, Alabama

Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU

Whitney Mercilus, DE/OLB, Illinois

Cordy Glenn, G, Georgia

Chase Minnifield, CB, Virginia

By Jonathan Bales

Brandon Carr or Cortland Finnegan? Why Cowboys Should Target Carr



Jonathan Bales

My article on the NFL’s top 20 guards was posted on ESPN again here.  I will continue my position rankings in the coming weeks, as time allows between draft coverage.

Today, I want to take a look at the Cowboys’ cornerback situation.  At pick No. 14, the team is in a good spot to select either Alabama’s Dre Kirkpatrick (who might be on the board) or North Alabama’s Janoris Jenkins (who should definitely be on the board).  I did a scouting report on Jenkins here.

With so many needs, though, the Cowboys could look to free agency to fill the hole at cornerback.  I think that’s the prudent move, as the abundance of quality cornerbacks on the market will lower the price for a second-tier guy like Brandon Carr.

I did an article a couple weeks ago on why Carr should be the Cowboys’ top free agent target.  Shortly after that was published, the team was linked to Carr.  Now, Dallas is rumored to have interest in both he and Cortland Finnegan.  Here is why the former Kansas City cornerback is the better fit. . .

Both cornerbacks are extremely talented and had excellent seasons in 2011.  There’s no doubt Finnegan is superior to Carr against the run.  Although he missed a slightly higher percentage of tackles, that’s really only because he’s in position to make more.  Although small (5’10”, 192 pounds), Finnegan is extremely physical.  He would bring a much-needed nastiness to the Dallas defense.

In my opinion, though, Carr is the better cover man.  The 49.4% completion rate he allowed in 2011 was stellar, but more importantly, he’s a play-maker.  He will jump routes and create havoc for an offense.  At this point, the Cowboys desperately need a cornerback who possesses wide receiver-like ball skills.

The Cowboys really can’t go wrong with either player, but Carr is the superior option for two reasons.  First, he will probably cost less than Finnegan.  This isn’t a certainty, but I’m getting the sense Finnegan might surpass even Brent Grimes as the market’s richest cornerback in 2012.

Secondly, Finnegan is 28 years old.  This is by no means over-the-hill, but he will probably be about 33 when his contract ends, and thus likely not playing at a level which merits the money he will receive.  Carr, on the other hand, is just 25.  At the end of his deal, he’ll be in the prime of his career.  All things being equal, go with the younger, cheaper player.

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By Jonathan Bales

Top 20 NFL Offensive Guards: Using Advanced Stats to Rank Best OGs

Jonathan Bales

Last week, I posted my list of the NFL’s top 20 NFL offensive tackles.  That list caused some stir, particularly with the absence of Jordan Gross, Phil Loadholt and Donald Penn.  The rankings were for 2011 only, however, and the same is true of my list of the top 20 NFL guards.

Note that, although I still value pass protection more than run blocking, the run blocking ability of guards is weighted more heavily than it was for tackles.  Also be aware that I generally discredit sack totals and focus more on pressures yielded.  Many of the stats were gathered from Pro Football Focus.

1. Marshal Yanda, Baltimore Ravens

As one of the league’s top run blockers, Yanda also excelled in pass protection, yielding only six pressures in 1066 snaps.  That 0.56% pressure rate is outstanding.

2. Carl Nicks, New Orleans Saints

Nick’s pressure rate of 0.68% is right behind Yanda, and he’s every bit the run blocker.

3. Evan Mathis, Philadelphia Eagles

Mathis isn’t the third-best guard in the NFL, but he played like it in 2011.  I think his run blocking gets aided by the nature of the Eagles’ offense, but he was still the best in the league last year.  Philly backs averaged 4.9 yards-per-carry when Mathis was at the point-of-attack, which is nuts for an interior lineman.  His 1.17% pressure rate isn’t shabby, either.

4. Josh Sitton, Green Bay Packers

In pass protection, Sitton is about as good as any guard in the league.  His run blocking is also really good, just not at the same level as Mathis.

5. Mike Iupati, San Francisco 49ers

Iupati is quickly becoming one of the more well-rounded guards in the NFL. A 1.04% pressure rate and really good run blocking.

6. Brian Waters, New England Patriots

Almost everyone will have teammate Logan Mankins ahead of Waters, and looking at the two from a career standpoint, that’s probably right.  In 2011, though, Waters was pretty good as a run blocker and allowed only seven pressures in 1139 snaps (0.62% pressure rate compared to 1.50% for Mankins).

7. Jake Scott, Tennessee Titans

Generally stout in the run game, Scott struggled some in that department in 2011.  Some of that could be due to Chris Johnson’s decline, though, and Scott’s 11 pressures in 1045 snaps was really good.

8. Andy Levitre, Buffalo Bills

Levitre struggled badly when he first entered the league, but he’s now on the fast track to becoming a top five guard.

9. Chad Rinehart, Buffalo Bills

Levitre’s teammate could actually be higher on this list, as he allowed only eight pressures in 868 snaps.  Fred Jackson, C.J. Spiller & Co. averaged nearly 5.0 yards-per-rush when he was at the point-of-attack.  On an efficiency basis, that rivals the NFL’s elite.

10. Steve Hutchinson, Minnesota Vikings

Hutchinson is still getting it done, protecting the passer at a Pro Bowl level (nine pressures in 907 snaps).

11. Jahri Evans, New Orleans Saints

Make no mistake about it. . .Evans is undoubtedly a top 10 NFL guard.  He’s perhaps the best run-blocking interior lineman in the NFL.  In 2011 alone, though, he allowed 26 pressures.  If this list was based solely on pass protection, Evans and his 2.28% pressure rate wouldn’t even make this list.  The key question for New Orleans is if this will be a recurring trend now that Evans got paid the big bucks, or if he simply had a down season.  I think it is the latter.

12. Logan Mankins, New England Patriots

A 1.50% pressure rate and pretty good run blocking from one of the league’s most consistent guards.

13. Jeremy Zuttah, Tampa Bay Bucs

Zuttah was injured for part of the 2011 campaign, but he still turned in slightly above average pass protection and good run blocking.

14. Richie Incognito, Miami Dolphins

The former fullback is underrated as a guard.  He needs to improve at the point-of-attack, but his 0.95% pressure rate was one of the top numbers in 2011.

15. Mike Brisiel, Houston Texans

Brisiel is an underrated player on one of the league’s most underrated lines.

16. Leroy Harris, Tennessee Titans

Harris was really poor as a run blocker last year.  So how is he on this list? A 0.79% pressure rate.

17. Brandon Moore, New York Jets

One of the league’s better guards in pass protection needs to improve as a run blocker, but it doesn’t help that the Jets’ offense is so predictable.

18. Ben Grubbs, Baltimore Ravens

Grubbs played only 677 snaps in 2011, but his 0.89% pressure rate was outstanding.  He’d be higher if he was on the field more.

19. Stephen Peterman, Detroit Lions

Peterman and teammate Rob Sims (No. 20) both played 1143 snaps, putting up nearly identical numbers.

20. Rob Sims, Detroit Lions

Sims’ pressure rate was slightly better than Peterman’s (0.96% to 1.14%), but the Lions averaged just 3.7 YPC running behind Sims.

Notably Absent: Justin Blalock, Atlanta Falcons; Davin Joseph, Tampa Bay Bucs; Chris Snee, New York Giants

Let the fury begin.  Here is my reasoning: Blalock was a really poor run blocker in 2011, with Falcons’ backs averaging only 3.5 YPC behind him.  His pressure rate of 1.40% isn’t good enough to make up for that.

Supporters of Joseph will point to the fact that he allowed only two sacks and was solid in the run game.  Yielding 21 pressures will generally result in a greater sack rate, though, so Joseph was really lucky to give up just two last year.

Chris Snee is a top 20 guard in the league, but he had a poor 2011 season.  I debated putting him on the list, but he’s on the outside looking in with 18 pressures and below average run blocking.  He should return in 2012.

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By Jonathan Bales

MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference March 2-3

Jonathan Bales

I will be attending the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference next weekend.  My hope is to gather a plethora of new insights in regards to football analytics and how I can most effectively utilize advanced statistics to provide you with superior information.  The DC Times is unique in that I break down every play of every game, but I want to improve my ability to interpret the data I collect.

I obtained a media pass for this year’s conference and I will be fortunate enough to hear talks from the greatest minds in sports analytics.  Some of the speakers include Dallas Cowboys Senior Vice President and General Counsel Alec Scheiner, Boston Red Sox Operations Advisor (and one of the pioneers in Sabermetrics) Bill James, ESPN columnist Bill Simmons, professional handicapper Bob Stoll, Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey, former NFL head coach Eric Mangini, ESPN analyst Jeff Van Gundy, The Kraft Group President Jonathan Kraft, Dallas Mavericks Owner Mark Cuban, ESPN fantasy analyst Matthew Berry, and agent Scott Boras.

 

By Jonathan Bales

Cowboys News and Notes: Tyron Smith to LT, Ratliff at DE?

Jonathan Bales

Cowboys coach Jason Garrett had some interesting things to say yesterday at the NFL Combine.  I’m going to address my take on a few of these notes and rumors. . .

  • Tyron Smith will be moving to left tackle.

I’ve discussed my thoughts on moving Doug Free to guard, but either way Smith should certainly be at left tackle next season.  Some might argue that Smith should stay put since he played so well on the right side in 2011 and played there at USC as well, but this kid is athletic enough to thrive on either side.  I already have him rated as a top 10 tackle in the NFL.

This is really more about Free, who lost confidence and struggled badly at left tackle this year.  Let’s hope he feels more at home at a position which probably fits him better.

  • Jay Ratliff will play all along the defensive line.

This is welcome news.  Although Ratliff will stay primarily at nose tackle, I really think it will benefit the Cowboys to use him at end in certain situations.  Could this mean we’ll see the Cowboys draft a space-eating nose tackle to fill in for Ratliff when he’s at end?  I don’t necessarily think that will be the case.  More likely, you’ll see Josh Brent and/or Sean Lissemore get some snaps inside.

 

You can see above that Ratliff’s best season, statistically speaking, was in 2008.  He’s seen a decline in sacks each year since then.

 

Ratliff’s overall rate of production has decreased as well.

  • Bradie James and Keith Brooking will likely be released.

This is my final nugget of the day, and another piece of great news for Dallas.  The release of James and Brooking is probably a year late, and understandably so as the Cowboys wanted to hang on to two of the only vocal leaders they have.  All of the leadership in the world can’t make up for poor play, though.

Rookie Bruce Carter will be the probable starter next to Sean Lee next year.  Although it is anyone’s guess as to how Carter will perform in 2012, I’d be willing to bet he will be an upgrade over James and Brooking.

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By Jonathan Bales

Dallas Cowboys Potential 2012 Draft Pick: Chase Minnifield, CB, Virginia

Jonathan Bales

Today’s NY Times scouting report is up here, and it’s on Virginia cornerback Chase Minnifield.  From the post:

At 6-0, 185 pounds, Chase Minnifield (#13) is a tall, lean cornerback who will need to add some bulk at the next level.  He was asked to press a lot at Virginia, but he’s not very effective at it considering his body type.  With long arms, Minnifield could develop into a really solid press cover man if he adds strength and works on his technique.

Minnifield’s strengths are his technique in off coverage and his ball skills.  He doesn’t come out of his backpedal too early, allowing receivers to get to his hip before either turning and running or breaking on the football.  He does both of these very effectively, running vertically as well as any cornerback in this draft.  Minnifield has an exceptional ability to turn and locate the football on the run.

His ability to play so well in off coverage is enhanced by his speed and quickness.  Minnifield should run in the 4.4s, and while I don’t generally put much stock in 40-yard dash times, it is important for cornerbacks.  At that position, you need to have enough speed to recover on vertical routes.  Minnifield has it.

You can read the rest of the scouting report at the Times.

Overall, Minnifield has the skill set–speed, length and hips–to be a really good cornerback.  He’s not there yet, though, and I think he’s a second-round talent.  I won’t be overjoyed nor depressed if the Cowboys select him there this year.

Previous Scouting Reports

Michael Brockers, DT/DE, LSU

Devon Still, DT/DE, Penn State

Courtney Upshaw, DE/OLB, Alabama

David DeCastro, G, Stanford

Melvin Ingram, DE/OLB, South Carolina

Quinton Coples, DE, UNC

Janoris Jenkins, CB, Florida/North Alabama

Mark Barron, SS, Alabama

Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU

Whitney Mercilus, DE/OLB, Illinois

Cordy Glenn, G, Georgia

 

By Jonathan Bales

Introducing PlayTheDraft.com

Jonathan Bales

I was recently asked to become an Analyst at a really unique new site called PlayTheDraft.com.  The site offers an innovative draft experience that meshes the excitement of fantasy football with the analytics of the stock market.  Hosted by ESPN’s Mel Kiper, you can see a list of all of the site’s analysts here.

So how do you play?

The Play the Draft® game (FRX-Football) is simple to play. (Don’t let the “stock market” lingo make you think the game is more difficult than it actually is.)

YOUR GOAL IS TO FIND “DRAFT STOCKS” THAT YOU BELIEVE ARE UNDERVALUED

Add the most undervalued stocks to your team/fund, using the $12 million “rookie salary cap” with which all teams/funds begin play. Check your team/fund often, as stock prices are adjusted daily as NFL Draft analysts update their mock drafts based on new information. You can change the draft stocks in your team/fund at any time until 2 hours before the start of the NFL Draft at 7pm EST on April 26, 2012. Then, while watching the NFL Draft, see where the athletes in your team/fund are selected and compare your team/fund value to those of your friends.

DRAFT STOCKS

Every athlete competing for selection in the first 3 rounds of the NFL Draft has a “stock” that you can buy for your team/fund. You either own the stock or you don’t…no owning fractional shares or multiple shares of the same stock, and no “short sales” that allow your team/fund to profit if the athlete’s stock falls in value.

CAP VALUES

There is a pre-determined “value” for each pick in the NFL Draft, which represents the estimated NFL rookie salary for the athlete chosen with that pick. For 2012, the estimated rookie salary for the #1 pick is $3.8 million (in the game, all values are in 000s, so the stock value is shown as $3,800). The 5th pick is $3.0 million, the 10th pick, $2.25 million, and so on until the projected last pick of the 3rd round, which is in the ballpark of $550,000. (View the official cap values for the 2012 Draft Season.)

PRICE FLOOR

FRX-Football is played through the first three rounds of the Draft (April 26-27, 2012). The minimum price for any athlete stock is $425 (representing a rookie salary of $425,000, or the estimated average of the rookie salaries of 4th to 7th round draft picks and rookie free agents). If an athlete in your portfolio is not selected in rounds 1-3 (including any supplemental picks added at the end of round 3), the liquidation value for those stocks will be $425.

BUY LOW, SELL HIGH, REPEAT

Find the draft stocks of the athletes you know and check out their current price. The “FRX Index” value will help you quickly translate the current price to the corresponding draft selection. For example, a 12.5 FRX Index means that the current price, $2,025, is halfway between the cap values for the 12th pick, $2,050, and the 13th pick, $2,000. If you believe the draft stock for the athlete is undervalued because you expect him to be drafted by the team holding the 5th pick, then pick up the stock for your team/fund. You can see how your favorite athletes are currently valued relative to where you think they will ultimately be drafted by using the FRX value finder.

I’ve already started a fund and I am doing pretty well.  I think the key is to jump on players who are actually “down” and whose values have sunk to a low point.  You can combine statistics with your own film study to locate value and take advantage.  All my talk of regression to the mean can finally pay off now!

If you come to The DC Times often, you know I don’t plug stuff much (or at all, really).  I participate in a variety of contests and promotions and don’t discuss them because that’s not what the site is about.  I think Play the Draft has the potential to take off into something big, though.  In my opinion, the typical DC Times reader will enjoy participating in Play the Draft.

By Jonathan Bales

Dallas Cowboys Potential 2012 Draft Pick: Cordy Glenn, G, Georgia

Jonathan Bales

A lot of you know I am (really, really) high on Stanford guard David DeCastro.  Of all legitimate options for Dallas at No. 14, he’s the top guy on my list.  He’ll likely be the best player available, in my opinion, and he fits a major need.  On top of that, there’s a wide gap between DeCastro and the second-best interior lineman in this draft.  To exemplify this gap, I wanted to take a look at a prospect many consider to be the No. 2 guard on the board–Georgia’s Cordy Glenn.

My scouting report for Cordy Glenn is posted here at the NY Times.  Here’s a portion of that post:

Cordy Glenn (#71) is a mammoth offensive guard at 6-5, 348 pounds.  He actually played left tackle in 2011, but at his size and with his skills, he projects as a guard in the N.F.L. He could possibly fill in at tackle in a pinch, but he’s an interior lineman through and through.

Glenn plays aggressively and with a bit of an attitude (a good thing).  You can see his pure strength and aggressiveness at the 56-second and 3:36 marks in the first video below. That clip, from 2010 and with Glenn at left guard, is probably better film to study than the 2011 clips in which Glenn is at left tackle.

Because of Glenn’s impressive strength, he flourishes in tight areas.  He uses this strength with an effective hand punch, warding off defenders inside.  Over all, however, Glenn’s mechanics are poor.  He loses leverage quite often, firing off the ball too quickly in the running game.  He comes out off balance, overextending and falling to the ground (see the 1:17 mark).

 

For Dallas, I’m not sure Glenn really fits.  One of the trends we witnessed in Dallas’ first draft under Jason Garrett last year was an emphasis on versatility, and I think we’ll see that continue.  Glenn can be a force in the running game (and perhaps the team will want to try to bolster their short-yardage efficiency with a power guard), but he’s not the type of player I would label as versatile.  He’s an option in the second round if he drops, but I doubt he’ll land in Big D.

Previous Scouting Reports

Michael Brockers, DT/DE, LSU

Devon Still, DT/DE, Penn State

Courtney Upshaw, DE/OLB, Alabama

David DeCastro, G, Stanford

Melvin Ingram, DE/OLB, South Carolina

Quinton Coples, DE, UNC

Janoris Jenkins, CB, Florida/North Alabama

Mark Barron, SS, Alabama

Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU

Whitney Mercilus, DE/OLB, Illinois

 

By Jonathan Bales

Whitney Mercilus, DE/OLB, Illinois: Scouting Report, Highlights

Jonathan Bales

My latest installment of “Scouting the Draft” over at the NY Times features Illinois defensive end Whitney Mercilus.  You can head here to check out my full scouting report on Mercilus.  Here’s a preview:

At 6-4, 265 pounds, Whitney Mercilus (#85) is in the perfect range to play either defensive end in a 4-3 scheme or outside linebacker in a 3-4. Mercilus spent time rushing from both a traditional three-point stance and from a stand-up position at Illinois.  He is quite quick off the edge and generally takes good angles to the quarterback, keeping his pad level low around the corner.  He uses his hands as well as any rusher I have studied thus far, slapping away blockers’ arms to reach the quarterback (see the 59-second mark in the video below against U.C.L.A.)

Mercilus is a bit tricky to evaluate because he is athletic yet stiff in the hips.  He has the quickness and agility to chase down the quarterback (see the 2:36 mark against U..C.L.A) and side-step blockers (3:43 mark against U.C.L.A.), but he also fails to change direction quickly and looks as if he would struggle in coverage if asked to drop into a zone.  In short, he is athletic in that he is explosive but not overly coordinated.

I actually think Mercilus would be a good fit with the Cowboys.  He’s a raw player with a huge amount of upside, and I think he’d be an upgrade over Anthony Spencer.  The problem is he’s projected to go in the area between Dallas’ first and second-round selections, so he’s probably an option only if he drops out of the first round.  I find that highly unlikely at this point.

Again, head over to the Times to check out the full report, and feel free to comment there or here.

Previous Scouting Reports

Michael Brockers, DT/DE, LSU

Devon Still, DT/DE, Penn State

Courtney Upshaw, DE/OLB, Alabama

David DeCastro, G, Stanford

Melvin Ingram, DE/OLB, South Carolina

Quinton Coples, DE, UNC

Janoris Jenkins, CB, Florida/North Alabama

Mark Barron, SS, Alabama

Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU

By Jonathan Bales

Lavonte David, LB, Nebraska: Scouting Report, Highlights

Justin Shoemaker

Lavonte David is just an old school football player.  You can be deceived by his size, as he’s small even at the college level, but this guy can play football.  Let’s take a look at at his overall positives and negatives.

Pros

  • Very agile and great range for a linebacker
  • Quick decision-maker
  • Excellent LB in coverage
  • Tackling machine at the college level, recording 133 total tackles, 12 TFL, and 5.5 sacks in the Big Ten in 2011
  • Technique tackler; by this I mean he does whatever it takes to bring down ball-carrier as opposed to going for knock-outs
  • Knows the Tampa 2 scheme, which was primary defense used at Nebraska
  • Stays home and understands responsibilities; great football intelligence


Cons

  • Most likely only a 4-3 outside LB
  • Weight in 225-230 range
  • Trouble blitzing because of size and can get eaten up in traffic
  • Occasionally overruns the play
  • Gets overpowered by large backs
  • Did he peak already? Room for improvement?

Lavonte David will be a solid addition to a team that runs a 4-3 defense.  He could benefit from putting on some weight, even if it means losing a bit of speed and quickness.  In my mind, he’s a third-round project because of his size and lack of versatility.  If he puts on some weight, he has a shot at becoming a productive NFL linebacker.