The DC Times

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

By Jonathan Bales

2013 Mock Draft Version 1.0: Cowboys Snag an Elite DT

At Dallas News, I published my first mock draft of the year.

2013 NFL Mock Draft, Version 1.0

1. Kansas City Chiefs: Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M

With the Chiefs just trading for quarterback Alex Smith, it appears Joeckel is the frontrunner to go No. 1 overall.

2. Jacksonville Jaguars: Sharrif Floyd, DT, Florida

Floyd has risen so much in recent weeks that he’s probably one of the few surefire top 10 picks in this draft.

3. Oakland Raiders: Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia

The Raiders could draft Smith as immediate competition to Carson Palmer, or sit the rookie for a year before giving him the reigns.

4. Philadelphia Eagles: Eric Fisher, OT, Central Michigan

The Eagles desperately need help on the offensive line. Alabama guard Chance Warmack could be a consideration here as well.

5. Detroit Lions: Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama

The consensus top cornerback on the board won’t make it out of the top 10.

6. Cleveland Browns: Dion Jordan, DE/OLB, Oregon

I published a scouting report on Jordan three weeks ago and said there would be a chance he sneaks into the top 10. He’ll be the top edge-rusher on my board.

7. Arizona Cardinals: Matt Barkley, QB, USC

Barkley isn’t a top 10 talent, but I’d say it’s a longshot he makes it out of the first round. The Cardinals are rumored to have interest.

8. Buffalo Bills: Ezekiel Ansah, DE/OLB, BYU

I originally had NC State quarterback Mike Glennon here, but Buffalo is in position to grab a quarterback in the second round if they choose. Ansah has Jason Pierre-Paul potential.

9. New York Jets: Jarvis Jones, DE/OLB, Georgia

Another team that could surprise by selecting a quarterback, the Jets would probably be thrilled to land Jones here.

10. Tennessee Titans: Desmond Trufant, CB, Washington

Trufant has had perhaps the best offseason of any cornerback in this class. He’s 6-0 with sub-4.4 speed.

Head over to DMN to see the rest, including a somewhat surprising Cowboys selection.

By Jonathan Bales

Cowboys’ Potential Pick: Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah

At Dallas Morning News, I analyzed the possibility of Utah defensive tackle Star Lotulelei falling to the Cowboys. From my scouting report on Lotulelei:

Lotulelei is a big, powerful defensive tackle capable of playing a variety of positions in the NFL. He played primarily nose tackle for Utah, but some have likened him to a Haloti Ngata-like player that could play all along the line in a 3-4 front. In a 4-3 defense, Lotulelei could play both defensive tackle positions. Despite his 6-3, 311-pound frame, Lotulelei has the requisite quickness to penetrate and make plays in the backfield. He had 20 tackles for loss in 2011 and 2012 despite facing constant double-teams.

Lotulelei is one of the few defensive tackles that possesses both elite power and short-area quickness. You can see various examples of both traits against USC. Watch him explode off of the ball at the 26 and 58-second marks below.

 

Lotulelei is capable of holding up at the point. You can see an example of his power at 6:58. He continually drives blockers into the backfield, yet he also has the quickness to shed them and make plays in space. The play he makes at the 1:31 mark—overpowering two blockers and using his quickness to make the play down the line—is an All-Pro caliber play.

If Lotulelei has a weakness, it’s that he doesn’t display much variety in his pass-rush. He was able to overpower blockers with such regularity in college that he never needed to use a swim or rip. He’ll need to work on another move to counter NFL blockers who will anticipate his bull rush. It’s worth noting that since Lotulelei sat out a year, he’s already 23 years old.

Read the entire article at DMN.

By Jonathan Bales

Cowboys’ Potential Pick: Dallas Thomas, OT, Tennessee

My latest scouting report is on Tennessee OT/OG Dallas Thomas.

Thomas is a tall, lean player at 6-5, 306 pounds. His 33-inch arms are about average for someone his size, so he should be fine to play either inside or out. It’s worth wondering why he was moved inside for his senior season because Thomas certainly has the athleticism to play left tackle in college. He’s somewhat of a finesse player, excelling in space when asked to get to the second level.

I watched four of Thomas’s games—two from 2011 and two from 2012—and he is a natural bender whether playing at guard or tackle. He does a really nice job of mirroring defenders when playing guard, using his arms to shield them from the quarterback in pass protection. His hand usage is outstanding.

Check out the full report at NBC.

By Jonathan Bales

Running the Numbers: Speed a Strong Indicator of RB Success

At DallasCowboys.com, I wrote about why the lack of speed at the running back position in the 2013 draft class is worrisome.

It’s common to hear that running backs need to be “quicker than fast,” meaning how fast they can run long distances doesn’t matter as much as how quickly they can move in short areas. Smith was a “quicker than fast” running back, and he obviously thrived with his ability to maneuver in traffic. While I’m not at all debating the fact that running backs do indeed need to possess short-area quickness, it’s also true that the fastest running backs, as measured by the 40-yard dash, have had the most NFL success.

To the right, I charted the approximate value per season for running backs drafted from 2005 to 2009 (allowing a three-season gap to accurately assess value). I broke down the players according to their combine 40-yard dash times.

The results are obvious: speed kills for running backs. Of the running backs I charted, those who ran a sub-4.40 at the combine have produced at over six times the rate of those backs who ran 4.50 or worse. Five of the six backs to run sub-4.40, Chris Johnson, Darren McFadden, Jamaal Charles, Reggie Bush and Maurice Jones-Drew, have produced at a high level at some point during their careers, with just one player, undrafted Anthony Alridge, failing to find success. Jones-Drew was drafted in the second round and Charles didn’t go until the third.

As with many positions, there appears to be a cutoff point that players must cross to have the necessary explosiveness to perform at a high level in the NFL. For running backs, that point seems to be in the range of 4.50. During the period I analyzed, only one running back, Frank Gore, ran below 4.50 and still posted an AV per season of at least seven. The second-best running back to run over 4.50 was Ahmad Bradshaw, a steep fall.

Meanwhile, the success rate of running backs in the 4.40-4.49 range has been far higher than those below 4.49. In that range, we’ve seen explosive backs like Adrian Peterson (4.40), Ray Rice (4.42), Matt Forte (4.44), and Marshawn Lynch (4.46) continually rank among the league-leaders in rushing during their time in the league. It’s worth noting that the 40-yard dash also seems to predict running back success better than other drills such as the short shuttle and three-cone drill.

The whole article is over at the team site.

By Jonathan Bales

Cowboys’ Potential Draft Pick: Zach Ertz, TE, Stanford

My latest scouting report is on Stanford tight end Zach Ertz.

At 6-5, 249 pounds, Ertz has a somewhat lanky frame for a tight end. He added some bulk over the past year, but he still has room for improvement. Ertz’s added mass hasn’t necessarily translated into on-field strength because he can really struggle at the point-of-attack. In the game against USC, Ertz whiffed on numerous blocks throughout the game and got drove into the backfield other times.

Perhaps the biggest concern for Ertz is that his arms are only 31 ¾ inches. That might not seem like a big deal, but tight ends, like offensive linemen, need long arms to extend in the running game. Ertz can let longer defenders get into his chest and control him at the line. In comparison, pretty much all of the other top tight ends in this class have arms over 33 inches long, so Ertz’s arms are well over an inch shorter than average.

The entire report is published at NBC.

By Jonathan Bales

Cowboys’ Potential Draft Picks: RB Knile Davis, DT Jesse Williams

My two latest scouting reports are on Arkansas running back Knile Davis and Alabama defensive tackle Jesse Williams. On Davis:

One of the biggest concerns with Davis will be his ball security. He put the ball on the ground quite a bit during his time at Arkansas because he carries the ball loosely and often tries to change hands in traffic. It’s worth noting that Davis, who had 32 career receptions in college, appears to be a pretty natural pass-catcher.

Projection

Davis is really difficult to project because it’s tough to tell how much teams will value his measurables. He was probably looking at the sixth round prior to the Combine, so it’s not unreasonable to think Davis could jump into the third round, or even the second, when all is said and done.

Despite his weaknesses, there are two stats that show Davis could be a steal in the middle rounds. First, there’s a pretty strong correlation between body mass index (BMI) and NFL success for running backs. At 5-10, 227 pounds, Davis’s BMI is very high at 32.6—right in line with Emmitt Smith, LaDainian Tomlinson, and Earl Campbell. That’s not to say that Davis will have a career similar to those players by any means, but it’s still worth noting that he has the sort of build that has led to success in the past.

Second, and perhaps more important, the most productive running backs in recent years have had one thing in coming—speed.

Since 2008, it’s been very rare to see any running back who ran worse than a 4.49 have much success in the NFL. Backs who ran between 4.50 and 4.59—generally considered decent times for running backs—have produced around one-quarter of the approximate value of sub-4.50 running backs. And yes, the backs with elite speed have been the best of the bunch; among the running backs to clock in under 4.40 are DeMarco Murray, C.J. Spiller, Chris Johnson, Darren McFadden, and Jamaal Charles.

The lack of production for Davis in 2012 has to scare you, but you simply can’t overlook a 227-pound running back with 4.37 speed. In my opinion, he’s worth the gamble in the third.

Check out the entire Davis scouting report at Dallas News.

On Williams:

At 6-3, 323 pounds, Williams is a big defensive tackle with strength to match. It’s very possible that he’s the strongest player in this defensive tackle-heavy class, reportedly bench pressing over 600 pounds. For the most part, that strength translates to the field.

In the running game, Williams rarely gives up ground at the point-of-attack. He doesn’t have the athleticism to chase ball-carriers down the line, but he can be effective in short-yardage situations. Williams is also relatively quick for a big man when he’s moving forward. His lateral agility is sub-par, but he’s faster off of the snap than some other nose tackles.

See the rest of the Williams scouting report at NBC.

By Jonathan Bales

Introducing “On Air” Star Magazine Podcast

If you follow me on Twitter, you’re probably aware that I will be participating in a weekly podcast with two of my favorite writers in Dallas: Josh Ellis (@josh_ellis11) and Jeff Sullivan (@SullyBaldHead) of Star Magazine. The first episode is now live at DallasCowboys.com and on iTunes.

Click to hear the podcast.

My segment starts at around 19:00. We discuss advanced stats in the NFL and the future of Anthony Spencer. Check out the team site each Friday to listen to “On Air”; I’m thrilled to be working with two like-minded analysts and it should be a fun time.

By Jonathan Bales

Running the Numbers: Why the Cowboys Need to Run Better, Not More Often

At DallasCowboys.com, I took another look at the ever-interesting (to me) topic of run-pass balance.

Heading to Baltimore to face the Ravens in Week 6 of the 2012 season, the Cowboys were sitting at 2-2 and in desperate need of a victory. The ’Boys’ running game, stagnant until that point in the season, erupted for 227 yards on 42 carries. Dallas came out firing from the start, rushing 33 times for 194 yards through the first three quarters.

With such dominance on the ground, it came as a shock to many when the Cowboys ended up losing by two points. Yes, you can say kicker Dan Bailey “should have” made a 51-yard field goal attempt with six seconds remaining in the contest, but the real “should have” was that the Dallas should have parlayed their authority over Baltimore into a late-game lead, not a deficit and a long field goal try that was far from a sure thing.

So what went wrong against the Ravens? Dare I say that the Cowboys’ offense, a unit that absolutely conquered an above-average Baltimore run defense, ran the ball too much?

In the preseason, I published an article detailing five myths surrounding the Cowboys, one of which was that the team wins by running the football early and often:

“Running the ball is strongly correlated with winning, so teams obviously need a powerful rushing attack to win games, right? Not really. Teams that are already winning rush the football to close out games, creating the illusion that running often is the impetus for team success. In reality, teams generally acquire the lead by throwing the football with great efficiency.

The Cowboys are no exception to the rule. Since 2008, they’ve won just 27.6 percent of their games when they pass on greater than 57 percent of their offensive plays. Wow, better keep it on the ground, right?

Before jumping to conclusions, soak this one in: That win rate miraculously jumps to 63.6 percent when the ’Boys pass on at least 57 percent of plays through the first three quarters, compared to only 41.9 percent when they pass on fewer than 57 percent of plays.

The Cowboys are a passing team, built to win on the back of Romo and his arsenal of pass-catching weapons.”

We hear it all the time that the Cowboys need to “establish the run” early in games or they have to pound away on the ground to “wear down the defense.” The problem is that, if true, we’d expect those ideas to be reflected in the Cowboys’ win-loss record. That is, if establishing the run early is truly effective, we’d see a better record for the Cowboys when they rush the ball early in games than when they come out throwing. And we don’t. The ’Boys are a better team when they pass the ball early and often.

Head over to the team site for the full article.

By Jonathan Bales

Cowboys’ Potential Draft Picks: Safeties Jonathan Cyprien, Eric Reid

There’s probably a better chance than most believe that the Cowboys draft a safety in one of the draft’s first two days. If they’re looking at one in the second or perhaps third round, Florida International’s Jonathan Cyprien and LSU’s Eric Reid might be options. I broke down both players at NBC.

Jonathan Cyprien:

Cyprien is an aggressive safety who isn’t afraid to stick his nose into the running game. When he plays from a deep position, he’s willing to fly up to hit ball-carriers. He played from both a deep position and in the box at Florida International, practically changing positions based on the opponent.

Cyprien can play well from both spots—deep and in the box—assuming he isn’t asked to cover too much ground in the back end. He’s not a ball-hawking free safety who can play the deep middle because there are some questions about his straight-line speed. The Combine is going to be really important for him; if he’s a 4.50 guy, it might change some things.

Head over to NBC for the full scouting report on Cyprien.

Eric Reid:

Reid is a tall (6-2, 212 pounds) safety who many believe to have good versatility. He was asked to play in both the deep middle and in the box at LSU. Reid seems most comfortable near the line-of-scrimmage where he isn’t asked to turn and run long distances with receivers. He can struggle as a deep free safety, in my opinion, sitting off way too far in coverage and allowing receivers to easily catch passes underneath him.

In the box, Reid has some short-area quickness that he uses to play underneath zones well. He doesn’t necessarily have the skill set to play man-to-man coverage against slot receivers, but since Reid is taller and has longer arms than most safeties, he has a better chance to potentially combat the effectiveness of tight ends who generally won’t beat him with speed.

Check out the entire Reid report here.

By Jonathan Bales

Cowboys’ Potential Draft Pick: Datone Jones, DT/DE, UCLA

My latest scouting report is on the versatile Datone Jones of UCLA.

Jones is a hybrid defensive lineman capable of playing in either a 4-3 or 3-4 defense. In a 3-4, he’d be a slightly-undersized five-technique, whereas he could potentially play any position along the line in a 4-3. Some people seem unsure of whether or not Jones is big enough to hold up inside or quick enough to rush off the edge. I think the latter question is a real concern, but Jones has what it takes to play as a three-technique defensive tackle.

At 6’4’’, 280 pounds, Jones is considered a “tweener” who doesn’t necessarily have the build of a “prototypical” defensive end or defensive tackle, and naïve teams will hold that against him. The truth is that Jones is very strong—plenty strong enough to play in the interior—so his weight shouldn’t be a major concern. Plus, he’s relatively lean, easily capable of adding 10 pounds if needed.

See the entire report on Jones at NBC.