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Projecting James Hanna and Tyron Smith in 2013

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At NBC, I did my best to project tight end James Hanna and left tackle Tyron Smith in 2013. On Hanna:

To say that I find Hanna to be a superior prospect to Escobar would be an understatement. I think Hanna has legitimate No. 1 tight end potential. But it doesn’t really matter if he falls behind Escobar on the depth chart; the No. 3 tight end simply won’t see the opportunities to make much of an impact in 2013. Last year, Hanna worked primarily in that role and saw just 11 targets. He caught eight of them for 86 yards.

So when projecting Hanna in 2013, we really have a wide range of potential outcomes. If he’s the No. 3 tight end, he’ll be lucky to crack 10 receptions. If he works primarily as the second option, it’s a totally different ballgame. And of course the Cowboys could use a bit of a rotation with Hanna and Escobar, bringing each player in for specific situations. That would be my preferred course of action, with Hanna helping to move the ball up the field and Escobar playing snaps inside the red zone.

In any event, I’m going to project Hanna as if he’ll play the majority of his snaps as the No. 2 tight end. The initial math will basically be the same as that for Escobar; Hanna would see around 40 targets as the second option, hauling in close to 30 of them. However, I think Hanna’s speed means he’ll be slightly more efficient than Escobar might be with those opportunities, averaging 15.0 YPR. That would give Hanna 450 receiving yards on the year.

On Smith:

Tyron Smith is a perfect example of why we can’t trust sack numbers. Last year, he gave up only three sacks all season, suggesting he was outstanding in pass protection. However, Smith also allowed pressure on 6.0 percent of his snaps in pass protection—around the same rate as Doug Free. Based on how he played, Smith’s most likely sack total was actually nine, meaning he got really lucky to allow just three sacks.

I know that because I’ve studied how pressures compare to sacks, and historically a lineman’s sacks allowed add up to around one-quarter of his total pressures. So Smith could perform much better in pass protection in 2013—which I think he will—and he’ll still be very likely to allow more than three sacks.

The main number we need to consider when projecting Smith is 22 — his age. Smith won’t turn 23 until the very end of the season, so he’s entering his third year at an age when many players are rookies. Last year was his first at left tackle, so there’s really good reason to anticipate significant improvements.

Plus, Smith was already pretty good as a run blocker last year. When he was at the point-of-attack, I tracked Cowboys running backs as gaining 4.47 YPC—over a full yard more than their average behind the other linemen.

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