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Rankings | 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: Top 5 at Each Defensive Position

At NBC, I continued my draft rankings with the top five players at each defensive position.

Yesterday, I posted my top five players at each offensive position. Today, I’ll turn my attention to the defensive side of the ball.

DE

Dion Jordan, Oregon

Ezekiel Ansah, BYU

Cornellius Carradine, Florida State

Barkevious Mingo, LSU

Bjoern Werner, Florida State

Analysis: Jordan and Ansah are the top two overall players on my board. Carradine might be in that spot had he not suffered a knee injury in 2012.

DT

Star Lotulelei, Utah

Sheldon Richardson, Missouri

Sharrif Floyd, Florida

Kawann Short, Purdue

Datone Jones, UCLA

Analysis: Most people have Floyd at the top of their defensive tackle rankings, but I don’t think he has the upside that most others see. The value on a player like Short in the second round could be much better.

Check out the rest of the rankings.

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2013 NFL Draft Rankings: Top 5 at Each Offensive Position

At NBC, I posted my top five players at each position on offense.

I’ve been breaking down prospects every day since the end of January. Of the top 75 players on my board, I’ve now posted an in-depth scouting report on 60 of them. With the draft now just two weeks away, though, it’s time to step back and look at the big picture. Here are my top five players at each position.

QB

1 Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia
2 E.J. Manuel, QB, Florida State
3 Matt Barkley, QB, USC
4 Matt Scott, QB, Arizona
5 Landry Jones, QB, Oklahoma

Analysis: Ryan Nassib, Mike Glennon, Tyler Wilson are all out of my top five. Smith and Manuel are a big step ahead of the rest of the class, in my view. Manuel has the potential to start as soon as 2013.

RB

1 Johnathan Franklin, RB, UCLA
2 Christine Michael, RB, Texas A&M
3 Zac Stacy, RB, Vanderbilt
4 Eddie Lacy, RB, Alabama
5 Giovani Bernard, RB, UNC

Analysis: To show you how much the importance of running backs has decreased, consider that I have Franklin—a running back I love—ranked 41st on my board. I have Michael and Stacy rated higher than just about anyone. Take a look at Stacy and his closest comp:

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

That “Player X” is Doug Martin.

WR

1 DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Clemson
2 Tavon Austin, WR, West Virginia
3 Keenan Allen, WR, Cal
4 Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Tennessee
5 Da’Rick Rodgers, WR, Tennessee Tech

Analysis: I’m very close to ranking both Rodgers and Baylor’s Terrance Williams ahead of Patterson, knocking him out of my top five. The best predictor of future success is past success, and Patterson’s 778 receiving yards in 2012 scare me. Hopkins is now ranked in my top 15 overall. I’m confident that he’ll end up being the most productive player in this class.

See who I have rated in the top five at tight end and on the offensive line.

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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.

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2013 NFL Draft Big Board: Top 70 Prospects

At Dallas News, I posted my top 70 prospects in the 2013 NFL Draft.

Heading into the 2013 NFL Draft, you’ll see a number of varying opinions for each and every prospect. As I’ve mentioned before, the consensus of expert opinions is typically more accurate than the majority of individual opinions considered in isolation. That idea is the backbone of my aggregate draft board.

Like any analyst, I have views that differ from the consensus. Below, I’ve pasted my personal rankings for the draft’s top 70 players. It’s really a manifestation of everything I’ve been discussing in my scouting reports, and it will undoubtedly change (hopefully not too much) as I analyze more prospects in greater detail.

Note that you can click on highlighted names to take you to my scouting reports on those players. Prospects with the *** symbol are guys I like more than the typical analyst, while those with the ^^^ symbol are players I feel are being overvalued.

  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. Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama
  8. Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah
  9. Corenellius Carradine, DE, Florida State***
  10. Xavier Rhodes, CB, Florida State
  11. Desmond Trufant, CB, Washington***
  12. Barkevious Mingo, DE, LSU
  13. Sheldon Richardson, DT, Missouri
  14. Bjoern Werner, DE, Florida State
  15. Eric Fisher, OT, Central Michigan^^^

Check out the other 55 at Dallas News.

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2013 NFL Draft Big Board: My Top 65

I posted my big board for the first time today at Dallas Morning News. I’ve studied everyone on the list, most in pretty good detail, but I’ll admit I have some fringe players still left to consider. The rankings will change by the end of April, but I don’t anticipate anything major.

Here are the top 25:

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

Head over to DMN for the whole big board.

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Cowboys Links: 2012 Disappointments and a Grade for DeMarco Murray

My latest ‘Running the Numbers’ entry is a look at what went wrong in 2012.

They say a football team is only as good as its weakest link, but it doesn’t take much effort to dispel that notion. All other things being equal, you’d certainly rather have your weakest player at, say, offensive guard than at quarterback. In this way, certain positions are more vital to team success and, yes, some players are simply more important than others. There’s a reason you hear “The Cowboys will go as far as Tony Romo takes them” and not “The Cowboys will go as far as Mackenzy Bernadeau takes them.”

Prior to the 2012 season, I published a list of the Cowboys’ top five most crucial players, excluding Romo (who’s clearly the most essential piece to the puzzle each season). If you want to understand what went wrong for Dallas this year, look no further than the play of these five players.

5. Miles Austin

Preseason Analysis

Bryant will be the Cowboys’ top receiver this year, but Austin could be a tad bit more important. In my article on the team’s slot receiver position, I noted that Austin has played 15.5, 32.4, and 44.0 percent of his pass snaps in the slot over the past three seasons, respectively. Almost two-thirds of his 2011 targets came when he lined up inside. Austin’s versatility makes him more valuable than your average wide receiver.

2012 Review

This year, Austin actually played 69.4 percent of his pass snaps in the slot, but unlike past years, he simply wasn’t that effective. Despite all the time in the slot, fewer than half of Austin’s targets came there; he was actually targeted at nearly twice the rate when he lined up outside. That’s perhaps one reason the receiver posted only 4.6 yards after the catch per reception, the lowest of his career.

Check out the other critical players who underachieved this season.

At NBC, I posted a list of the Cowboys’ biggest potential disappointments next season.

3. Jason Hatcher

Hatcher had a breakout 2012 season, sacking the quarterback four times but pressuring him at a rate that would typically lead to seven sacks. Hatcher actually totaled more pressures than Anthony Spencer. The problem is that Hatcher will be 31 when the season begins, and interior defensive linemen tend to break down faster than any other position. Plus, Hatcher’s fit in Monte Kiffin’s 4-3 defense is a question.

See the rest of the list.

And at Dallas News, I posted my 2012 grade for DeMarco Murray.

Previously Graded: Miles Austin, Bruce Carter, Morris Claiborne, Mackenzy BernadeauTyron Smith,Doug FreeJermey Parnell

In the preseason, I published a few articles suggesting running back DeMarco Murray might not live up to the expectations of many Cowboys fans in 2012. That had more to do with Murray’s expected workload and efficiency than anything else—two aspects of his play that we saw decrease from his rookie year. Throw in Murray’s injury issues and you have the makings of a sub-par season for the second-year back.

The Numbers

Let’s start with the basics: Murray ran for 663 yards on 161 attempts (4.12 YPC), caught 35 passes for 251 yards, and scored two total touchdowns. In terms of pure bulk stats, Murray underachieved in a major way in 2012.

Of course, Murray played only 482 total snaps in 10 games due to injury. And when Murray was on the field, he wasn’t the same “workhorse” we saw as a rookie. Due primarily to game situations, Murray touched the ball on only 40.7 percent of his snaps—a rate that was way down from his 51.0 percent touch rate as a rookie. Thus, much of Murray’s poor bulk stats can be explained by simply not getting the ball—something that’s obviously out of his control.

See the analysis and grade at DMN.

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Top 3 Disappointing Players for Dallas in 2012

At NBC, I listed my top three disappointments for the Cowboys this season.

3. WR Miles Austin

It’s not as if Austin was one of the three worst players for Dallas in 2012, but rather that he was again unable to capitalize on what we all know is massive potential. Austin certainly overachieved in his breakout 2009 season, but he’s still a 6’2’’, 220-pound wide receiver with elite speed and run-after-catch ability. With defenses focusing on Dez Bryant for much of the season, though, Austin was never able to break out. He hauled in only 57.4 percent of his targets and averaged only 4.6 YAC-per-reception—the lowest mark of his career.

Check out the rest of the list at NBC.

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3 Players Who Will Break Out for Dallas in 2013

At NBC, I predicted three breakout players for 2013.

3. TE James Hanna

In a preseason article on Jason Witten’s reign, I wrote “As a receiver, 900 yards and five touchdowns is a reasonable expectation (in 2012), assuming he doesn’t experience any setbacks with his lacerated spleen. In 2013 and beyond, however, Witten’s fall might be a swift one.” I based that idea on historic tight end receiving totals. While I don’t think Witten will be phased out of the offense by any means, I do think Hanna showed enough to be incorporated more often in 2013. He was efficient as both a receiver and blocker in limited action, catching all eight of the on-target passes his way.

See the other two here.

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Top 3 Breakout Players for Cowboys in 2012

 

At NBC, I listed my top three breakout players for the Cowboys this season.

2. ILB Bruce Carter

Carter is a player we all knew had massive potential, but I really didn’t foresee the type of dominance he displayed in 2012. Carter registered a tackle on 11.2 percent of snaps—right in the same range as 49ers inside linebacker Patrick Willis. Outside of his final game of the season in which he surrendered a long touchdown, Carter allowed only 5.79 YPA and one touchdown all year in coverage. Paired with Sean Lee, the Cowboys have one of the premiere inside linebacker duos in the NFL.

1. WR Dez Bryant

Bryant’s place at the top of this list is really a no-brainer. In the preseason, I projected Bryant at 1,224 yards and 11 touchdowns. He surpassed even those lofty numbers, recording 1,382 yards and 12 touchdowns for Dallas. If the Cowboys continue to use Bryant downfield as they did in the second half of the season, he’s going to again post career-highs in yards and touchdowns in 2013.

Check out the rest at NBC.

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Articles: Cowboys’ 5 Worst Cap Values, Grade for Morris Claiborne

My latest Running the Numbers piece is a look at the team’s worst cap-based values.

5. Brandon Carr: $14.3 million ($16.3 million)

Let me start by saying that Carr is an outstanding cornerback and in no way would the Cowboys even remotely consider letting him go. Carr allowed 7.4 YPA and came up with some major interceptions in his inaugural season in Dallas. My point is that salaries can sometimes be oddly-structured, and Carr’s $16.3 million cap charge in 2013 is a hefty sum. The next-highest cap charge for an individual season in Carr’s contract is only $11.1 million in 2016. Carr is worth the overall value of his deal, but he’ll need an All-Pro year to truly be worthy of his $14.3 million base salary in 2013.

Cut or Keep: Keep

4. Mackenzy Bernadeau: $1.8 million ($2.5 million)

I charged Bernadeau with allowing six sacks this year and I provided him with the worst pass protection grade (by far) in my 2012 offensive line review. Although the overall value of his four-year contract is only the 14th-highest in Dallas, I graded Bernadeau so low that he might not even be worth the roster spot.

Cut or Keep: Cut

3. Miles Austin: $6.7 million ($3.6 million now, $6.8 million after June 1)

Take a look at Austin’s yards-after-catch per reception over the past four seasons: 7.3, 6.3, 4.7, and 4.6. While some of the decline can be attributed to regression toward the mean (we’d never expect Austin to continue to average 7.3 YAC per reception, so some decrease is inevitable), it’s also clear that the receiver has lost a little something.

The Cowboys could potentially money by releasing Austin early in the offseason because his cap charge will rise after June 1, meaning his spot on the team in 2013 is far from a sure thing. Nonetheless, I think you’ll see him in Dallas next year simply because he’s still a really talented wide receiver. Players who stand 6’2’’, 220 pounds, run sub-4.5, and have 1,300-yard, double-digit touchdown seasons under their belts don’t grow on trees. The Cowboys will likely try to renegotiate with Austin, using the potential cap space they could retrieve if they release him early as leverage in their talks.

Check out the other two at DallasCowboys.com.

Earlier this week, I posted the team’s best values. That included Morris Claiborne, who I graded today at Dallas Morning News.

The Numbers

In the preseason, I made five bold defensive predictions for the Cowboys in 2012, one of which was that Claiborne should fall in the range of four interceptions and 60 tackles in his rookie campaign. The cornerback picked off only one pass, which is low for a top 10 cornerback, but he also registered 55 tackles.

The truth is that Claiborne’s bulk stats, including his interception total, weren’t as high as many anticipated because opposing quarterbacks didn’t target the rookie all that much. Claiborne was targeted only 69 times in 909 snaps this year; in comparison, Brandon Carr was thrown at 87 times in 1,043 snaps—a much higher rate than Claiborne.

When Claiborne was targeted, though, he lost on a regular basis. The rookie allowed a 69.6 percent completion rate and 8.28 YPA—about average for a starting cornerback. Claiborne also gave up a 107.8 passer rating, due mostly to his poor 1:4 interception-to-touchdown ratio.

Check out the final grade at DMN.