The DC Times

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

By Jonathan Bales

5 Undervalued 2014 Draft Prospects

At Bleacher Report, I broke down five players I think are undervalued. Here’s one:

There are two primary keys to analyzing prospects, in my estimation: understanding predictors of NFL success at each position and emphasizing the ones that others are overlooking. One example of this is hand size in quarterbacks. It’s highly predictive of NFL successbut not properly priced into quarterback draft slots; if it were, we wouldn’t see players like Drew Brees and Russell Wilson—short quarterbacks with large hands—fall in the draft.

When searching for undervalued prospects who should interest Dallas (or any team), I’m looking for traits I think are undervalued by the market and comparing those to the projected draft slot for each prospect. It really comes down to the draft slot. A single prospect might be awesome value in the third round and horrible value in the back of the first; it’s all about expected value versus cost.

Chris Smith, DE, Arkansas

Biggest Predictors: Arm Length, Production, Explosiveness

Projected Round: 3

Arkansas outside linebacker/defensive end Chris Smith is one of the reasons I don’t think the Cowboys need to draft a defensive end that early, even though it’s a huge need. He’s a 6’1”, 266-pound outside linebacker who should be able to stick his hand in the dirt as a 4-3 defensive end.

The concern is Smith’s height, which is why he’s going to drop to the middle rounds. Height is correlated with success for pass-rushers. The question is whether or not that’s because being tall helps or because tall players typically have something that really matters—long arms.

We continually see short, long-armed pass-rushers like Justin Houstondrop too far in the NFL draft because of a trait that’s overvalued (height) and then excel in the pros because of one that really matters (arm length).

Well, Smith has 34.1-inch arms, which is just ridiculous for his height. That helped him tally 18 sacks and 24.5 tackles-for-loss in the past two seasons at Arkansas. Smith is one of the most undervalued players in this class because teams will get scared by his height. And oh yeah, he can also jump 37 inches vertically.

Here’s the rest of the article.

Also be sure to get the sold out April draft guide with a $14.99 digital subscription to Star Magazine. That includes 32 issues a year, weekly during the season, August-January, and monthly during the offseason, February-July.

By Jonathan Bales

Buy the Official Dallas Cowboys Draft Guide from Star Magazine

There’s all kinds of draft information floating around these days, but how much of it is really tailored specifically to the Cowboys? Sometimes you just want to skip over the latest Jadaveon Clowney rumors and learn more about the guys who could actually be suiting up for Dallas in 2014.

The official Dallas Cowboys draft guide from Star Magazine gives you just that. I’ve worked with Star Magazine quite a bit in the past, and they truly produce some of the best Cowboys content available. How good? I have five huge stacks of issues piling up around my apartment because I refuse to throw them away.

Here are some specs on the draft guide:

  • Draft profiles on over 80 players and rankings for more than 300
  • Feature stories with the Cowboys’ scouting staff, including interviews with assistant director of player personnel Will McClay, director of scouting Tom Ciskowski and college scouting coordinator Chris Hall
  • Picks for the Cowboys in all seven rounds, 11 selections total. Plus, our first-round mock

You can get access to the sold out April draft guide with a $14.99 digital subscription to Star Magazine. That includes 32 issues a year, weekly during the season, August-January, and monthly during the offseason, February-July.

Again, you’ll immediately get the special 2014 Draft Guide, as well as future access to the Training Camp Preview in July, Season Review in February, and the one-of-a-kind Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders Swimsuit issue in June.

By Jonathan Bales

My Cowboys Analysis: Offseason Priorities, Rising/Falling Players, and a Mock Draft

I’ve been posting my Cowboys analysis over at Bleacher Report. Some of the most recent articles. . .

6 Cowboys Who Will See Roles Expand

8 Players Rising or Falling on Cowboys’ Board

Top 5 Defensive Ends Dallas Should Consider

Top 5 Remaining Offseason Priorities

A Mock Draft of Instant Contributors

In that last article, I picked players I believe could make the most immediate impact in Dallas. Here’s a look at the first three rounds.

Round 1: Aaron Donald, DT, Pitt

Will Pitt defensive tackle Aaron Donald fall to Dallas? Probably not, but there’s a decent chance that he falls into the teens, in which case the cost for the Cowboys to move up wouldn’t be prohibitive. He’s the one player it makes sense for Dallas to trade up for in this draft.

The big concern with Donald is that he has just 32.6-inch arms. That’s short for a defensive tackle. Although some players have thrived at the position despite a lack of elite arm length (Warren Sapp, for example), there’s still a trend there suggesting quality short-armed players are the exception to the rule.

When a player records college production as impressive as Donald’s, however, you can put up with short arms to a greater extent. With 11 sacks and 28.5 tackles for loss in 2013 alone, you could argue Donald was the top defensive lineman—not just defensive tackle—in the nation. He has a four-year history of elite production.

The addition of Henry Melton certainly decreased the Cowboys’ need for a 3-technique defensive tackle, but it’s hard to ignore the potential of a Donald-Melton duo. Neither is a 1-technique, but defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli should be able to work wonders with an interior pass-rushing duo with such ridiculous upside.

Round 2: Davante Adams, WR, Fresno State

The Cowboys need a wide receiver. That’s not a popular opinion, but there are few positions at which bringing in an early-round pick could have a bigger impact. Outside of the defensive line and perhaps safety, wide receiver is the Cowboys’ biggest potential area for improvement.

What will a quality rookie receiver do? First, he can help the Cowboys score. Terrance Williams showed promise in his rookie year, but he’s not the sort of player who will consistently dominate in the red zone. The ‘Boys should use tight end Gavin Escobar way more, but adding another red-zone-relevant pass-catcher will help this offense.

Second, wide receivers help quarterbacks nearly as much as quarterbacks help receivers. With quarterbacks getting the ball out quicker than ever, the value of the offensive line has decreased in recent seasons. Quarterbacks are just as responsible for their sacks as the linemen, and having big, physical wide receivers who can be trusted is of massive importance.

Finally, the Cowboys already have pretty good offensive personnel, but 1) offense is more important than defense and 2) they have a really big potential leak: a Dez Bryant injury. The ‘Boys shouldn’t draft a receiver simply because of how much they rely on Bryant, but it should factor into the equation. If Bryant were to get injured (or even see more frequent double-teams), the Cowboys offense would be stagnant.

Fresno State’s Davante Adams is one of the most underrated receivers in this draft. At 6’1”, 212 pounds, he ran a 4.56 in the 40-yard dash. That’s plenty fast enough for his size, but his time won’t cause him to rise up boards like what might happen with Vanderbilt’s Jordan Matthews.

Most important, Adams dominated in college. In two years at Fresno State, he averaged 116 catches, 1,515 yards and 19 touchdowns per year. That’s insane.

Round 3: Jackson Jeffcoat, DE, Texas

Texas defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat has all the makings of an undervalued player. Despite being projected in the third round, he has long arms (33.9 inches), explosiveness (10’3” broad jump) and a history of production (13 sacks and 19 tackles for loss last year).

Jeffcoat’s potential impact will come down to whether or not the Cowboys re-sign Anthony Spencer. If that happens, Spencer and George Selvie will likely be the team’s starting defensive end duo. If the ‘Boys don’t re-sign Spencer, though, chances are they’ll start a rookie at defensive end in 2014. Jeffcoat might not be the most likely first-year player to fill that role, but he’ll be the best option in the third round.

By Jonathan Bales

My Reaction to the Henry Melton Deal & Other Cowboys Analsyis

Long time no post. At Bleacher Report, I published my reaction to the Henry Melton deal. An excerpt is below. In addition, here are a few of my other recent articles:

My Latest Cowboys Mock Draft

Predicting Cowboys’ Starting Lineup

Why Cowboys Had No Choice But to Cut DeMarcus Ware

A Look Back at Ware’s Career

Examining My Pre-Free Agency Predictions (I went 4-for-5)

The Stats

The Cowboys signed Melton to get to the quarterback. In his four NFL seasons, he’s been able to do that, totaling 15.5 sacks.

Remember, though, that 2010 was Melton’s rookie year and he received less than half a season’s worth of snaps. The defensive tackle also played in only two full games in 2013.

In his two full seasons (2011 and 2012), Melton totaled 13 sacks. Pro Football Focus (subscription required) indicates that his pressure and sack ranks improved during his first three years in the NFL.

Melton ranked in the top 10 in pressures and top three in sacks in both 2011 and 2012. The fact that Melton ranked higher in sacks than pressures in all three years is really interesting. Most players tend to sack the quarterback at around the same rate once they reach him—most defensive ends turn around one-quarter of pressures into sacks, while defensive tackles are typically lower.

Well, Melton has recorded a sack on 26.3 percent of his career pressures. That’s a really high rate for an interior defensive lineman, but because Melton is so light and quick on his feet for a defensive tackle, there’s good reason to think he can keep it up.

He’s basically a big defensive end playing inside, which means he should be able to rack up more sacks than the typical defensive tackle—even relative to how often he pressures the quarterback.

The Age

The Cowboys did a great job signing Melton to a one-year deal with a strong possibility of three extra years. Taking a look at historic defensive tackle production—in terms of approximate value—the Cowboys should have Melton during his career prime.

Melton will start the 2014 season at age 27. If he plays as the Cowboys expect him to play, he’ll be around from age 28 through 30. That’s just before the time when most defensive tackles tend to break down, and the fall from grace is a steep one.

In all likelihood, defensive tackles collapse more rapidly than other positions due to the wear and tear of playing inside.The Cowboys would be smart to keep Melton through the duration of this contract, when he should be in peak physical condition, then probably let him walk when it ends. We don’t want to see Jay Ratliff 2.0.

By Jonathan Bales

5 Defensive Ends Who Make Sense for Dallas

At Bleacher Report, I broke down five defensive ends who I like for Dallas in this year’s draft. Here’s a preview:

The Dallas Cowboys are clearly in the market for a difference-making defensive end; veteran DeMarcus Ware is rapidly declining and 2013 breakout player George Selvie is a No. 2 rusher at best. In addition to defensive tackle, there’s perhaps nowhere the ‘Boys can help themselves more than at defensive end.

The key to finding value at any position is identifying predictors of success that other teams aren’t valuing, or at least aren’t valuing enough. At the wide receiver position, for example, most NFL teams pay for speed when they should be more concerned with size. At quarterback, they seek height when it appears as though hand size is more important.

At defensive end, a lot of teams seem to dismiss college production. They think they can spot talent with the “eye test,” frequently overrating defensive ends who look the part but haven’t gotten to the quarterback at a high rate.

One of the traits teams overvalue seems to be quickness. Certainly quicker is better for every player, but even more important is size. Overall, teams do indeed pay for one aspect of size in height. Height is indeed correlated with NFL success for defensive ends, but as with quarterbacks, that might just be because it’s linked to another trait that matters more. For defensive ends, that characteristic is long arms.

Even though many NFL organizations look at arm length, they’re still acting as though height matters more. We continually see tall players with short arms get drafted ahead of short players with long arms. The latter type of prospect might actually offer the most value, since they possess the trait that helps get to the passer (long arms) but not the one that shoots them up boards (height).

In that way, not all lengths of arm are created equally. A 6’2″ defensive end with 33-inch arms is better than a 6’5″ end with the same arm length because the shorter player is more likely to fall (unnecessarily), and thus offer value.

Valuing both college production and arm length, here are five defensive end prospects the Dallas Cowboys should consider in this year’s draft.

 

Scott Crichton, Oregon State

College Production: 22.5 sacks, 51 tackles-for-loss in three seasons

Height: 6’3″

Arm Length: Unknown

Projection: Early Second Round

Oregon State defensive end Scott Crichton is a really interesting prospect. At 6’3″, Crichton is rumored to have good length for his height. That’s the perfect combination when seeking value at defensive end. It will be really interesting to see how Crichton measures up at the combine; if his arms check in at 33 inches or longer, that’s a great sign.

Crichton was also quite productive in college. Teams will obviously look at sack totals, but tackles-for-loss are just as valuable. They represent the same sort of explosiveness to get into the backfield. Actually, when a defensive end has a ton of tackles-for-loss but a moderate amount of sacks, it could be a sign that he just got unlucky with bringing down the passer, which will improve in the future.

The Cowboys would probably need to pick up Crichton in a trade down from the No. 16 overall pick.

 

Jackson Jeffcoat, Texas

College Production: 26 sacks, 49.5 tackles-for-loss in four seasons

Height: 6’4″

Arm Length: Unknown

Projection: Second Round

Like Crichton, Texas’s Jackson Jeffcoat is rumored to have “significant arm length.” He won’t drop because of his height, which is about average for a defensive end, but he still seems undervalued with a second-round projection.

Jeffcoat had 26 sacks in four years at Texas, but he was quite dominant recently. He played only a handful of games in 2012, but in his last two full seasons, Jeffcoat averaged 18 tackles-for-loss and 10.25 sacks.

The Cowboys might be able to pick up Jeffcoat in the second round without moving up.

Head to BR for the full article.

By Jonathan Bales

Why Cowboys Should Probably Trade Down in First Round

At Bleacher Report, I explained why the Cowboys should trade down in the first round. Here’s an excerpt:

Exploiting the Chart

Because teams still use the original trade chart to make moves, the Cowboys can exploit inefficiencies in the way the chart is constructed relative to how players actually perform. That is, they can and should look for areas on the chart where the cost of trading is less than the value of they player(s) they can expect in return.

Looking at historic NFL production, here’s a chart displaying approximate value versus the cost of each pick, both as a function of the overall value. According to the chart, for example, the top overall pick accounts for five percent of the total value, but in reality, the No. 1 overall selection has accrued around just 2.5 percent of the class’s total approximate value.

The cost of the draft’s top picks is massive. Teams trading up into the top 10, especially, need to be extremely confident they’re acquiring a future star, because the cost of the picks is far more than the production that can normally be expected.

You can see that the cost of trading surpasses the expected production up until around the 20th overall selection. At that point, the cost of draft selections on the original trade value chart drops quite a bit, yet there are still quality players in that range.

That trend continues for a few rounds; in terms of historic production, the largest inefficiencies exist from the back of the first round into the third and fourth rounds. That’s the area where the most value exists when you consider the price of each pick.

 

First-Round Trade Results

This isn’t just a mathematical trick that has little basis in reality. We can look at past first-round trades to see that teams trading down in the round (or out of it altogether) have found a ton of success.

Teams trading down in or out of the first round have accrued the best player 50.9 percent of the time. That’s amazing since the reason a team trades up is because they think they’ll acquire the best player. The numbers suggest that if you believe you’ll get the best player by trading up in the first round, think again.

You might think that because trying to guess the team that will get the top player in a first-round trade is basically a coin flip, it doesn’t matter if you move up or down. However, if it’s really a coin flip, the smart things to do would be to 1) maximize opportunities and 2) do it as cheaply as possible. Why trade up to get something you can probably have later?

Further, teams trading down have acquired 64.4 percent of the total player value in those trades. The numbers are staggering.

 

Loading Up and Accounting for Fallibility

Again, the Cowboys should be trying to maximize their chances of hitting by loading up on picks where the greatest inefficiencies exist. They actually tried to pull this off last year, trading back from the middle of the first to the back of it, grabbing an extra third-rounder in the process. Whether or not they saw the proper return, they at least tried to make a move that was statistically prudent.

Central to the idea that you should accrue draft picks is understanding your own fallibility. Teams trade up as though they’re sure the player they covet is going to be as good as they believe, but it’s not that black-and-white. There’s a lot of uncertainty that goes into drafting, so teams need to account for that.

Further, teams that trade up are typically selecting a player who is an outlier on their board. If that team didn’t have him ranked much higher than others, he probably wouldn’t still be available. By accounting for the fact that they could be wrong in their assessment of said player, the Cowboys and other teams considering trading up might think again.

The common rebuttal is that every situation needs to be taken on a case-by-case basis and that every player is unique, but that line of thinking is probably what’s gotten teams who trade up in trouble. Every player and situation is unique, sure, but teams drastically overrate their ability to predict the future.

To get the best in a trade-up, teams basically need to think they know something that 31 other teams don’t, which will rarely be the case. Once teams accept that they just don’t know as much as they think they do, it will become easier to recognize the dangers of trading up and the value of maximizing draft picks.

Put another way, consider two dart throwers, one with zero skill and one with perfect skill. The first has a low probability of hitting a bulleye on a given throw, so he wants as many darts as possible. The latter can hit a bullseye every time, so if that’s the goal, he needs only one dart.

NFL teams have been acting as though they’re perfect (or near-perfect) dart throwers. When they realize that there’s just a whole lot more uncertainty involved in the process – when they realize the market itself forces them into being low-skill dart throwers – they’ll act differently, maximizing opportunities and minimizing cost.

Read the full analysis right here.

By Jonathan Bales

8 Prospects to Watch at NFL Scouting Combine

At Bleacher Report, I broke down eight prospects to watch in next week’s NFL Scouting Combine. Here’s a preview.

The measurables recorded at the NFL Scouting Combine should matter to every NFL team, including the Dallas Cowboys. Measurables are important because they allow us to quantify what we see on the field, which in turn allows for a scientific approach to football.

Science is marked by improvement—namely an improvement in predictions. We can sit and watch game film all day, but how do we improve that process? How do we get beyond “this guy has great hips” to make more accurate predictions?

With analytics, we can run tests to see which metrics are the most important, creating models to aid us in making predictions. The key, though, is that different measurables matter for different positions. The 40-yard dash, for example, is extremely important for players at certain positions, while basically useless at others.

The degree to which a measurable is useful extends only insofar as it helps make better predictions about a prospect’s future. One of the common qualms with a drill like the 40-yard dash is that “players almost never run 40 yards in a straight line during a game.”

Who cares? Employees don’t need to take IQ tests during work hours, but that doesn’t make an IQ test completely useless when screening job candidates. If a measurable helps us forecast the future, it’s useful, regardless of whether or not it occurs during a game.

With that in mind, here are eight prospects who the Dallas Cowboys (and you) should monitor during the NFL Scouting Combine, along with the measurable that might be the most important.

Scott Crichton, DE, Oregon State

What to Watch: Arm Length

Tall pass rushers perform better than short ones in the NFL, but that doesn’t mean teams should do everything they can to draft tall ones. Actually, it’s the short pass rushers with long arms who often offer the most value.

Teams pay for height in defensive ends, so those who are tall with long arms often don’t provide a great return. Those who are short with long arms, however, can find a ton of NFL success, but they come with a much cheaper price tag.

Oregon State’s Scott Crichton is relatively short at 6’3” and there are rumors that he has good length, but we don’t know for sure. He’ll be an outstanding second-round value if his arms are long compared to his height.

Allen Robinson, WR, Penn State

What to Watch: 40-Yard Dash

The Cowboys should draft a wide receiver in 2014. There are someearly-round wide receiver prospects who should intrigue Dallas, and Penn State’s Allen Robinson is one of them.

If you’re a fan of Robinson, you should root for him to run a mediocre 40-yard dash. Wait, what?

Although teams seek speed in wide receivers, the 40-yard dash isn’t all that predictive of NFL success at the position. Instead, size matters most, and Robinson has it.

Robinson is fighting with a group of talented wide receivers to sneak his way into the first round, but he could drop well into the second with a poor 40-yard dash. If he’s in the 4.55 range, that would be great—slow enough to drop but fast enough to excel in the NFL.

Michael Sam, DE, Missouri

What to Watch: Weight

Missouri defensive end Michael Sam is the exact sort of defensive end who can offer value on draft day because he’s short (6’2”) with long arms (33.25 inches). He’ll drop because of his lack of height, but Sam’s arm length suggests he should be able to produce in the NFL.

Also monitor Sam’s weight, which should be around 260 pounds. That’s up from his playing weight at Missouri, and he’ll need all the bulk he can get to play as a 4-3 defensive end. If Sam reports any heavier than 260 pounds, it will be interesting to see how he moves.

Some are arguing that Sam’s draft stock has fallen since admitting he’s gay, but that’s just another reason to be bullish on him. If Sam indeed drops because he’s gay, too short, or whatever, it will just allow whichever team drafts him to acquire a high-upside player at a bare minimum price.

Antone Exum, CB, Virginia Tech

What to Watch: 40-Yard Dash

Do the Cowboys need a cornerback? Maybe, maybe not. They’ve got a ton of money committed to the position, but all of it is going to players who stand under 6’0” and weigh less than 200 pounds. You can never have too many talented cornerbacks and second-year man B.W. Webb struggled badly in his rookie campaign, so perhaps the ‘Boys will once again look at the position late in the draft.

If they do, Virginia Tech’s Antone Exum should be on their radar. At 6’0”, 220 pounds, Exum is absolutely massive. He’s the type of cornerback who could dramatically help the Cowboys in the red zone right out of the gate.

Speed is so crucial for cornerbacks, though, so Exum’s 40-yard dash will be important. If he can clock in under 4.50, he’ll probably be highly undervalued.

Head to B/R for the other four prospects.

By Jonathan Bales

Why Cowboys Need a WR and 5 They Should Consider

At Bleacher Report, I explained why I think wide receiver is an underrated position of need for Dallas. I also proposed five players I believe will develop into true No. 1 options in the NFL. Here’s the full article, with a sample and two of the wide receivers posted below.

———————————

The Dallas Cowboys could benefit from selecting a potential No. 1 wide receiver in the 2014 NFL draft.

That’s not a popular opinion, as wide receiver is considered a position of relative strength for Dallas, but the Cowboys could be in monumental trouble if Dez Bryant gets injured, or even if defenses commit more to taking him out of games.

Do the Cowboys have positions at which an upgrade would provide more immediate value? Yes. But outside of quarterback Tony Romo, there’s no loss the Cowboys could afford less than that of Bryant; with the current roster, his absence would result in the death of all offensive efficiency.

He’s that important.

Furthermore, wide receivers are undervalued as a whole. As quarterbacks release the ball more quickly in today’s NFL, the importance of the offensive line decreases. Meanwhile, the same wide receiver types dominate and help quarterbacks as much as an elite quarterback can help his pass-catchers. That “type” is big, physical and efficient in the red zone.

Without Bryant, the Cowboys would be in trouble as they approach the goal line. They need to convert yards into points, and players like him do that.

One reason the Cowboys should target a wide receiver in this year’s class is that there are a number of potential No. 1 wide receivers—meaning someone is probably going to drop too far.

Second, NFL teams are valuing the wrong traits in wide receivers, paying too much for speed and not enough for size, youth and college production. That creates marketplace inefficiencies.

I’ve done a lot of research on the importance of height and weight for wide receivers, and there’s a wealth of data that shows they’re more vital than top-end speed.

Everyone agrees that younger is better for any prospect, but NFL teams don’t act like it. Younger players are superior not only because they can play in the league longer, but because they were forced to play older college competition. When a 19-year-old receiver dominates in the SEC, for example, that’s much more impressive than when a 23-year-old does it.

The Cowboys actually fell for this trap last year with their selection of Terrance Williams. The pick wasn’t necessarily a poor one because he still fell pretty far into the third round, but he played much of his rookie season at age 24. In comparison, left tackle Tyron Smith, who has been in the NFL for three seasons, won’t turn 24 until December.

Finally, college production is important for wide receivers. If a guy is going to excel in the pros, chances are that he did it in college. But instead of analyzing bulk receiving stats, it seems more valuable to look at market-share stats, which better predict NFL success. Popularized by rotoViz, market share is the percentage of a team’s receiving yards/touchdowns for which a player accounts.

If a wide receiver has 10 touchdowns on an offense with 30 total receiving touchdowns, his market share of touchdowns (0.33) would be the same as if he had 15 touchdowns on a team with 45 total scores.

Market-share stats are useful for a number of reasons, but one of the most important is that they account for team/quarterback strength. It’s more impressive when a wide receiver dominates on an otherwise poor offense with a lackluster quarterback than when one excels with an elite passer.

So without further ado, here are five wide receivers the Cowboys should consider in 2014. All have an elite combination of size, age and college production.

Allen Robinson, Penn State

Size: 6’3”, 210 pounds

Age: 20

msYds: .46

msTD: .29

Penn State wide receiver Allen Robinson might be my favorite player in the entire class. With all of the talk about some of the other players at his position, he is the big, young receiver whom no one is mentioning.

You’d like him to be slightly heavier, but he’s far from undersized at 210 pounds, and he has the frame to add some bulk. His final market-share yardage number was through the roof since he had 1,432 yards on 97 catches, but he scored just six times. That might be a concern if he hadn’t scored 11 times in his age-19 season in 2012.

My praise of Robinson is probably the largest you’ll see because I think he’s a less-hyped version of A.J. Green and an inevitable stud at the next level. Dallas would be lucky to land him in Round 2.

Jordan Matthews, Vanderbilt

Size: 6’3”, 209 pounds

Age: 21

msYds: .50

msTD: .47

At 6’3”, 209 pounds, Vanderbilt’s Jordan Matthews has a very similar build to Allen Robinson. He also had 112 catches during the 2013 season at age 21. His market-share numbers for both yards and touchdowns are through the roof.

Even though he is perhaps an even better option than Robinson, he has a much better chance to fall to Dallas in the second round. Because of how inefficiently NFL teams draft wide receivers, there’s even a chance that the Cowboys could trade back into the late second or early third and still grab Matthews.

By Jonathan Bales

Dallas Cowboys 7-Round 2014 Mock Draft

I just unveiled a seven-round Cowboys mock draft over at BR. Here’s an explanation of why I find them to be valuable, along with a sneak peek of the first pick.

The Dallas Cowboys‘ 2014 draft class isn’t going to be accurately predicted in any mock draft (not even close).

So why do them?

Mock drafts have value because they allow teams to visualize different paths they can create for themselves (or those that will be created by virtue of the selections made by other teams).

The Cowboys will likely perform their own mock drafts in the coming months as a way to understand the probability of certain prospects being available for them to pick in each round. Single mock drafts are analogous to individual presidential polls; alone, they don’t have much value because preferences can change over short periods of time. But a series of such drafts can allow teams to better anticipate their options.

Further, mocks also allow us to analyze prospects in ever greater detail and forecast how a proposed selection early in the proceedings could affect the rest of a team’s draft. With each selection, teams should be asking themselves “What does this player give us? What does his selection limit us from doing in subsequent rounds?”

Without further ado, let’s get into one potential path for the Dallas Cowboys in 2014.

Round 1: Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri

The Cowboys are clearly in the market for defensive linemen, and Missouri’s Kony Ealy is an interesting name to watch in the first round. Projected to get selected right around the Cowboys’ pick (currently No. 17 overall), Ealy would likely compete right out of the gate for a starting defensive end spot with George Selvie.

Ealy is a long defensive end at 6’5″, 275 pounds. He’s very athletic and a force against the run, but the question is whether he has enough pass-rushing ability to justify a top-20 selection; he did not show much promise as an edge-rusher until his final season at Missouri when he recorded eight sacks.

What His Selection Would Mean

Ealy’s selection would likely mean the Cowboys would bypass other defensive ends in the next few rounds. There are a lot of quality options who could fall to them in the second round (Stanford’s Trent Murphy, Louisville’s Marcus Smith, Oregon State’s Scott Crichton), so it will be up to Dallas to determine if the drop-off in talent from Ealy is enough to justify selecting him in the first.

This mode of decision-making, known as position scarcity, shows why a “best player available” draft strategy is bogus; without properly evaluating position depth and the value of potential replacement picks, teams cannot maximize the overall talent of their draft classes.

Check out all of the picks.

By Jonathan Bales

Dallas Cowboys’ 2014 Round-By-Round Sample Big Board

At Bleacher Report, I published a round-by-round “big board” with a few prospects who might interest Dallas in each round. I posted a couple of those prospects below.

There’s an obvious emphasis on acquiring players who will help in the passing game, on either side of the ball. According to the 2014 Super Bowl odds at TopBet Sportsbook, the Broncos are now 2.5-point favorites over the Seahawks for this weekend’s big game. Part of that is due to the public favoring Denver, but some of it is due to the value of a potent passing attack. Statistically, Denver has the league’s best offense but an average defense, while Seattle has the best defense and an above-average offense. Nonetheless, because of their ability to move the ball through the air, Denver is the favorite to win.

Dallas needs to find players who can either help move the ball through the air or stop opponents from doing it.

Round 1: Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri

It would be mildly shocking if the Cowboys didn’t come out of the first round with a defensive lineman. They can talk all they want about selecting the best player available, but unless a truly elite player at a position like offensive tackle drops to them, they’re in position to select the best possible defensive lineman.

There are numerous players at both defensive end and defensive tackle who figure to interest the ‘Boys.

Missouri defensive end Kony Ealy is one of those players. At 6’5″, 275 pounds, Ealy figures to have the requisite size and length to excel at the next level. Known for his athleticism and ability to stop the run, he will almost certainly get selected in the first 32 selections.

The primary question mark for him is where the production was. In three years with Missouri, Ealy had only 12.5 sacks. That’s not a good sign. He also had 27 tackles for loss, which is decent but hardly dominant. The good news is that he is still young, so teams will be drafting a player before a potential college breakout, allowing them to potentially land value.

Round 3: Daquan Jones, DT, Penn State

With defensive tackle Jason Hatcher figuring to leave Dallas this year, the Cowboys are so thin at the position that it’s not out of the question that they address it twice within the first few rounds. Thus, even if they draft a defensive tackle early, you could see them come back to a player like Penn State’s DaQuan Jones in the third round.

Jones is a 6’3″, 318-pound defensive tackle who reportedly lost 25 pounds before the 2013 season, according to CBS Sports. That helped him register 56 total tackles, which is a big number for an interior defensive lineman.

However, Jones had only 3.5 sacks in his entire Penn State career, and his arms are under 33 inches long. Those are big-time concerns for a player who could sneak into the second round. For those reasons, I wouldn’t touch Jones in the middle rounds. But he’s listed here because the Cowboys historically care more about “what the tape says” than analytics that are more predictive than traditional scouting.