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March, 2013 | The DC Times

The DC Times

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

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Cowboys’ Potential Draft Pick: JJ Wilcox, S, Georgia Southern

At NBC, I explained why I really like Georgia Southern safety JJ Wilcox.

Wilcox has excellent size at 6-0, 213 pounds. He turned in a solid 40 time at 4.51 and a remarkable 4.09 short shuttle, showing why he was used at receiver for three seasons. As you’d expect, Wilcox is an outstanding athlete; he moves fluidly and shows excellent lateral quickness. Despite little experience at safety, Wilcox is a good tackler. He doesn’t wait for ball-carriers to reach him, but instead attacks the line and breaks down well in space.

Wilcox didn’t play much from a single-high position at Georgia Southern, but he got time there at the Senior Bowl. He performed surprisingly well, and his measurables suggest he should be able to play deep. He showed good ball skills at the Senior Bowl—and during his time on offense in college—so he has the ability to make big plays in the secondary.

Here’s the full scouting report.

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Running the Numbers: Size Matters Most for WRs

At DallasCowboys.com, I posted an analysis of wide receiver success based on height.

What Matters Most for Wide Receivers

There’s no doubt that you want your receivers to be as fast as possible. Even if the benefit is minimal, it never hurts to have more speed. When we look at the game’s most productive receivers, some, like Calvin Johnson, have blazing speed, while others, like Dez Bryant, do not. But one trait that almost all of the NFL’s elite wideouts have in common is size.

As much as it’s popular to say that speedsters can “take the top off of a defense,” it’s the tall, bulky receivers who are moving the chains and putting the ball into the end zone. Take a look at the top 10 receivers in yards for 2012. The average height and weight is over 6-2 and 218 pounds. Nine out of the 10 players, a list that includes Johnson, Bryant, A.J. Green, Demaryius Thomas, Brandon Marshall and Vincent Jackson, are at least 6-0. Amazingly, six of the 10 are at least 6-3. Only two, Reggie Wayne and Wes Welker, weigh in below 200 pounds.

If you want to put the ball in the end zone, the need for a big, physical receiver is even greater. The average height and weight for the league’s top scorers is still 6-2, 217 pounds, but every single one of them is over 6-0, and eight out of the 10 are at least 6-2.

Need more evidence? Since 2008, there have been 29 instances of a wide receiver posting 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns in a single season. Only one of those, Greg Jennings in 2010, came from someone who stands shorter than 6-0.

Further, if we break down the NFL success of wide receivers based on their 40-yard dash times, you can see that speed just isn’t as important as it is for running backs.

While the fastest running backs, those who ran in the top 33 percent of their class, have found way more success than even moderately-fast running backs, the fastest wide receivers have been only modestly more productive than slower receivers. Again, it isn’t that speed doesn’t matter for receivers, but rather that they can get away with average speed, as Bryant has, with great size.

Check it out at the team site.

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Star Magazine “On Air” Podcast, Episode 6: More Draft Talk

The sixth episode of the Star Magazine “On Air” podcast is posted at the team site. My segment starts around the 25-minute mark and we’re talking various draft topics, including running backs.

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Cowboys need to do hit on late-rounders and undrafted players

My two latest posts at NBC have been 1) a look at the Cowboys’ poor recent history selecting mid and late-round picks and 2) the team’s success with undrafted free agents. On mid and late-rounders:

Whether or not the Cowboys are currently capable of making a postseason run, the team is filled with really talented players. From Dez Bryant to Sean Lee to Morris Claiborne, there are a number of young building blocks on the roster. They might not have the most gifted group of players in the league, but we all remember the squads from the early parts of the millennium; this team is a far cry from your Quincy Carter-led Cowboys.

The problem is that the roster is top-heavy, composed of a bunch of Pro Bowl-caliber players and not enough quality depth. Teams like the Green Bay Packers thrive by finding eventual starters in the third, fourth, and fifth rounds, while the ‘Boys have struggled mightily when trying to fill out their roster in the middle rounds.

See the rest here.

On undrafted free agents:

When Tony Romo finds Miles Austin for the duo’s first touchdown of the 2013 season, it will be Romo’s 178th career touchdown pass and the 35th career score for Austin. Those numbers are both pretty remarkable when you consider that most of the players’ peers—undrafted free agents from their respective draft classes—are long gone from the NFL. Romo and Austin have been able to overcome long odds to become successful despite being passed over 250-plus times.

Romo and Austin are the cream of the undrafted crop, but the Cowboys have managed to find other gems after the draft. Although the team’s recent mid and late-round picks have been poor, they’ve added depth and even starters with undrafted players such as center Phil Costa, safety Barry Church, and wide receiver Kevin Ogletree. The Cowboys hit on two other undrafted free agents that they let slip away in recent years—quarterback Matt Moore and wide receiver Danny Amendola. Statistically, the ‘Boys are an above-average team when it comes to finding undrafted talent. Since 2000, they rank in the top 10 in starts from undrafted free agents.

Check out the whole post here.

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Cowboys’ Potential Draft Pick: Marcus Lattimore, RB, South Carolina

At Dallas News, I posted a scouting report on South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore.

The Cowboys have been able to upgrade their team by targeting players coming off of injuries in recent drafts. Prospects like Bruce Carter and Sean Lee dropped in the draft due to concerns about their health, and the ‘Boys realized that their potential outweighed the shrinking cost to secure them. It’s not that you’d specifically want an injured player over a healthy one, of course, but rather that since every team factors injuries into their draft grades, injured players often offer value when they fall farther than they should.

South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore could be one of those players. The star running back suffered a gruesome knee injury in the middle of the 2012 season (after a different ACL tear in 2011), and it’s unclear if he’ll be able to play at all in 2013.

Scouting Report

Lattimore is a 5-11, 221-pound running back who had a knack for finding the end zone at South Carolina. He rushed for 38 touchdowns on only 555 career carries, adding three more scores as a receiver. Despite his obvious skill set, Lattimore managed to post only 4.8 yards-per-carry over his career, including just 4.6 YPC in 2012. Every offense is different, but that lack of efficiency is a concern.

Lattimore is a do-it-all type of running back who doesn’t necessarily thrive in any single aspect of the game. He’s not a burner—he has good but not great speed—and he’s not a power runner. Lattimore does a little bit of everything though; he can run well in short-yardage, he can catch the football out of the backfield, and he can play on third down. There isn’t a situation in which Lattimore will need to come off of the field at the next level.

See the whole post here.

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Dallas Morning News Draft Chat

Last night, I did a live chat at Dallas Morning News. The full transcript is right here. Here are a few highlights:

  • If we go offensive line like we should in the first round and knowing Vaccaro will be off the board. Which safety will be available when we pick and who do you think we should take? Thanks!!!
    by Randy M. 4:00 PM
  • You’re right that Vaccaro will likely be gone by the 18th pick. After considering the Will Allen signing and the team’s love of Matt Johnson, I don’t think safety is necessarily as high on their priority list as people think. In the middle rounds, you might see them consider players like Matt Elam, Phillip Thomas, and Shamarko Thomas.
    by Jonathan Bales 4:03 PM
  • So now that a S and LB spot have been filled, is it over 90% that the cowboys will go OL/DL in first 2 rounds, and draft a safety and rb in the mid rounds? I also know there are talks about OG Moore being signed does that change anything?
    by aerodyne087 4:03 PM
  • I’d say it’s highly unlikely that the Cowboys make it out of the first two rounds without at least one lineman. There really aren’t as many quality options along the offensive line, especially, as other positions like safety. Even if the Cowboys were really targeting a safety, I think it would be smart to look at those interior linemen in the first (over Vaccaro) simply because of the scarcity at the position.
    by Jonathan Bales 4:05 PM
  • Would the Cowboys take a look at Colt McCoy if he is released by the Browns?
    by Bruce B. 4:08 PM
  • I’m not sure that McCoy necessarily has the arm strength that Jason Garrett would need in this offense. Either way, the Cowboys are likely content with Orton as the backup right now.
    by Jonathan Bales 4:09 PM
  • Is Sheldon Richardson’s stock falling? Have heard much about him lately.
    by Clewis 4:10 PM
  • I was just talking to a friend about this the other day because I really like Richardson. It’s funny because it might seem like his stock is falling, but silence could be a good indication that a lot of teams like a player. As we approach April, teams don’t have too much incentive to tell the truth, so the fact that you’re not hearing his name might be sign that he’s highly-ranked. Richardson should be a top 15 pick.
    by Jonathan Bales 4:12 PM

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Running the Numbers: Trading Back From No. 18 Overall

At DallasCowboys.com, I took a look at why the Cowboys might want to consider moving back from the No. 18 overall pick.

One of the reasons that the Cowboys should generally be interested in trading down early in the draft stems from one of the team’s creations a couple of decades ago. Widely attributed to former coach Jimmy Johnson, the “Draft Trade Value Chart” assigns point values to each pick. Based off of analysis performed prior to the Cowboys’ early 1990s Super Bowl wins, “The Chart” is an attempt, albeit a primitive one, to use analytics in deciphering the value of each draft pick.

Surprisingly, teams still use the chart today to make trades. When the Cowboys moved up from No. 14 to No. 6 last year, for example, they acquired “1,600 points” with the sixth overall pick and yielded 1,550 points by giving up their first and second-rounders. Most draft trades fall neatly within the confines of the chart, suggesting teams still use it as a baseline for deals.

The problem is that the chart is antiquated, assigning too much value to certain picks and not enough to others. Specifically, the chart weighs the value of most first-round picks far too heavily. According to the chart, for example, the No. 1 overall pick is worth over three times as much as the Cowboys’ No. 18 overall selection. Actually, the chart assigns exactly as much value to the top pick as the No. 15, 16, and 17 selections combined. I don’t know about you, but I’ll go ahead and take the three first-round picks all day.

With most teams still using the chart as a basis for trades, there’s certainly an opportunity for shrewdorganizations to acquire value by exploiting the sub-optimal strategies of others. But how can they do that? Which picks are worth the most, relative to the cost? Below, I charted the worth of each pick according to both the draft value chart and actual draft results over the past decade.

The biggest inefficiencies arise at the top of the draft; the chart assigns value to the first overall pick as though that player will eat up five percent of the overall value of the entire draft class. In reality, it’s not even half of that.

The inflated value of the early selections on the chart extends until near the end of the first round. At that point, the actual value of draft picks has historically exceeded the value assigned by the chart, and the trend continues until the middle rounds, i.e. it’s generally a good idea to stockpile as many picks as possible in the late-first, second, and third rounds. At least one team, the New England Patriots, has found an amazing amount of success by continually trading out of the first round and grabbing talented players in the second and third rounds. There’s little doubt that mathematics has been the impetus behind their decisions to move back.

See the rest at the team site.

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Cowboys’ Potential Draft Picks: Le’Veon Bell, Stepfan Taylor, and Travis Frederick

My three latest scouting reports are on Michigan State running back Le’Veon Bell, Stanford running back Stepfan Taylor, and Wisconsin center Travis Frederick.

On Bell:

I’ve broken down a number of running backs lately—Knile DavisGiovani BernardJohnathan Franklin,Christine MichaelJoseph RandleAndre Ellington, and Zac Stacy—because I find it extremely unlikely that the Cowboys will make it out of the draft without selecting a backup to DeMarco Murray. I’ll continue my analysis of the position this week, starting today with Michigan State’s Le’Veon Bell.

Scouting Report

Bell is an enormous running back at 6-2, 230 pounds. He carried the load for Michigan State in 2012, racking up 382 carries and 32 receptions. Bell averaged 4.7 yards-per-carry on those rushes and scored 13 total touchdowns.

See more on Bell at Dallas News.

On Taylor:

Now, let’s get into the major issue: Taylor’s lack of explosiveness. He ran a 4.76 40-yard dash at the Combine, and that’s simply unacceptable for any running back. Combined with his 9-2 broad jump, 30-inch vertical, and 4.50 short shuttle, Taylor really left scouts with a bad taste in their mouths. The running back said he was hampered by an ankle injury, and although he improved his 40 at his pro day, Taylor still ran in the mid-4.6s. Don’t forget that such a time would probably equate to around a 4.70 at the Combine, which is obviously really poor. Even if you disagree that speed isn’t vital for success at the running back position, we can all agree a running back in the 4.7s is going to have a really difficult time in the NFL.

Overall, Taylor is a tough grade because he has some good game tape, but the lack of explosiveness is really concerning. He can do a lot of things well, but it will be difficult for teams to select him over other backs with obviously higher upside.

The whole Taylor scouting report is also at Dallas News.

On Frederick:

The first thing that must be noted about Frederick is that he had a really poor showing at the Combine, running a 5.58 40-yard dash—the second-slowest for any lineman there—and posting only 21 reps on the bench press. Critics of measurables will point out that “linemen never have to run 40 yards” in games, and while that’s true, it doesn’t really matter. When a player runs such a slow time, it hints to a lack of athleticism. Can Frederick play in the NFL without being an elite athlete? Sure, but he still needs to surpass a certain threshold of athleticism, and I’m not sure he does.

Frederick has good size at 6-4, 312 pounds. On film, he plays very intelligently. He handles stunts and blitzes well, and he displays outstanding body position nearly all of the time. Frederick doesn’t typically deliver knockout shots, but he gets between his defender and the ball-carrier or quarterback on most plays. For lacking athleticism, he does a fine job of getting to the second level and walling off defenders.

See more on Frederick at NBC.

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Fantasy Football: Ceilings, Floors for Elite Tight Ends

At rotoViz, I used the tight end similarity app to generate ceiling and floor projections for the draft’s top four tight ends.

I’ve already used the apps to generate ceiling and floor projections for the draft’s elite quarterbacksrunning backs, and wide receivers. As a refresher, the apps provide 20 “comparables” for each player, giving you an idea of the range of potential outcomes a player might experience. To calculate ceilings and floors, I’ve tracked the numbers for each player’s top four and bottom four comps, respectively, in each statistical category. In doing this, we can get a really strong sense of the risk and reward surrounding each player.

At the tight end position, two players—Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham—stand out above the rest with ADPs of 1.11 and 2.03, respectively. A tier below, Hernandez checks in at third at 3.08, and Jason Witten is getting drafted fourth at 4.02.

Below, I graphed the potential upside for those top four tight ends based on their top comps. I used PPR scoring.

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Not surprisingly, Gronkowski and Graham lead the pack. Gronkowski’s upside in particular is outstanding, as his peak season is 1.7 points per game higher than Graham’s. More important, the numbers seem to confirm my suspicion that Hernandez isn’t necessarily a high-upside player. His top comps have posted 1.1 points per game lower than Witten—a soon-to-be 31-year old.

Worse, Hernandez doesn’t possess a very high floor, either, i.e. he’s not really a safe pick.

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Again, Hernandez checks in below Witten. The production of his bottom four comps is just 77 percent of that for Graham’s comps.

The whole article is at rotoViz.

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Cowboys’ Potential Draft Picks: RB Zac Stacy and S D.J. Swearinger

My latest two scouting reports are on Vanderbilt running back Zac Stacy and South Carolina safety D.J. Swearinger. On Stacy:

On film, it’s hard not to draw a comparison between Stacy and Ray Rice, although Rice is a faster player. The best comparison might very well be this one:

Zac Stacy: 5-9, 216 pounds, 3,143 yards, 5.4 YPC, 4.55 40-yard dash, 6.70 three-cone drill, 4.17 short shuttle, 27 reps

Player X: 5-9, 215 pounds, 3,431 yards, 5.6 YPC, 4.55 40-yard dash, 6.79 three-cone drill, 4.16 short shuttle, 28 reps

So who is Player X? Another late-round running back? Nope, it’s 2012 first-rounder Doug Martin—the same Doug Martin who rushed for 1,454 yards and caught 49 passes as a rookie.

When analyzing players on film, it can be really difficult give an accurate grade based on a limited sample size of games. You might watch a game in which a player was sick, hampered by injury, or whatever the case might be, and you won’t know it. That’s why we use stats and measurables; they provide a view of a player that’s not as susceptible to the ups and downs of subjective interpretation. While two scouts can watch the same play and see two different things, we can all look at 4.55 and know what it means. More often than not, those numbers lead us in the right direction.

So when we compare Stacy and Martin, we’re really seeing the same type of player, one of whom was hyped up coming out of college and one who wasn’t. Jumping on undervalued assets is what the draft is all about, and Stacy is as undervalued as any running back in this class.

Read the rest at Dallas News.

On Swearinger:

Swearinger is a short, stock safety at 5-11, 208 pounds. That size is obviously not ideal, but it allows Swearinger to play different positions, including in the slot. He actually started some games at cornerback as recently as the 2012 season. I don’t think he can continually man the slot in the NFL because he’ll probably get eaten up by bigger tight ends in man coverage.

Swearinger has the ability to play either deep or in the box, however. He’s a very physical player—a willing tackler who does a really nice job of bringing ball-carriers down in the open field. Swearinger has some trouble getting off of blocks, but he rarely misses tackles. He’s one of the better overall tacklers in this class.

Check out the whole report at NBC.