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“potential Draft Picks” Series | The DC Times - Part 2

The DC Times

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

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2013 NFL Draft: My Final Big Board

At Dallas News, I published my final big board, ranking my top 80 prospects.

  1. Dion Jordan, DE/OLB, Oregon***
  2. Ezekiel Ansah, DE, BYU***
  3. Jonathan Cooper, G, UNC***
  4. Lane Johnson, OT, Oklahoma***
  5. Chance Warmack, G, Alabama
  6. Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M
  7. Xavier Rhodes, CB, Florida State***
  8. Cornellius Carradine, DE, Florida State***
  9. Barkevious Mingo, DE, LSU
  10. Sheldon Richardson, DT, Missouri
  11. Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah
  12. Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama
  13. DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Clemson***
  14. D.J. Hayden, CB Houston***
  15. Bjoern Werner, DE, Florida State
  16. Eric Fisher, OT, Central Michigan^^^
  17. Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia
  18. Desmond Trufant, CB, Washington
  19. Tavon Austin, WR, West Virginia
  20. Arthur Brown, LB, Kansas State***
  21. Kawann Short, DT, Purdue***
  22. Jarvis Jones, DE/OLB, Georgia
  23. Menelik Watson, OT, Florida State***
  24. Sharrif Floyd, DT, Florida^^^
  25. Kenny Vaccaro, S, Texas

Check out the rest right here.

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Running the Numbers: Finding RBs in the Middle Rounds

At DallasCowboys.com, I broke down why the Cowboys can wait on a running back and which ones offer value.

While teams and media trumpet the importance of drafting the highest-rated players, the truth is that a lot more goes into drafting (or at least it should) than blindly selecting the top player on the board. One of the most important of those is scarcity. In any type of market, the draft being one of them, scarce commodities become valuable (gold, for example, is valuable only insofar as it is scarce and there is demand for it).

Historically, talented running backs have proven to be anything but scarce. Teams have been able to uncover Alfred Morris-type players throughout the draft, decreasing the merits of taking a running back in the early rounds. Actually, a running back’s draft slot has no ability to predict his future efficiency in terms of yards per carry (YPC). Since 2000, running backs drafted in the first two rounds have averaged 4.23 YPC. Running backs drafted in Rounds 3-5 have averaged 4.25 YPC. Think about that: First- and second-round running backs have been no better than those in the middle rounds on a per-carry basis. That’s important.

Whether it’s due to the running backs themselves or the fact that their production is so dependent on their teammates, there’s just not much reason to gamble on an Eddie Lacy in the first or even second round when you can have a Christine Michael or Knile Davis in the middle rounds, or even a Zac Stacy in the late rounds. Simply put, talented runners can be found in any round. There’s no reason to draft one early – yes, even if he’s the top player on the board – when you can find the same type of player much later. Without scarcity, value plummets.

Running Back versus Wide Receiver

I bring this up because there’s a general consensus that the Cowboys are going to draft a running back this year (as they probably should). Another position you might see the ’Boys target, believe it or not, is wide receiver. Although there are high hopes for Dwayne Harris and Cole Beasley, the Cowboys could very well use a big, physical receiver to play in three-receiver sets (whenMiles Austin moves into the slot). And despite the obvious holes throughout the roster, the offense could be in major trouble if either Austin or Dez Bryant get injured, leaving either an undersized or sub-optimal player in the starting lineup.

So as much as the backup running back spot is a concern, so is the third receiver position. Now, the Cowboys probably won’t target either position in the first round or two, so the best bet to find an immediate contributor is likely somewhere in the middle of the draft. Historically, running backs have outperformed wide receivers in that range.

Since 2000, the average running back drafted in Rounds 3-5 has recorded around 20 percent more total production (relative to others at his position) than wide receivers in the same range. Wide receivers have started slightly more games, but don’t forget that two wide receivers typically start each game, compared to just one running back. The mid-round receivers have been to slightly more Pro Bowls than the running backs, but there were 173 receivers drafted during the time I studied, compared to just 99 running backs. On a per-player basis, the mid-round running backs have really outperformed the receivers in every category.

The entire article is at the team site.

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Cowboys’ Potential Draft Pick: Miguel Maysonet, RB, Stony Brook

At NBC, I posted a scouting report on Stony Brook running back Miguel Maysonet.

While I’m generally a proponent of using a running back’s college stats to grade him, it doesn’t carry as much weight for small-school prospects. Sure, Maysonet’s 7.36 YPC is impressive, but it’s not standardized in the same way that it would be for, say, a prospect coming out of the SEC.

That’s why measurables can be so important. We’ve seen Maysonet dominate inferior competition, but what does that really tell us about his game? He looks to have moderate speed on tape, but the 40-yard dash can tell us more about his long speed than just guessing it from his film. Maysonet was invited to the Combine but couldn’t work out due to a hamstring injury, but he ran between a 4.59 and 4.65 and his pro day. He also recorded a 31-inch vertical, 8-11 broad jump, and 4.27 short shuttle. In short, he’s not a terribly explosive player.

Check it out here.

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Cowboys’ Potential Draft Picks: Sio Moore, Gerald Hodges, and Montee Ball

My latest scouting reports are on UConn linebacker Sio Moore, Penn State linebacker Gerald Hodges, and Wisconsin running back Montee Ball.

On Moore:

When you watch Moore on film, the first thing you need to do is locate him before each play; he lines up all over the field—as a middle linebacker, on the weak side, as a pass-rusher, and even in the slot. The Huskies used Moore in a variety of roles throughout his career, and he did an amazing job of learning and thriving in each.

Moore is actually a talented rusher, but as his size (6-1, 245 pounds), he won’t be doing as much of that in the NFL. I think whichever team drafts Moore should consider using him often as a blitzer because he’s that good, however. He’s probably best suited as a Will linebacker in a 4-3—a spot from which he can rush the passer, drop into coverage, and read and react. I even think Moore could move to defensive end in nickel situations.

Read the rest at NBC.

On Hodges:

Hodges is a small linebacker at 6-1, 243 pounds. He added 30 pounds after coming to Penn State, and it doesn’t appear like he’ll be able to add that much more weight. From that standpoint alone, you’re probably looking at a guy who can play only as a 4-3 linebacker, and most likely as the Will (weak side). That’s fine, but it will drop his stock since most 3-4 teams won’t be interested.

Hodges ran a 4.78 at the Combine, and he elected to not run the 40-yard dash at his Pro Day. Long speed is obviously an issue for Hodges, but it’s not like he’s too slow to play linebacker. He also jumped 35.5 inches and ran a 4.25 short shuttle, showing he has a little burst in short areas.

Check it out at NBC.

On Ball:

I’ve broken down primarily mid and late-round prospects because that’s where you can find the most value on runners. Actually, a running back’s draft spot has zero predictive ability in terms of NFL efficiency. Yes, late-round picks have been just as effective in the NFL as early-rounders, so there isn’t much incentive for a team to draft a running back early.

That’s why I haven’t broken down Wisconsin running back Montee Ball—a probable second-round pick who many believe could now be the first running back off of the board. I just don’t think the Cowboys will burn a second-round pick on a running back, but I could be wrong. Let’s examine Montee Ball. . .

Scouting Report

The first thing that stands out about Ball is his production. He ran for over 5,000 yards at Wisconsin, including over 3,700 in the past two seasons. Ball had nearly 1,000 career carries, yet still managed 5.6 yards-per-carry. That’s a good mark for a player who had so many touches. Ball’s 77 career rushing touchdowns are eye-popping. A lot of scouts ignore college production, but it’s meaningful. Using college stats alone, a simple algorithm can typically identify successful running backs better than NFL teams (in regards to where the players were drafted).

Ball is somewhat paradoxical in that he was so productive, yet his measurables suggest he’s going to have a really tough time in the NFL. The same was the case with fellow Wisconsin running back Ron Dayne, who has averaged 3.8 YPC as a pro. Ball has decent size at 214 pounds, but his 4.66 40-yard dash and 4.40 short shuttle were poor. A few running backs in those ranges have played well, but the majority have fizzled out.

Head over to Dallas News for the full report.

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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.

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Cowboys’ Potential Draft Pick: Jordan Hill, DT, Penn State

My latest scouting report is on Penn State defensive tackle Jordan Hill.

Hill is a short (6-1) defensive tackle with limited explosiveness. It obviously doesn’t really matter how high or far a defensive lineman can jump in games, but his 22.5-inch vertical and 8-7 broad jump show that Hill is by no means an elite athlete.

On tape, Hill does a nice job of utilizing his tools. He fires off of the ball and typically maintains good leverage. He’s not very strong for his size, but he uses that strength well to drive interior linemen into the backfield at times. There’s a reason he was able to make so many tackles in the backfield.

Check out the full scouting report at NBC.

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Cowboys’ Potential Draft Picks: WRs Da’Rick Rogers and Josh Boyce

I recently broke down two potential wide receiver picks for the Cowboys later this month. At NBC, I posted a scouting report on TCU receiver Josh Boyce:

The best predictor of future success is past success. NFL teams way too often overlook players’ college production, particularly at skill positions. The stats for wide receivers in major conferences are actually more strongly correlated with NFL success than just about anything. When we see a player who was mildly productive but never caught more than 66 passes, 998 yards, or nine touchdowns in a season, we have to ask ‘why?’

One reason we haven’t seen a ton of production from Boyce—at least not what we’d expect from a high draft pick—is that he’s just 5-11, 204 pounds. If you recall, I showed that there’s a very strong relationship between height and success for NFL wide receivers. Short, quick receivers can help to move offenses up the field, but they really have a difficult time in the red zone.

See it all at NBC.

And at Dallas News, I argued that the ‘Boys need a big receiver like Da’Rick Rogers:

After publishing my first Cowboys-only mock draft, some of you seemed surprised that I projected a wide receiver to the Cowboys. That one was Elon’s Aaron Mellette in the sixth round, but I think team could target a wide receiver even earlier than that. It’s hardly a necessity, but the need for a third wide receiver with size is underrated. Dwayne Harris and Cole Beasley are fine, but what happens if Miles Austin or Dez Bryant go down? Dallas would either need to force Harris into a position on the outside where he’s not suited or start a really sub-optimal wide receiver.

On top of that, the third receiver played a major role in the Cowboys’ offense last year; the ‘Boys lined up with at least three receivers on 56 percent of their offensive snaps. Everyone knows the Cowboys need a backup running back, but the third receiver is arguably a lot more important. Kevin Ogletree, who didn’t start a single game in 2012, played nearly 100 more snaps than Felix Jones, who started seven games. And that’s Kevin Ogletree—hardly an elite option.

When the Cowboys use three receivers, Miles Austin moves into the slot. He gives the team flexibility to equip themselves with the best possible third receiver, regardless of his skill set. There’s no reason to think that player needs to be a small, shifty slot receiver. Based on historical success at the position, that player should actually have elite size.

Today’s feature—Tennessee Tech’s Da’Rick Rogers—has the potential to be a superstar in the NFL. Currently rated in the top 40 on my latest big board, Rogers transferred from Tennessee after a productive sophomore season of 67 catches, 1,040 yards, and nine touchdowns.

See the scouting report at DMN.

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Cowboys’ Potential Pick: Bennie Logan, DT, LSU

At NBC, I broke down LSU defensive tackle Bennie Logan.

Logan is a shorter defensive tackle at 6-2, 309 pounds. He has long 34-inch arms, so a lot of defensive coordinators might see Logan’s height as a positive because it can help him stay low to gain leverage inside.

Logan is very quick off of the snap and displays a nice combination of speed and power. He does a good job of using his strength to fend off interior linemen in the running game. Logan can stand his ground at the point, rarely getting driven back, and then use his long arms to shed blockers. Logan also has decent lateral quickness to chase down ball-carriers in short areas.

Check out the full Logan scouting report.

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Cowboys’ Potential Draft Picks: TE Travis Kelce and WR DeAndre Hopkins

My two latest NBC scouting reports are on Cincinnati tight end Travis Kelce and Clemson wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins. On Kelce:

Kelce is a big, powerful tight end who stands 6-5, 255 pounds. He uses his frame well in the running game, blocking as well as any tight end in this class. He’s an aggressive blocker who offers the ability to set in pass protection as well. Such versatility is what will give NFL offensive coordinators the ability to cause matchup problems for defenses, running when defenses go small to stop Kelce as a pass-catcher and passing when they use heavy personnel to stop the run.

Kelce doesn’t appear to have top-end speed on film, but he actually ran an official 4.64 40-yard dash. At his size, that’s a really good time. Kelce also posted a 35-inch vertical leap and 10-4 broad jump at his Pro Day, suggesting he really is an explosive athlete.

Read the rest.

On Hopkins:

The first thing you notice about Hopkins is his big-time junior-year production. Scouts get so caught up in what they think they see on film that they often forget about (or just dismiss) a guy’s stats. In a major conference, a wide receiver’s stats are the best way to predict future NFL success. Simply put, if he did it in the past against elite competition, he can do it in the future.

At 6-1, 214 pounds, Hopkins has good but not great height. He’s a very muscular wide receiver and he uses his strength to excel after the catch. He recorded a 4.51 40-yard dash at the 2013 Scouting Combine, which is outstanding for someone his size. It’s also worth noting that Hopkins has long 33 3/8-inch arms. That helps him pluck the football out of the air in tight coverage, which he does often. Hopkins has great ball skills all over the field, and he does a nice job of fighting for the ball downfield to win in jump-ball situations.

Check out the whole scouting report.

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“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.