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4 Breakout Candidates for Dallas

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At DallasCowboys.com, I used stats to predict four breakout candidates for the Cowboys in 2013. Spoiler alert: Doug Free didn’t make the cut.

So what am I looking for in predicting a breakout? The primary thing I want to capitalize on is variance; I’m looking for players who have already showed signs of quality play but have been the victims of randomness, i.e. they’ve experienced bad luck. Examples of that might be a cornerback who breaks up 15 passes but doesn’t have an interception or a defensive end who has a bunch of quarterback pressures but few sacks (see Anthony Spencer circa 2011). If you can identify predictors of elite play, it’s pretty easy to subsequently make accurate predictions. When I used Spencer’s past pressure rates to project his 2012 sack total at nine, a number many ridiculed, it was one of the predictions in which I was most confident heading into the season.

Below, you’ll find the names of four players who underperformed (or got injured) in 2012. In many ways, their “breakouts” will come simply because they’re more likely to play to their potential. You can think of players as stocks, and I’m simply “buying” on those stocks whose price point is at a low and likely to “regress” upward.

1. LT Tyron Smith

One of the most important aspects of predicting a breakout is age. Spencer was a rarity for me in that I don’t normally project veteran players to break out. Instead, I’m looking for players on the rise, and that characterizes Smith perfectly.

When the Cowboys drafted Smith in 2011, he was just 20 years and four months old. Now 22 and six months old, Smith is entering his third NFL season at an age when many players are beginning their careers. Combined with his elite athleticism, Smith’s experience at such a young age is reason enough to predict a breakout.

Don’t be surprised to see Smith allow more sacks in 2013, though. I tracked him as yielding three sacks last year, but Pro Football Focus recorded 37 pressures. Based on historic pressure-to-sack ratios, Smith should have allowed closer to nine sacks last season. Nonetheless, Smith’s pressure rate should drop considerably in his third year. Expect him to allow in the range of 20 pressures and five sacks – quality numbers for a left tackle.

2. RT Jermey Parnell

Parnell was the “anti-Smith” in 2012, allowing way more sacks than he “should have.” I tracked Parnell as giving up five sacks, but he allowed pressure on Romo on just 4.2 percent of his 191 snaps in pass protection. Based on his play, Parnell’s most likely sack total was just two.

The question is whether or not Parnell will be starting in 2013. If given a fair shake to win the starting job, I don’t see any way he doesn’t beat out Doug Free. If that happens, Parnell’s partial 2012 play suggests he could have a surprisingly efficient season.

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