The DC Times

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

By Jonathan Bales

The DC Times Joins NBC DFW’s Blue Star Blog

With all of the fantasy football content I’ve been pumping out lately, I haven’t posted to The DC Times as much as  I would like, and not nearly as much as I used to post in the past. That will be changing. I’ve officially joined the gang over at NBC’s Blue Star blog, and I will be publishing Cowboys content five days a week.

Actually, I’ve already published two pieces there: an article on why Anthony Spencer will record a career-high in sacks in 2012, and today’s article on why expectations for DeMarco Murray might be a bit out of hand. Click the links to read those articles. In the second entry, I wrote:

Murray averaged 5.47 yards-per-carry (YPC)—the fourth-best total for a rookie running back since 2000 (behind only Maurice Jones-Drew, Adrian Peterson, and Clinton Portis). YPC is a stat that tends to “regress toward the mean,” i.e. it evens out over time. Simply put, it isn’t reasonable to expect Murray to continually rush for 5.47 YPC (or even anything close to it).

At NBC, you will see a lot of the features from The DC Times during the season. “Grading the ‘Boys” and “DOs and DON’Ts” will likely move over to NBC, and I also plan to break down an important play from each Cowboys game. There will be a lot more game film analysis like I used to do in the past.

In addition to work at NBC and of course my current “Running the Numbers” blog at the Cowboys’ team site, I will also be working with another major publication starting next week. Simply put, I will be publishing articles multiple times a day, so there will be a huge bump in content published here. I’ll post links to any articles at other spots, and there will be more unique content here as well.

Plus, I’ve been tinkering with some new blog layouts to make navigating the site easier. I’m hardly a web designer and I realize there are some issues with the current layout. You may have even experienced one of the new layouts, depending when you’ve visited, because I’m so incompetent with this stuff that I’ve been “previewing” the new layouts by actually making them live. Oh well.

So DC Times readers, if you have ideas for the new layout, things you want to see, or even topic ideas you want to see me cover, send them in. As always, thanks for the support.

By Jonathan Bales

2012 Ultimate Fantasy Football Draft Guide

Jonathan Bales

I’m going to be posting a lot of fantasy football content at the New York Times this summer, and my first article is up today. It is manifesto for 2012, if you will. If you play fantasy football, I highly recommend you check it out here. It is about 3,500 words, and there are a lot of similarities to my book.

Rounds 2-4

Whereas first-round draft strategy is all about minimizing downside, you can begin to seek upside in the second round. Your primary concern should still be acquiring a safe player, but missing on, say, a third-round pick is a whole lot less debilitating than whiffing on your first-rounder.

  • Best Values in Rounds 2-4: Rob Gronkowski, Mike Wallace

It wasn’t long ago that I would have said never, ever draft a tight end in the second round. Nowadays, I’m promoting it. Gronkowski is the perfect example of why selecting the best player available can be very disadvantageous. Gronkowski won’t score as many points as the players selected around him, but the drop from him (and Jimmy Graham) to the second-tier tight ends is monumental. Targeting either Gronk or Graham in the middle or back of the second round is a wise move in 2012.

Everyone is scared to draft Mike Wallace, but there’s really no reason for it. Wallace isn’t going to hold out, and I’m actually projecting him to league the lead in receiving yards. Wallace will most likely improve upon his 16.6 YPC (yard per catch) from last season. If he matches his career mark of 18.7 YPC, he’ll simply need to repeat his 2011 reception total to check in among the league’s receiving leaders.

  • Worst Values in Rounds 2-4: Fred Jackson, Michael Turner, Isaac Redman, Demaryius Thomas

Jackson, Turner and Redman are all examples of owners getting antsy for a running back when they should really wait it out. Remember, the gap between elite running backs and second-tier running backs is vast. The scarcity among second- and third-tier running backs, however, isn’t nearly as great. Running backs in the third and fourth rounds, in particular, are providing horrible value. Redman’s average draft position in the fourth round, for example, is ahead of that of Miles Austin, Percy Harvin and Dwayne Bowe.

I really like some of the wide receiver value in this range, but Thomas isn’t one of those guys. Yes, he has amazing upside with Peyton Manning in town, but don’t forget this is a player with 834 yards and 6 touchdowns in two seasons.

  • The Bottom Line

In Rounds 2, 3 and 4, your goal should still be acquiring safe, consistent players, although there’s more room for error. In the second round, there isn’t much in the running back department. If you’re comfortable gambling on Adrian Peterson or Jamaal Charles, that’s your call. The quarterbacks and tight ends represent the most value, however.

The third and fourth rounds are great areas in which to select wide receivers this year. If you miss out on a running back early, you might as well wait it out. Andre Johnson is dropping into the third round in some drafts, and A.J. Green sometimes slips into the fourth. Don’t reach for Darren Sproles in the third round when you can grab Julio Jones (same average draft position) and still draft Reggie Bush in the fifth and James Starks in the seventh.

By the way, some people on Twitter have been pointing that I made a typo when I wrote “league the lead” (or so they think). It’s actually a new phrase I’ve been thinking of using, and I figured I’d give it a shot on a small publication like the New York Times. Pretty obvious, guys. Definitely, definitely not a typo.

By Jonathan Bales

Running the Numbers: How Much Do Penalties Hurt NFL Teams?

Jonathan Bales

I’ve been fascinated by the relationship between penalties and winning for a few years now, even though I haven’t necessarily written extensively on the subject in this forum. When the Cowboys signed offensive tackle Alex Barron a few years ago, I wrote an article on the negative impact of Barron’s false starts. The tackle had committed 43 false starts over the previous five seasons in St. Louis.

From that post:

Barron’s false starts were responsible for the loss of 24.4 expected points over the course of five seasons, or about five points per year.  In essence, each false start cost the Rams 1/2 expected point, which is in line with league averages.

Expected points are one thing, but how do the false starts and subsequent loss of expected points affect a team’s win total?  Well, five points over the course of a season translates to just about .12 wins.  Thus, Barron’s (and those of Adams) false starts were annoying, but not as costly to a team’s success as you might believe.

One of the things I may have overlooked in that article on Barron is what sort of style of play accompanies certain types of penalties. False starts and other mental mistakes, although often not devastating to a team in terms of lost yards, come with no benefits. Players who frequently false start likely don’t have a tremendous mental grasp in other aspects of their game, such as blocking assignments and so on.

On the other hand, penalties such as roughing the passer and defensive pass interference are the result of aggressive play. The mindset that accompanies such penalties can lead to benefits for a team, such as interceptions and sacks. Thus, although more detrimental than mental errors in a limited sense, aggressive penalties might be the inevitable result of an attacking style of play.

That’s exactly what I found in my latest Running the Numbers post at DallasCowboys.com. Check it out:

On paper, everything adds up for defensive pass interference to lead to defeat. The call itself can be incredibly disadvantageous to a defense, providing the offense with the ball at the spot of the foul, plus an automatic first down. On top of that, you’d expect poor defenses to commit more pass interference infractions because they get out of position. Lastly, bad teams tend to have their defense on the field a lot, i.e. more time to accrue penalties.

However, teams that generate a lot of pass interference calls aren’t actually more likely to lose than those that limit the penalty. Since 2006, teams that have finished in the top 10 in defensive pass interference (meaning they were flagged the least often) have won 7.9 games per season. Those in the bottom 10 have won 8.0 games per year.

You can see above that in four of the past six seasons teams that finished with the most pass interference calls won the same amount or more games than the teams with the fewest pass interference penalties.

As I tracked different types of penalties, I noticed the same trend; those that come as a result of aggressive play (such as pass interference, roughing the passer and illegal contact) aren’t correlated to losing football games. This is so astounding because these penalties are often the most harmful to a team.

I realize looking at defensive pass interference alone results in a limited sample size, but the trend extends over most “aggressive” penalties. I find this fascinating.

The results of this study suggest teams shouldn’t really do everything possible to limit penalties. Aggressive play without penalties is of course ideal, but probably not possible. Some penalties are the result of a specific style of play that, as the numbers show, leads to more benefits than disadvantages. It’s a medium risk/high reward style of play that is superior to the low risk/low reward style of play that characterized the pre-Rob Ryan Dallas Cowboys defense.

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By Jonathan Bales

Fantasy Football for Smart People Around the Web: Projections, Rookies, and More

Jonathan Bales

With the launch of Fantasy Football for Smart People, I’ve been writing a lot of content for various fantasy football sites.

There you have it. A ton of useful fantasy football information for those of you who play, and plenty more to come. Fantasy Football for Smart People is similar analysis but on a grander scale, and for those of you who play fantasy football, I’m confident the book will be helpful to you this season.

As always, thanks for the support.

By Jonathan Bales

Introducing Fantasy Football for Smart People

 

I’m literally not even kidding when I say that sh***y (shoddy?) image to the left is the best thing I could create. Despite my lack of Photoshop skills, I’m proud to introduce to you Fantasy Football for Smart People. I’ve been writing this book for the past few months and it is finally finished. I’ve set up a landing site to purchase the book for $8.99 at FantasyFootballDrafting.com. You can buy a PDF version of the book there, or you can buy it for Kindle at Amazon.

Here’s a bit more about the book:

“Fantasy Football for Smart People: How to Dominate Your Draft is an in-depth analysis of fantasy football draft strategy.  In writing the book, my goal was to provide advanced material for experienced fantasy football owners and “bottom line” analysis for novices.  You can see that in the sample chapter I posted here.  The book is not a collection of player rankings or projections for 2012, but rather an assessment of various draft strategies and fantasy football tenants.  It is my hope it will provide a solid foundation from which you can improve as an owner to dominate your draft.”

If you play fantasy football, I really think you’ll enjoy the book. This isn’t another generic fantasy football guide for beginners. I use the same sort of stats and analysis as I do here to provide an overarching fantasy football draft strategy. It is the method I use each fantasy football season, and it should be useful to you as well.

Even if you don’t play fantasy football, you might want to check out the book anyway. I’m giving away a number of prizes to those who buy the book, including season tickets to the NFL team of your choice.

Support The DC Times

Purchasing the e-book is a great way to support this site. I haven’t sold much over the years and I try not to litter the site with ads because my primary concern is simply writing about the Cowboys and NFL. The more books I sell, the more time I will have free to publish unique content here (I’m really going to do it either way, but you can still show your support). Plus, I’m confident the book is worth the nine bucks, and you can win some cool stuff.

Again, Fantasy Football for Smart People is currently an e-book. It will come to you as a PDF unless you buy it on Amazon. I will have paperbacks available for sell within a week or so. If you buy the book and enjoy it, feel free to give it a review on Amazon.

Here’s what you’ll read about in the book. . .

Table of Contents

Chapter 1: The Most In-Depth Introduction You’ll Ever Read

This is an introduction, but I dive right into complex draft strategy, explaining how position scarcity, consistency, game theory, and league requirements are the four pillars of fantasy football draft strategy.

  • How to use scarcity at a position to acquire maximum value
  • How to use your opponents’ beliefs to get the best players
  • Why predictability is more important than projected points

Chapter 2: Why Week-to-Week Consistency is (Almost) Worthless

An explanation of why weekly projections are of little value, why season-to-season consistency is invaluable, and how to implement risk

  • Why you should start a nearly identical lineup each week
  • How to create tiered rankings that implement players’ risk
  • When and how to take gambles during your draft

Chapter 3: Season-to-Season Consistency: Why It Matters and How to Use it

The strength of correlation of fantasy football statistics from one year to the next

  • How stats like rushing, receiving, and passing yards/touchdowns translate  from one season to another
  • Why defenses and kickers are almost entirely unpredictable
  • Why a quarterback or top-tier running back should be your first-round selection
  • Why tight ends are the most consistent players in fantasy football and drafting one early in 2012 might not be a poor idea
  • How to use “hidden” stats like quarterback rushing yards to gain a draft advantage

Chapter 4: Tier-ing Up: How to Create Basic Projections and Tiered Rankings

Basic projection philosophy, including how to use consistency, risk, and average draft position to create rankings

  • A basic formula to create projections
  • How to make tiers in your rankings
  • Why you should almost never take the best player available on your board (for real)
  • Why drafting near the end of a round is advantageous

Chapter 5:  More on Position Scarcity

A short chapter on scarcity and VORP draft strategy

  • Why Aaron Rodgers and Rob Gronkowski might be the perfect 1-2 combination in 2012
  • Why you can grab quality wide receivers late

Chapter 6: Identifying Value: Regression, Randomness, and Running Backs

Using stats to identify breakout players and dispel fantasy football “trusisms”

  • How to identify undervalued players
  • Why running backs with lots of carries aren’t really being overworked or overvalued
  • How to predict running backs’ yards-per-carry

Chapter 7: Getting Bullish: What the Stock Market Can Teach Us About Fantasy Football

How fantasy football is incredibly similar to the stock market (and what we can learn from the latter)

  • Why a player’s value can be different for different teams
  • How to “buy low” and “sell high” during your draft
  • How to utilize public perception
  • Why your focus shouldn’t be securing the most projected points with each pick, but rather “losing” the least

Chapter 8: The Ultimate Draft Plan: From Projections to Selections

Creating an overarching draft plan to dominate your draft

  • Specific formulas to project player stats
  • How to factor league requirements into your rankings
  • Sample breakdowns of Matt Ryan and Steve Smith
  • How to create player power ratings and turn them into the ultimate big board

Chapter 9: Don’t Mock Me: Oh, now wait. Go ahead.

Taking you through three mock drafts I completed in May

  • Notes on all 60 draft picks
  • Tips on strategy from specific draft slots

 

By Jonathan Bales

Dallas Cowboys Draft LSU Cornerback Morris Claiborne in First: Scouting Report, Highlights

Jonathan Bales

The Cowboys gave up their first and second-round selections to move up to No. 6 overall for LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne.  A couple thoughts:

  • Even though I love Morris Claiborne, losing the second-rounder is costly.  I’m indifferent right now because I really do love Claiborne.  He was No. 5 overall on my Big Board.
  • What will the Cowboys do now in the secondary?  Brandon Carr and Claiborne play outside, which means Mike Jenkins will need to move into the slot.  Could the team look to trade Jenkins?  He has some value going into the final year of his contract, and no one is going to be trading for Orlando Scandrick.  If Jenkins stays, the ‘Boys would be paying $27 million to a fourth cornerback.

Nonetheless, the Cowboys secured a play-making cornerback who has the potential to be a difference-maker on defense.  I did a scouting report on Claiborne early in the draft process, and I really studied a lot of his film.  Here’s what I had to say:

At 6-0, 185 pounds, Claiborne (#17) has pretty good size.  He could stand to add some bulk to his frame; his strength is only average.  Despite being lean, Claiborne is not afraid to stick his nose in the running game (see the 29-second mark in the first video below).  Claiborne won’t be doing a lot of sideline-to-sideline chasing, as in that clip against Cam Newton, but it shows his athleticism and willingness to tackle.

There is a difference between being willing to tackle and doing it efficiently, and Claiborne is the perfect example.  He misses a lot of tackles because of poor technique.  Although tackling form can be coached, a desire to tackle cannot.  Claiborne will improve at bringing down ball-carriers in the N.F.L.

In the passing game, Claiborne excels at using his body to wall off receivers. On deep balls, Claiborne “boxes out” receivers, all while turning his head to locate the football and avoid pass interference.  His awareness of the receiver’s location is uncanny.

One of the reasons Claiborne plays the deep ball so well is that he’s adept at flipping his hips.  The fluidity he displays from his backpedal to a turn-and-run position is outstanding.  Claiborne’s quick hips allow him to let receivers eat up his cushion before he turns to run if they go deep.  In turn, Claiborne can then squat on routes like comebacks and curls, knowing he has the quickness to recover if the receiver reaches his hip.

You can see an example of Claiborne’s deep ball technique at the 4:01 mark in the video above.  From an off position, he lets the receiver eat up his cushion before flipping his hips, running stride for stride, turning to locate the football and making the interception.  That’s an elite play.

Claiborne is versatile; he’s sharp in both press and off coverage.  He seems most comfortable at the line, however, where he can use his long arms to disrupt receivers as they try to get into their routes.  In the N.F.L., Claiborne will need to limit contact after five yards.  In college, he was physical with receivers well into their routes.  In the pros, that will be flagged, so expect Claiborne to see his fair share of penalties early in the 2012 season.

Claiborne is at his best in zone coverage.  He has a really solid understanding of zone concepts and spacing.  He is constantly coming off his receiver in zone to make plays, all while maintaining his responsibility.  You can see an example of this at the 8-second mark in the Oregon game.  Claiborne is in Cover 2 and recognizes an out-breaking route very early, coming off the receiver already in his zone to get into position for a big hit.  He does this multiple times a game, which is why he will excel in a zone-heavy defense in the pros.

Claiborne’s route recognition is the best of any cornerback I have studied thus far in the 2012 class.  You can see that during the last play in the video below.

In the clip, Claiborne appears to be in either Cover 2 or Cover 2 man under (both of which give him safety help over the top).  A lot of cornerbacks would play over top of the receiver in that situation, but Claiborne knows he has deep help, so he squats on the route.  Claiborne’s intelligence, grasp of defensive schemes and route recognition translate to a pick-six.

At this point, his biggest weakness is his coverage of in-breaking routes (like slants, digs and so on).  On these routes, he often finds himself on his heels, incapable of breaking quickly on the ball.  Note that on almost all such routes, Claiborne would only follow the receiver in man coverage.  Again, he has a chance to excel for a team that plays primarily zone.

The Cowboys play more man coverage than most teams, and that isn’t Claiborne’s strength.  That’s not to say he’s poor, because he’s the top overall cornerback in this class.  He simply is dominant in zone, but he has the hips to play any scheme.  His long frame will come in handy at the line in press coverage, and like I said above, he doesn’t get beat deep.  Along with Carr, the ‘Boys suddenly because dominant at cornerback.

More to come in a bit.

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By Jonathan Bales

Introducing “Running the Numbers” at DallasCowboys.com

Jonathan Bales

I told you yesterday I had some big news coming.  Starting today, I will be doing a blog at DallasCowboys.com called “Running the Numbers.”  My first post is an analysis of historic draft data, both from a Cowboys and league-wide perspective, on the five positions I deem most suitable for the ‘Boys tonight and tomorrow.  Click here to read the full analysis.

The conclusion of that study is that that two specific positions are undervalued in the draft, and they happen to be two spots the Cowboys could go with either of their first two selections.  I think the analysis provides some insights on which prospects the Cowboys might be targeting most heavily tonight.

As far as The DC Times goes, I will continue to post here regularly.  I will post to my “Running the Numbers” blog about twice a week to start, so continue to check both there and here.

I am headed off to Radio City Music Hall for the big night.  Don’t forget to check the Twitter account periodically for any updates.

By Jonathan Bales

Using 40-Yard Dash to Predict Cornerback Performance in NFL

Jonathan Bales

The 40-yard dash can often make or break a player’s draft stock, but is the relationship between timed long speed and perceived value warranted?  Although I think 40-yard dash times are largely overrated, I’ve often commented on the importance of the measurable for cornerbacks.  Cornerbacks need to allow receivers to reach their hip, “sitting” on underneath routes and utilizing superior speed to catch up should the receiver run vertically.  For this reason, I believe long speed is more important for cornerbacks than any other position in football.

I spent yesterday charting cornerback 40-yard dash times from 2001-2010.  Only cornerbacks who ran at the Combine were considered, as I wanted to obtain as close to standardization as possible.  I excluded rookies from this past season to eliminate some of the variance in career value which could result from a small sample size of games.

But how do we go about measuring individual value?  There are a number of ways to determine a player’s worth, none of which are without their weaknesses.  I chose Pro Football Reference’s weighted career approximate value.  You can head there for the details of the AV formula, but games played, games started, sacks, interceptions, touchdowns and All Pro honors are all part of the equation.  To balance peak production versus raw totals, weighted AV counts 100% of a player’s top season, 95% of his second-best season, and so on.

Below, you can see a comparison between weighted career AV and Combine 40-yard dash times.  All times courtesy of NFLCombineResults.com.

As expected, there is a pretty strong correlation between 40-yard dash time and AV-per-season.  The most noteworthy points of the graph come at the areas marked with stars, where there appears to be a fairly significant drop in NFL production.  These declines come at the 4.40 and 4.55 marks.

Thus, it appears there are baseline speeds at which NFL players will experience much greater success if surpassed.  The numbers seem to coincide with common sense, too.  Sub-4.40 players possess elite speed which has exponential value.  In all practical terms, the .05-second gap between a 4.34 and 4.39 is not nearly as important as that between 4.39 and 4.44.  There are a multitude of players who run mid-4.4s, but few in the mid-4.3s.  If a cornerback’s 4.35 speed is enough to shut down a receiver, does a jump to 4.30 speed matter?  Of course more speed is always a good thing, but long speed variances in certain ranges appear to be more valuable than others, at least at the cornerback position.

The drop at the 4.56+ range may not look dramatic, but the decrease in AV percentage is pretty substantial.  As a reference point, career AV drops about the same percentage at that point as at sub-4.40 to 4.40-4.41.  Here are a few other interesting notes:

  • The weighted career AV-per-season for players who ran 4.36 to 4.39 is 2.40, compared to 2.04 for sub-4.35 cornerbacks.  Thus, 4.39 speed seems to be elite and a jump to the low 4.3s may not be extremely valuable.
  • The weighted career AV-per-season for cornerbacks in the 4.4 to 4.5 range is 1.37, just a bit less than the 1.50 for cornerbacks in the 4.40 to 4.45 range.  The drop from 4.49 to the low 4.4s is likely comparable to that from 4.39 to the low 4.3s.
  • Of the 52 cornerbacks who have run a sub-4.4 from 2001 to 2010, 20 (38.5%) have a career weighted AV-per-season of 2.5 or more.  The mean is 2.24.
  • Of the 72 cornerbacks who have run 4.55 or greater from 2001 to 2010, just five (6.9%) have a career weighted AV-per-season of 2.5 or more.  The mean is 0.58.  Notable exceptions include Anthony Henry, Renaldo Hill and Terrence McGee.

Of course, using AV as a barometer for NFL success is by no means a flawless practice.  The largest weakness with the method is that higher picks, who naturally see more playing time earlier in their careers, tend to be faster.  The average draft round for cornerbacks who ran under 4.40 is 3.12.  That number jumps to 4.94 for those who ran above 4.55.

To compensate for this, I plotted the AV of cornerbacks based on the round in which they were drafted.  Note that I charted cornerbacks by how they ranked in their draft class in terms of their 40-yard dash as opposed to their actual time.  This is to compensate for overall speed improvement over the last decade.  In 2001, for example, the fastest time was 4.44 and only four cornerbacks checked in below 4.50.  In 2010, four corners registered times under 4.44 (the fastest being 4.32) and 15 were under 4.50.

You can see above that, for the first two rounds, faster is better.  The correlation between speed and AV is strongest here, with 12 first-round cornerbacks with a career AV-per-season of 2+ running a sub-4.40, and only two running 4.50 or greater.  One of those two cornerbacks is Malcolm Jenkins, whose success in the NFL has come at safety.  The other is Joe Haden, whose sample size of games isn’t staggering.

Also note that this first-round relationship between speed and success is not due to the highest picks in the round being fastest.  Of the seven cornerbacks selected in the top 10 from 2001 to 2010, the average 40-yard dash time is 4.43.  That number actually drops to 4.41 for cornerbacks selected between 11th and 32nd overall.

The same positive correlation between speed and NFL success runs into the second round.  Of the second-round cornerbacks who have registered a career AV-per-season of 2+, seven ran under 4.40 and only three above 4.50, despite there being 11 total second-round cornerbacks under 4.40 and nine above 4.50.

Interestingly, the relationship we see between first and second-round cornerbacks’ timed Combine speed and their career value seems to flip once we reach the third and fourth rounds.  There, slower cornerbacks have historically outperformed faster ones.  As you can see below, this relationship extends to every round thereafter.

Since 2001, only two cornerbacks selected in rounds 3-7 have run a sub-4.40 and registered a career AV-per-season above 2.0.  Compare that to 12 who have run 4.50+ and found the same amount of success.  Considering the rate at which each category of cornerbacks is drafted in that range, we’d expect the number of “successful” mid-to-late round cornerbacks with elite speed to be about triple the current number.

But how could slower cornerbacks play better than faster ones?  My guess is that, in the middle and late rounds when teams are seeking to maximize upside, they gamble on fast cornerbacks, knowing the correlation between speed and success at the position is a strong one.

The targeting of cornerbacks with elite speed might come at the expense of those with moderate speed who are simply superior football players.  Players like Ellis Hobbs (third round, 4.45) and Asante Samuel (fourth round, 4.49) drop in favor of faster cornerbacks in the mold of Stanley Wilson (4.36), Marcus McCauley (4.39), Joseph Jefferson (4.39), Karl Paymah (4.35), Jonathan Wade (4.35), Scott Starks (4.35). . .and the list goes on.

Of course, no NFL team is going to (or should) bypass a faster player for a slower one based on that fact alone.  But perhaps an emphasis on moderately-fast cornerbacks who can play football and aren’t simply track stars might be a good start.  Here are a few other general rules for cornerback drafting:

1. In the early rounds when all prospects are pretty much immediate starters, emphasize speed.

There is no doubt that NFL cornerbacks with elite speed (sub-4.40) outperform those with moderate speed, and it is rare that a “slow” cornerback finds a lot of success in the big leagues.  The career AV-per-season for cornerbacks who run 4.55+ is 0.59.  Players like Joe Haden are few and far between, but Jonathan Joseph, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Chris Houston-esque players are prevalent.  At a time when you can have a great football player and one with elite speed, don’t bypass either trait.

2. In the later rounds, find football players with high upside, not athletes who run fast and happen to play football.

There’s no doubt faster is better for cornerbacks, but don’t overlook a potentially great football player who runs a 4.45 for a sprinter who clocks in at 4.35.

3. Know the “tipping points.”

4.32 is outstanding, but it isn’t significantly more valuable than 4.38.  4.38, on the other hand, has a lot more potential value than 4.44.

4.  Don’t draft cornerbacks who run over 4.55.

There are always exceptions, but very few players can overcome being “slow” at cornerback.  Blazing speed is valuable and good speed is adequate, but being in the bottom 30% of your draft class in 40 times is basically a death sentence for corners.

5. Undrafted cornerbacks almost never pan out (even more so than other positions).

While you can find undrafted gems in the NFL, doing so at the cornerback position is almost impossible.  Of the 70 undrafted cornerbacks who went to the Combine from 2001 to 2010, 57 registered a career AV-per-season of zero.  Only one (Jabari Greer) checked in above 1.25.

As a comparison, there have been 25 cornerbacks drafted since 2001 who have tallied a career AV-per-season of 4+.  11 of those have run sub-4.40 40-yard dashes, and only four have checked in above 4.50.  Two of those four (Antrel Rolle and Malcolm Jenkins) moved to safety to do it.

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By Jonathan Bales

Backing Up My Offensive Tackle Rankings

Jonathan Bales

A few days ago, I published my list of the NFL’s top 20 NFL tackles, and I knew there would be some backlash.  The best of it (or worst of it?) has come from ESPN, who posted a link to my article here.  Check it out to glimpse some of the fine reader comments, which include:

“this guy isnt qualified enough that we acknowledge his list”

“2 questions…1) who is this Jonathan Bales fellow and 2) Can I have his job, because he is obviously under-qualified to be voicing his opinions on these matters”

“That list was crap”

“Who is Jonathan Bales to rank any position in the NFL anywaz??”

“Bales doesn’t seem to have a clue……..”

“Jordan Gross is more like top 10, does Jonathan Bale needs to get his facts straight.”

“And this is why no one has ever heard of Jonathan Bales or the DC Times.”

And my personal favorite:

“I guess Jonathan Bales from the DC Times needs to learn about football before writing a $@%!$@% peice like this.”

It is this kind of support that keeps me writing each day.

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On the left tackle/right tackle distinction

Aside from the fact that my list was a total peice of $@%!$@%, I wanted to explain in greater detail why I formulated the rankings I did.

I think the distinction between left tackle and right tackle is highly overrated.  Yes, there are differences.  Left tackle is a slightly harder position to play because the defense’s best rusher is often lined up on that side.

But the idea that left tackle is monumentally more challenging than the right side is absurd.  The alignment of most defenses depends on the offense’s strength, and no team is calling “right-handed” formations 80% of the time.  The left tackle will see the opponent’s most dominant pass-rusher perhaps 60% of snaps.

It’s kind of like saying right tackle is tremendously more important than left tackle in the running game (which is still a prevailing thought), but teams simply don’t run to one side of the field dramatically more than the other because it would be detrimental to their production.  Playing left tackle is more difficult than right tackle, but only slightly.

Let’s do some math.  The top offensive tackle in the league in terms of pressure rate was Tennessee right tackle David Stewart, who allowed pressure on only 0.86% of snaps.  Even if we assume 80% of the pressures Stewart yields are from the 40% of snaps he faces the opponent’s top pass-rusher (which is likely a severe overestimation), his pressure rate would rise only to 1.15% if he played left tackle.  That still would be the best rate in the NFL.  Note that I’m disregarding Stewart’s skill set or ability to actually play there, but simply making the mathematical comparison in order to see the jump in pressure rate.

So why do NFL teams pay left tackles the big bucks? I think the primary reason is that left tackles (usually) protect the quarterback’s blind side.  If you have $50 million invested in a quarterback, you better protect his butt.  But there is a difference in the importance of a position and the difficulty in playing it.  Left tackle is more important than right tackle because the position is responsible for keeping the quarterback from getting blind-sided.  But it is not unbelievably more challenging to play than the right side.

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On the absence of Jordan Gross and Donald Penn

Since my article was posted in ESPN’s NFC South blog, a lot of the readers wondered how in the hell I could leave Carolina’s Jordan Gross and Tampa’s Donald Penn off of my list.

First, the rankings were for 2011 play alone.  Gross in particular is a heck of a player who I would love to have in Dallas, but he didn’t play as effectively in 2011 as he did in prior seasons.  Gross’ pressure rate hopped from 1.47% in 2010 (stellar) to 3.02% this past year.  That puts him in Marc Colombo territory.

Nonetheless, Gross is a great player who would certainly make my list of the NFL’s top 20 offensive tackles–if the rankings were not for last season alone.  Actually, he’d be near the top five.

Penn probably wouldn’t make any list of mine, however.  I don’t put much weight into sacks allowed, but the nine Penn yielded in 2011 was pretty bad.  His pressure rate correlated nicely with this total at 2.68%.  In 2010 it was 3.57%.  In 2009 it was 3.14%.  Those numbers put him in the bottom half of the league of offensive linemen, year in and year out.  Penn has been very overrated in pass protection for awhile.  He’s stout in the running game and he’s good enough to start, but he’s not a top 20 NFL tackle.

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By Jonathan Bales

Introducing “Scouting the Draft” Series at New York Times

Jonathan Bales

Each year, I analyze 50+ prospects in fairly great detail in my “Potential Draft Picks” series.  In 2012, I will be taking my analysis to the New York Times’ football blog “The Fifth Down.”  The scouting reports there will not be Cowboys-specific, but I will supplement each post with extra information here.

The first post is up today, and it is on Penn State DT/DE Devon Still.  Click here to check it out.

Devon Still: A Good Fit in Dallas?

Prior to scouting Still, I didn’t know too much about him.  Actually, had you told me the Cowboys would select him in the first round, I would have thought it would be a reach.  Not anymore.  Although he needs to become more consistent, I think Still plays like a top 5 pick at times.  I have already completed a scouting report for LSU defensive tackle Michael Brockers (which will be posted tomorrow), and I will tell you right now I much prefer Still.

Still would be an amazing fit as a five-technique end in Dallas.  At this point, he and Stanford guard David DeCosta are perhaps my two favorite prospects.

Again, head on over to the Times to check out my analysis of Devon Still, and feel free to leave comments either here or there.

Dallas Cowboys Potential 2012 Draft Picks

Courtney Upshaw, DE/OLB, Alabama

David DeCastro, G, Stanford

Melvin Ingram, DE/OLB, South Carolina

Quinton Coples, DE, UNC

Janoris Jenkins, CB, Florida/North Alabama

Mark Barron, SS, Alabama