The DC Times

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

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

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

2013 Cowboys/NFL Draft Coverage, All In One Place

Okay, so I’ve been late updating the site because I’ve been busy as shit. Can I just say ‘shit’ like that? Yes, this is my blog. Anyway, here are some recent articles/blogs I’ve been working on. Check them out.

Live Draft Blog at New York Times

My Photos from Radio City

That slideshow above contains this photo I took at 2:30 am after everyone except the janitors and I had left. We had some good laughs about the Frederick pick.

Cowboys’ Day 2/3 Mock Draft

Travis Frederick Pick Analysis

Travis Frederick’s Fit in Dallas

Thoughts on “The Trade”

There are two ways to look at the Cowboys’ deal. The first is that they received poor compensation for moving down 13 spots in the first round because they could have gotten a better haul. I think that’s true, and in many ways it’s all that matters. But what about the actual value of the selections based on historic value? Below, I charted the historic value of every single pick since 1990 based on the trade chart and players’ approximate value.

If there’s one thing the Cowboy did well, it was get to an area of the draft where the actual value of picks tends to exceed their perceived worth. That’s always a smart move, but only if you receive the right compensation; it would be foolish to move down simply for the sake of moving down.

Based on historic NFL production, the No. 18 overall pick has traditionally compiled 1.5 percent of the total approximate value for the entire draft class. Meanwhile, the No. 31 overall selection has been around 1.1 percent, with the No. 74 pick checking in at 0.6 percent. So based on actual on-field play, the Cowboys did indeed get value. That’s especially true in a draft class that’s weak at the top but deep in the middle.

Having said that, you can’t tell me the Niners wouldn’t have given up another pick, even if late, to move up for their guy. Despite the fact that the Cowboys acquired actual value in their trade-down, it was the wrong move from the standpoint that they could have gotten more.

By Jonathan Bales

More Cowboys Mock Drafts

Earlier I posted the Cowboys mock draft I completed for Bleacher Report. Well here’s another Cowboys mock draft, this one assuming the ‘Boys can’t land one of the elite guards in the first round.

Round 1: Sylvester Williams, DT, UNC

With Kenny Vaccaro still on the board, I think the Cowboys will realize the safety position is so deep that drafting Vaccaro won’t maximize overall value. If that’s the case, Williams might be a major consideration. From my Williams scouting report:

“Williams is a big, powerful defensive tackle who nonetheless can move with speed. He’s extremely quick off of the ball—consistently the first person off of the snap at UNC—despite his 6-3, 313-pound frame. Like Purdue’s Kawann Short, Williams is one of the few defensive tackles in this draft that I see being scheme versatile. He’s strong enough to hold up at the point, but he’s fast enough to penetrate as a one-gap defensive tackle. He was used as the latter sort of defensive tackle at UNC.

As a pass rusher, Williams parlays his quickness and strength into an excellent bull rush. When he gets a jump on the ball, he can quickly drive interior linemen into the backfield. He combines his bull rush with an outstanding swim move—probably the best in this draft class. Williams also has great play recognition; I saw about a half-dozen screens thrown against him and he wasn’t fooled by one.”

Williams can play both defensive tackle positions and would eventually take over for one of the Cowboys’ two aging interior defensive linemen.

Round 2: Justin Pugh, G, Syracuse

I’m not very high on Pugh, but a lot of teams think he has guard/tackle versatility. The Cowboys have visited with Pugh.

“Pugh is one of those “what if?” players, but we probably won’t get to uncover the answer to the question “what if Pugh stayed at offensive tackle in the NFL?” The reason is that, although he has 6-5 height, Pugh’s arms measure only 32 inches. That’s a death sentence for an offensive tackle in the NFL; arm length is strongly correlated with success because tackles need to be able to fend off tall defensive ends.

You can already see signs of Pugh’s potential struggles when you watch tape of him at Syracuse. While he generally did an admirable job in pass protection, he can be neutralized if a longer defender gets his hands into Pugh’s chest. At the next level, Pugh will face the best of the best—defensive ends and linebackers who all know how to use their length to control offensive tackles with short arms. On top of that, Pugh struggled at the Senior Bowl when he lined up outside.”

Pugh would be a starting guard right off the bat.

Check out the whole mock at NBC.

I also published my final 32-pick mock draft at Dallas News.

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

The only other legitimate option here is Eric Fisher, but Joeckel has been the favorite for a couple months. The Chiefs’ GM reportedly prefers Joeckel, so that’s the direction I’m leaning.

2. Jacksonville Jaguars: Eric Fisher, OT, Central Michigan

I have to say that I’ve had Geno Smith in this spot for weeks and I just took him out at the last minute because of all the evidence pointing to Jacksonville taking a safer player. I really think it could all be a smokescreen, however, with Smith being their guy all along.

3. Oakland Raiders: Dion Jordan, DE/OLB, Oregon

The Raiders could easily take Sharrif Floyd at No. 3, but there are lots of reports that they’re going to move this pick, possibly to Cleveland. Jordan could be in play for Oakland, but either way, I think he’s the most likely player to come off of the board at this spot.

4. Philadelphia Eagles: Lane Johnson, OT, Oklahoma

I originally had Fisher here, but the more I think about it, the more I believe Chip Kelly will prefer Johnson—one of the most athletic linemen to come out of the draft in years—no matter which linemen are on the board.

5. Detroit Lions: Barkevious Mingo, DE/OLB, LSU

With the top three offensive tackles off of the board, Detroit’s pick becomes a very interesting one. They could surprise everyone with one of the elite guards, but it seems more likely that they’ll look to upgrade their pass rush.

6. Cleveland Browns: Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama

Despite reports that Milliner could be out until August with a shoulder injury, the Browns have reportedly shown a lot of interest in the draft’s consensus top cornerback.

7. Arizona Cardinals: D.J. Fluker, OT, Alabama

This is where things get interesting. The Cardinals would love to see one of the top three offensive tackles fall to them, but I don’t see it happening. There have been rumors that they like Fluker, which would be a monumental reach at this point.

8. Buffalo Bills: Ryan Nassib, QB, Syracuse

I originally had E.J. Manuel here, but it appears as though the Bills favor Nassib.

9. New York Jets: Sharrif Floyd, DT, Florida

Oakland is the key to Floyd’s draft spot. If they pass on him, there’s a good chance that he’ll drop. I can’t see him falling out of the top 10, however, because it seems as though enough teams like him that someone will be willing to trade up. The Jets reportedly still want to move back, so I’ll place Floyd here—whether he goes to the Jets or not.

10. Tennessee Titans: Ezekiel Ansah, DE/OLB, BYU

Another value pick, Ansah fills a need for Tennessee. Chance Warmack and Xavier Rhodes are also options here.

11. San Diego Chargers: Chance Warmack, G, Alabama

I actually think most teams will have Jonathan Cooper rated higher than Warmack, but the latter is a better fit with San Diego.

Here’s the rest.

By Jonathan Bales

Cowboys’ First-Round Options

As mentioned, I’ll be covering the draft for the Times and Bleacher Report. My BR content will include instant analysis for each Cowboys pick. I’ve already posted two slideshows at BR: a mock draft for Dallas and a list of the most likely options in the first round.

You can use that latter link throughout the draft. It’s where I’ll post my reactions and grades after each selection. I’ll also have scouting reports on every Dallas pick and revised mock drafts on Friday and Saturday.

By Jonathan Bales

Running the Numbers: “Best Player Available” and My Dream Mock Draft

My two latest posts at DallasCowboys.com have been a critique of a true “best player available” draft strategy and my dream “stat nerd” Cowboys mock draft.

Draft Possibilities Exhibit a Range

So often it appears as though draft strategies are split up into a distinct dichotomy; you’re either drafting the best player available, or you’re drafting for need, they say. It’s so engrained into our minds that it almost seems like a given that drafting for need necessitates forgoing the highest-rated player. But it doesn’t.

The best player available/drafting for need dichotomy fails on two levels. First, it assumes that drafting for need is the opposite of drafting the highest-rated player. Logically, we should know this can’t be true since it’s possible to select the best player available who happens to play the top position of need. When that happens—when a team’s highest-rated prospect plays their primary position of need—drafting is quite easy. Ideally, you’d always prefer to draft the highest-rated player and, if possible, you’d want him to play your top position of need.

But the combination rarely occurs. In most cases, the top-rated player will play a position that’s not the most important need. So what then? Most would say you draft that player anyway, but the merits of such an idea become worse and worse as the position becomes less and less of a need.

For example, if the Cowboys have Geno Smith rated in their top five and he falls to the No. 18 pick, does anyone really think they’ll take him? There’s no chance of it, and there shouldn’t be. That’s because quarterback isn’t a need at all for Dallas, meaning Smith would be the “true” opposite of drafting for need: drafting the top-rated player at the position of lowest need. And it’s easy to see why that strategy, although still a version of “best player available,” is just as bad as drafting the top need regardless of his position.

In reality, draft strategies fall into a range. At the one end, we have drafting solely for need. Such an extreme strategy would be very shortsighted; teams would say “we’re drafting this one particular position, no matter who is on the board.” That’s obviously a problem.

But at the other end of the spectrum is drafting the top-rated player at a position you don’t need at all. In most cases, that’s also a big mistake because the prospect—Smith, for example—might not ever see the field.

Pure Need——–Top Player, Top Need——–Top Player, Lowest Need

In the middle, we have the “Platonic ideal” of drafting—the top player at the No. 1 need position. The closer a potential prospect is to falling in the center of the range, the better he’d be as a pick. When a prospect doesn’t fall into the center of the range, teams should really be balancing their board and their needs. To select a player at a position that’s not a need at all, he would need to be rated reallyhighly on the board—way ahead of other prospects. On the other hand, to draft a pure “need” position, the player should be ranked at least near the top of the board. It’s a delicate balancing act, but superior to blindly selecting the top-rated player.

Check out the rest of the “best player available” article.

And the mock draft:

Round 4: J.J. Wilcox, S, Georgia Southern

Again, the best predictor of future NFL success is college production, but what happens when a player has little experience at a position? Wilcox, a three-year starter at receiver and running back for Georgia Southern, was moved to safety in 2012. After rushing for nearly 1,000 yards and scoring 17 total touchdowns in his first three seasons in college, Wilcox registered 84 tackles and two interceptions at safety as a senior.

In situations like this, it’s vital to figure out if a prospect possesses elite potential but will drop due to a lack of experience at a small school. That’s where measurables come into play. At 6-0, 213 pounds, Wilcox ran a 4.51 40-yard dash, jumped 35 inches vertically, and recorded a ridiculous 4.06 short shuttle. He’s an elite athlete, and in the fourth round, it’s worth the gamble to see if he can become a top-tier safety.

Round 5: Zac Stacy, RB, Vanderbilt

The Cowboys might be tempted to draft a running back earlier, but historically, late-round running backs have been just as efficient as early-round running backs. It’s difficult to determine whether NFL teams are really that poor at drafting the position or if running backs are so dependent on their teammates, namely the offensive line, that it doesn’t make sense to take one early in the draft, but it’s probably a combination of both.

In my article on potential running back picks, I left you with this comparison:

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

I didn’t reveal the identity of ‘Player X’ at the time, but it’s Doug Martin, a first-round pick in 2012. If the goal of NFL teams is to uncover undervalued commodities, Stacy, a player who ranked third in my weight/speed metric, is the ultimate “arbitrage” selection who could offer big-time value.

Round 6: Charles Johnson, WR, Grand Valley State

The Cowboys once gambled on an undrafted free agent wide receiver with freakish size and athletic ability. At 6-2, 217 pounds, the small-school prospect ran a 4.47 40-yard dash and turned in a 40.5-inch vertical leap. His name is Miles Austin, and he’s worked out pretty well for a player no one really wanted.

Johnson could very well be the next Austin. He’s 6-2, 215 pounds with even better speed: 4.38 in the 40 and 4.31 in the short shuttle. For the sake of comparison, consider that Dez Bryant ran a 4.52 40 and 4.46 short shuttle. At a time in the draft when the sole concern should be maximizing the ceiling for each choice, Johnson could very well be the premiere prospect left on the board.

Rounds 1 through 3 are at the team site.

By Jonathan Bales

Cowboys-Only Mock Draft, Version 2.0

Earlier today, I published my second Cowboys mock draft.

Last week, I published my first Cowboys-only mock draft for the year. I had the ‘Boys selecting offensive linemen with their first two picks. As it stands right now, I think there’s about a 50/50 chance that one of the draft’s two elite guards—Jonathan Cooper and Chance Warmack—fall to Dallas at No. 18. If it doesn’t happen, the team’s draft path could change wildly.

In this mock draft, I’m going to examine which direction the Cowboys might head if all of the elite offensive linemen are off of the board. For the record, I’m not placing Alabama’s D.J. Fluker in that ‘elite’ group, but I’ll assume the Cowboys aren’t interested in him with the 18th pick.

2013 Cowboys-Only Mock Draft, Version 2.0

Round 1: Sheldon Richardson, DT, Missouri

The most popular choice for the Cowboys here is probably Texas safety Kenny Vaccaro, but there’s such great depth at safety in the middle rounds that the team might go a different direction, as they should. You could say the same about defensive tackle, although the “depth” doesn’t extend as far as for safety and a lot of the tackles aren’t necessarily great fits for the Cowboys’ scheme. Don’t forget that the Cowboys also have a few young pieces at safety, but their starting defensive tackles don’t have too much left in the tank.

Here’s what I had to say about Richardson in my scouting report:

“With his skill set, Richardson will be a one-gap player in the NFL. He’s at his best when he can penetrate and use his quickness to make plays. I’ve seen reports that he’s a very strong player but, considering his size, I don’t think that’s accurate. Richardson can play powerfully when he shoots gaps and uses his speed to knock defenders into the backfield, but as it stands right now, he won’t consistently hold up at the point, i.e. he’s not a two-gap player who can stand his ground and shed blockers.

The good news is that Richardson could easily add some bulk, if necessary. I personally think he should stay below 300 pounds to maintain his elite quickness, but he could get to 305 or 310 pounds and still be an explosive player on the inside. As you’d expect, Richardson is phenomenal in pursuit, scraping down the line-of-scrimmage like a big linebacker.”

I have Richardson ranked No. 12 overall on my board.

Round 2: Kyle Long, G, Oregon

After missing out on an offensive lineman in the first, the Cowboys could come back with a player capable of playing both guard and tackle in Kyle Long. He fits the Cowboys’ new zone concepts:

“Long is an extremely athletic lineman—the best athlete in the family, according to his father—who excels in space. He can pull with ease and looks natural when asked to get to the second level. Long possesses elite balance and flexibility; he really looks like a big linebacker moving around. Due to Oregon’s quick-hitting scheme, Long didn’t have to hold his blocks long. He frequently comes off of his defender early, and that’s something he’ll need to change at the next level.

In the passing game, Long can mirror well from the interior and he typically maintains a solid base. At 6-6, 313 pounds, Long has the frame to move outside, but he’ll need some practice there before he’s thrown into the mix. He certainly has the quickness and athleticism to play offensive tackle, but he’s incredibly raw at this point. Long is probably best-suited for a zone-blocking scheme. He doesn’t dominate defenders at the point-of-attack, and when Long isn’t asked to move laterally or explode to the second level, he can struggle.”

Long is a high-upside pick, but one whose floor probably isn’t too low.

The full mock is at DMN.

By Jonathan Bales

Dallas Cowboys Mock Draft, Version 1.0: O-Line Emphasis

At Dallas News, I published my first Cowboys-only mock draft with predictions of all six picks.

There are all sorts of ways to analyze the draft, from scouting reports to 32-team mock drafts to aggregate big boards. Today, I’m going to run through a Cowboys-specific mock draft—all six picks. Although I want it to be as accurate as possible, the primary goal here isn’t to accomplish the impossible and hit on all six selections. Rather, I simply want to provide one particular path the Cowboys could take in the 2013 NFL Draft, detailing the types of players they might seek, both in terms of position, talent level, and their fit with the team.

2013 Cowboys-Only Mock Draft

Round 1: Jonathan Cooper, G, UNC

Cooper was my choice for Dallas in my latest 32-team mock draft. In last week’s chat, I argued that Cooper and fellow guard Chance Warmack have to be considered the favorites to come to Dallas. Both are elite players and there’s a chance that they’ll be off of the board when the Cowboys are on the clock, but interior linemen tend to fall on draft day.

Here’s what I had to say about Cooper:

“Cooper is hands down the best pulling guard I’ve ever studied. He’s listed at 6’3’’, 310 pounds, although there’s a good chance he weighs closer to his college playing weight of 300 or so. Cooper uses his “lean” frame to move with ease to the second level of defenses. He’s as agile as any interior lineman I’ve seen, dashing across the field and having the athleticism to move with linebackers. When Cooper is on the move, he’s at his best.”

I think Cooper is a better fit and all-around superior prospect to Warmack, but the Cowboys should jump on either player if they fall.

Round 2: Terron Armstead, OT, Arkansas-Pine Bluff

At 306 pounds, Armstead stunned people at the 2013 Scouting Combine by running a 4.71 40-yard dash. He’s so athletic that some teams considered him as a tight end. From my scouting report:

“I watched every snap for Armstead against Jackson State. As you’d expect, he dominated lesser competition. It’s always difficult to grade small-school players because they can often cover up their weaknesses with superior athleticism or strength. You see that at times with Armstead; he would often let rushers get into his chest and pop him back a little, but since he was so much bigger and stronger, he could absorb the blow even if he was flat-footed.

At the East-West Shrine game and Senior Bowl, Armstead performed well but struggled against bull rushes. He mirrors defenders really well—it’s rare for a speed-rusher to blow past him—but he doesn’t have the same advantage in strength to make up for poor technique against NFL-caliber competition.”

Armstead would be an immediate upgrade over Doug Free at right tackle.

Head over to DMN for the full mock draft.

By Jonathan Bales

“Wisdom of the crowds” in regards to Cowboys’ draft pick

I continued my “wisdom of the crowds” approach to predicting the Cowboys’ draft pick at Dallas News.

I’ve recently unveiled my big board and second mock draft. While I spend a good amount of time analyzing prospects, I have my own biases and my rankings are certainly not immune to error. I rank a pretty large percentage of players away from consensus opinion; some of those will turn out to be right, but many will also be wrong. There’s a certain level of uncertainty built into forecasting the future of NFL prospects, and as draft analysts, all we’re trying to do is peel away that uncertainty to make accurate predictions.

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I’m a big believer in “wisdom of the crowds”—the phenomenon by which the collective opinion of individual experts can be more accurate than that of the same expert opinions take in isolation, i.e. as we incorporate more and more expert opinions, we’ll likely gain a clearer depiction of reality. My opinions on one prospect might be vastly different than those of, say, Mel Kiper. If we’re playing the percentages, the prospect’s true talent is most likely to fall somewhere between our separate views on him. As we add in more and more expert opinions, we can get a really great sense of a prospect’s perceived worth.

Up until now, I’ve been creating aggregate big boards my combining the rankings of various draft analysts. The aggregate boards have been based off of their big boards—their personal opinions regarding prospects’ talent—as opposed to mock drafts. There’s a difference between an analyst’s opinion on where a player should get drafted and where he will get drafted, however, and today I’m going to look at the latter.

While I’ve been personally tracking expert rankings in my previous aggregate boards, there’s actually already data available that combines expert opinions on where prospects will get drafted. Play the Draftis a “stock market for the NFL Draft”; experts like Mel Kiper, Lance Zierlein, Matt Miller, Greg Cosell, and so on rank prospects according to where they think they’ll get drafted. As those rankings change, so does the “stock” of each player. You can build your own team, trying to predict future trends to acquire value in much the same way NFL teams do.

Understanding Changing Value

The coolest part about aggregating expert opinions is that you can get a sense of how a player’s stock is changing. In the same way that an actual stock price fluctuates, so does the stock for a draft prospect. Many times, NFL teams can actually acquire value by jumping on a players’ whose stock is down. It’s those prospects—not those whose value has hit its peak—who are most likely to offer value because their perceived value has dropped below their actual worth.

You can see that with a guy like Utah defensive tackle Star Lotulelei. After rumors of a heart condition surfaced, Lotulelei’s stock plummeted.

That’s a case where a player’s perceived worth has probably dropped well below his talent level. Compare that to Florida defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd.

After a report or two that a few teams view Floyd as a top talent, his stock soared. Now it appears as though every analyst views Floyd as a top-tier player, but that wasn’t the case just a couple months ago. Whether or not Floyd is an elite talent, it’s very unlikely that his actual value is greater than his current perceived worth, which is through the roof.

Head over to DMN to check out the new aggregate big board.