The DC Times

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

By Jonathan Bales

Cowboys Notes: Taylor Mays Interest Grows, Jerry Jones Apologizes

We have made our feelings on Mays quite clear: one heck of an athlete, but an overrated football player.  You can read our scouting report on Mays right here.

  • Jerry Jones talked about the now infamous “Bill Parcells/Tim Tebow video.”




There really isn’t much left to say about this.  He screwed up–now let’s move on.

This doesn’t surprise us at all.  Free’s athleticism and quick feet could translate well to the left side of the line.  Still, we have some doubts about his overall skill set.

It is a great year to draft a returner.  Dexter McCluster, Jordan Shipley, Javier Arenas, Akwasi Owusu-Ansah, Mardy Gilyard, and others will be on the Cowboys’ radar.

By Jonathan Bales

“Dallas Day” Could Preview Some Future Cowboys

Prior to the draft, teams are allowed to hold tryouts for any players who grew up within 50 miles of the city where the team resides.  As we all know, North Texas is a bit of a high school football goldmine.

The Cowboys version of these tryouts, “Dallas Day,” is today.  We mention this because a few recent Cowboys’ draft picks have attended the workouts, including Patrick Crayton, Jacques Reeves, Brandon Williams, and Stephen Hodge.

Per ESPN, this year invites were extended to wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders (SMU), running back Shawnbrey McNeal (SMU), linebacker Chase Kennemer (SMU), defensive back Bryan McCann (SMU), safety Jordan Pugh (Texas A&M), center J.D. Walton (Baylor), cornerback Brian Jackson (DeSot0), defensive tackle DeMarcus Granger (Oklahoma) and Adron Tennell (Oklahoma).

There is a decent possibility that one of those names is one you’ll see listed on the Cowboys’ 2010 roster.  We think Sanders and Walton in particular have excellent shots to be drafted by Dallas.

By Jonathan Bales

2010 NFL Draft Format: How Will It Affect the Cowboys?

If you have not yet heard, the NFL has changed the format for the 2010 NFL Draft.  Gone are the days when you could wake up on Saturday morning and nearly immediately check out the picks.

Instead, the Draft will take place over three days with the first on a Thursday night (April 22).  The first round will take place then, the next two on Friday, and the last four on Saturday.

Dallas might move out of the first round if they want a player like Georgia Tech FS Morgan Burnett.

As you might expect, this significantly alters teams’ draft preparations.  At the conclusion of the first round, all 32 teams will have an entire night to re-examine their draft boards.  In effect, it will be like an entirely new draft.

The team with the initial selection in the second round, the St. Louis Rams, holds the advantage of being able to shop that selection all night.  The same holds true for a handful of teams who select just after the onset of that round.

Thus, expect more trades–a lot more trades.

As is the case in multiple aspects of football, adaptability will be the key to success.  Which teams will analyze their boards and effectively re-examine their goals, and which will fail to use the extra time wisely?

For the Cowboys, the new format should equate to a lot of draft day movement, perhaps even more than usual.  With a late second-rounder and hours to discuss trade scenarios with teams, the likelihood of the Cowboys moving up in the round is greatly increased.

Another trade scenario that becomes more probable is Dallas moving out of the first round altogether. This would surely upset fans, but it might be a smart move.  Sliding back from the 27th overall pick to, say, the 35th would land the team approximately a late-third round selection, according to the NFL Draft Value Chart.

That early second-rounder could come in handy during the 16 or so hours between rounds one and two.  Perhaps the Cowboys could utilize all that time to find a team desperate to move up, maybe for a player like Florida’s Tim Tebow or Texas QB Colt McCoy.  If not, they may still be able to score the player they wanted at pick #35 while also acquiring an extra third round selection.

Dallas could also implement their newly-acquired third round selection to move up from pick #59 to around #46.

Would you rather have the 27th and 59th overall selections or the 35th and 46th?  The answer to that question is debatable, but the 35th selection allows the Cowboys time to re-evaluate their board overnight and adjust accordingly.  If they believe they can still land the player they covet most after a move from the first round to the second, then the deal make sense.

What are your thoughts on the new draft format?  Will it make for more excitement?  Will there be more trades?

By Jonathan Bales

Do Cowboys Have Use For Dexter McCluster?

We hear it all the time when discussing Ole Miss athlete Dexter McCluster.

“He’s too slow.”

“He’s too small.”

“The Cowboys already have three running backs.”

The first two complaints are legitimate concerns which NFL teams will have to factor into their grade for McCluster (although he proved his speed at his Pro Day and football is quickly becoming a ‘small man’s game’).

Raiders returner Gary Russell's got a belly only a mother could love.

However, the last criticism (and that which we hear most often from fans) is unjustified. Yes, McCluster can play running back and Dallas is loaded at the position.

Contrary to popular opinion, we don’t think the Cowboys should trade or release any of their backs. So how would there possibly be room for McCluster? Because any return man as potentially devastating to the opposition as McCluster can and should make the roster regardless of their position.

Would you like your return man to play a position where he can have a huge impact? Sure. Last time we checked, though, there aren’t too many left tackles returning kickoffs (now wait…does Raiders returner Gary Russell count?).

Further, McCluster can have a huge impact at positions other than running back. Remember, he is a tremendous slot receiver with the potential to take the ball to the house every time he touches it. The NFL is evolving in such a way that these smaller, quicker players are becoming in vogue. McCluster is nearly the same weight of DeSean Jackson when he was drafted.

In a way, McCluster’s offensive prowess is a bonus for the Cowboys. The team was so unsatisfied with Patrick Crayton’s return ability last year that they signed return specialist Allen Rossum at one point. Rossum of course got injured on his first touch, but the point is that any player who figures to contribute on offense or defense will instantly be providing more than Dallas had planned for Rossum.

Who would you rather have on your team: an aging return specialist or a dynamic athlete will sensational return ability who can play the slot, run specialty plays (Wildcat, end-arounds), and even handle a few carries a game?

We agree.

By Jonathan Bales

Cory Procter to Remain a Cowboy

Cory Procter is a perfect example of the importance of versatility in the NFL.

Good news for the band Free Reign, bad news for Dallas fans everywhere: Cory Procter will remain in Dallas in 2010. Procter signed his free agent tender (a second round tender), meaning he will make $1.809 million this season.

Might this affect the Cowboys’ draft strategy? It is widely believed the team is interested in Idaho guard Mike Iupati. We believe Florida guard/center Maurkice Pouncey would be a better fit, and he even won our Cowboys Draft Pick Tournament.

Nonetheless, if the Cowboys plan to retain Procter in 2010, they may look to secure an impact player at a position other than in the interior line. Procter’s versatility to play both guard and center is undoubtedly what has kept him in Dallas. Now, the team may believe they are free to concentrate more heavily on upgrading the offensive tackle position.

With the top-tier tackles projected to be gone by the Cowboys’ 27th selection, though, Dallas may have their eyes set on another position in the first round–perhaps free safety. That would make UMass guard/tackle Vladimir Ducasse a very interesting prospect for the Cowboys in the second round.

By Jonathan Bales

O.J. Atogwe Perhaps Not an Option for Dallas

Rams’ GM Bill Devaney recently stated that St. Louis is trying to sign free safety O.J. Atogwe to a long-term deal. This might upset some Dallas fans, as there were rumors of Atogwe possibly signing with the Cowboys after the April draft.

We viewed Atogwe, who has picked off 15 passes over the last three seasons, to be a more realistic option to replace Ken Hamlin in 2009 than a rookie free safety. We discussed this possibility in a recent Mailbag.

The Rams have until June 1 before Atogwe becomes an unrestricted free agent. Other teams actually have the opportunity to sign Atogwe to an offer sheet now, but St. Louis has the right to match any offer up until that June 1 deadline.

If the Rams do sign Atogwe to a long-term deal in the near future, perhaps the Cowboys will place a higher priority on finding their free safety of the future in the draft (assuming they don’t think that player is already on the squad).

By Jonathan Bales

Dallas Cowboys 2010 Draft: The Worst Case Scenario

For the sake of argument (and because we still have a month until the draft), we wanted to take a look at a “nightmare” draft for the Dallas Cowboys–the worst possible combination of 26 players taken before their selection. This could provide us with a clearer understanding of what sort of player the Cowboys could secure should everything go haywire.

Players sure to be gone

Talented players like RB C.J. Spiller will push more likely Cowboys' selections down the board.

Sam Bradford, QB, Oklahoma

Ndamukong Suh, DT, Nebraska

Gerald McCoy, DT, Oklahoma

Russell Okung, OT, Oklahoma State

Jimmy Clausen, QB, Notre Dame

C.J. Spiller, RB, Clemson

Eric Berry, S, Tennessee

Joe Haden, CB, Florida

Bryan Bulaga, OT, Iowa

Jason Pierre- Paul, DE, USF

Dan Williams, DT, Tennessee

Sean Weatherspoon, LB, Missouri

Cowboys’ options that could be gone (each player given a 1-10 chance of being available)

Earl Thomas, S, Texas (2)

Kyle Wilson, CB, Boise State (4)

Nate Allen is a sort of "worst case scenario" for Dallas, but what if even he is gone?

Dez Bryant, WR, Oklahoma State (3)

Anthony Davis, OT, Rutgers (3)

Bruce Campbell, OT, Maryland (6)

Charles Brown, OT, USC (5)

Mike Iupati, G, Idaho (5)

Brandon Graham, DE/OLB, Michigan (4)

Maurkice Pouncey, C/G, Florida (7)

Trent Williams, OT, Oklahoma (2)

Rolando McClain, LB, Alabama (2)

Jared Odrick, DT/DE, Penn State (7)

Nate Allen, S, USF (9)

Sergio Kindle, LB, Texas (4)

Highest players left on our board

Derrick Morgan, DE, Georgia Tech

Morgan is an excellent talent, but he may not fit the Cowboys’ scheme. What would the team do if a top-tier player who does not fit their style of play drops to pick No. 27?

What would the Cowboys do if a top-tier player who may or may not fit their scheme drops to their selection?

Brandon Spikes, LB, Florida

We have Spikes rated higher than most. He would be a reach if the Cowboys used their first selection on him (not because of his talent, but because of his value to other teams).

Devin McCourty, CB, Rutgers

We just profiled McCourty and we really love his skill set. Not many people would be thrilled with selecting a cornerback in the first round, but McCourty’s return ability might make it worth the investment.

Jahvid Best, RB, California

Best is obviously not a legitimate option for the Cowboys.

Brian Price, DT, UCLA

Price is another player most do not believe can fit well into a 3-4 defense. We believe he could make the transition to the five-technique though, so it will be interesting to see what Dallas does if Price is the best player left on their board.

Other Options

Morgan Burnett, S, Georgia Tech

Great range and a natural fit in the Dallas D, but he is a reach at pick No. 27.

DeMaryius Thomas, WR, Georgia Tech

We really don’t think the Cowboys will address the wide receiver position early in the draft.

Taylor Mays, S, USC

The Cowboys have had Mays in for a visit and are apparently growing fond of the under-achieving USC star. Let’s hope Mays does not drop to the Cowboys’ selection.

Roger Saffold, OT, Indiana

We think Saffold would be a huge first round reach, but the idea of him being drafted that high is picking up steam. What will Dallas do if all of the top tackles are gone? Could Saffold be an option?

If the draft unfolds as above, we think the Cowboys will select. . . Taylor Mays. The team’s need at safety is overstated, but it is large enough that the Cowboys will select Mays if they have him rated as a top-tier player.

We would select. . . Derrick Morgan. Morgan is the highest-rated player left on our board and the Cowboys are in a position to select the best player available. We believe his athleticism would allow for a smooth transition to 3-4 OLB.

What do you think? Which player would you choose in this “nightmare” draft scenario?

By Jonathan Bales

Grading the ‘Boys, Part V: Safeties

In the first four parts of our Grading the ‘Boys Series, we provided in-depth statistical analysis and grades for the offensive linemen, running backs, and cornerbacks. Today, we take a look at the safeties.

As was the case when grading the cornerbacks, we have to be very careful when interpreting the statistics we gather from our film study. For example, despite generally being superior tacklers, we might expect the percentage of missed tackles to be higher for safeties than cornerbacks because the latter is forced to attempt less open-field tackles.

For this reason and others, it is also unreasonable to compare statistics between cornerbacks and safeties. Comparisons can be drawn between players within a position, however, as long as we are aware of the possible limitations to such comparisons.

Below are the results of the 2009 Cowboys’ safety play and the corresponding Dallas Cowboys Times grades.

Notes

  • Chart Key: TA=Thrown At, Rec=Receptions Yielded, PD=Passes Defended, Yds/Att=Yards Per Attempt Thrown At
  • The best stats are circled in blue, the worst in red.
  • Some of the stats were provided by Pro Football Focus.
  • The final chart details our own custom statistic, the Dallas Cowboys Times Pass Defense Rating. It incorporates the factors we believe are most valuable in evaluating the success of a safety. The amount of points a player scores in each category is less important than the difference between his score and the average score. For example, a point total of 20.0 in a category where the league average is 5.0 helps a player more than a score of 100.0 in a category whose league average is 90.0.
  • The final grade is weighted 2:1 in terms of pass defense versus run defense.

Grades

2009 Safety Pass Defense Totals

  • Ken Hamlin

Pass Defense: C+

Let’s start off with a grade for which we are sure to receive a lot of flack. We have been stating from season’s end that Ken Hamlin’s 2009 play was not as poor as people made it seem.

There is no doubting that he is not a ball-hawking safety. Would you like to have a player like that on your team? Of course–but only if he doesn’t sacrifice his ability to prevent the big play. Some safeties, i.e. Antrel Rolle, are considered “playmakers” because they get a lot of picks or have a lot of bone-crushing hits, yet they allow a multitude of big plays. A true playmaker, though, is able to do these things without conceding long touchdowns.

Hamlin is not an incredible playmaker, but he is also not a liability in the secondary as many fans believe is the case. He is a cerebral player who has done an admirable job of setting up the defensive coverages and forcing defenses to earn every yard they gain. Sometimes it can be a good thing to not hear your free safety’s name called too much. In a way, Hamlin is a bit of a sensei master in the secondary–leading the troops without overexerting himself. We are only partially joking about that.

While Dallas could certainly benefit from a free safety who is a “true playmaker,” those players are few and far between. Hamlin isn’t going to solely win the Cowboys football games, but he also won’t lose them. He’s not an All-Pro sort of safety, but he’s also not one who should be released.

2009 Safety Pass Defense Efficiency

Run Defense: A-

Let the ridicule begin. An “A-” in tackling for Ken Hamlin? Really?

You bet. Hamlin missed just four tackles (8.0 percent) all season. In comparison, Terence Newman led all cornerbacks by securing 91.5 percent of his tackles. Thus, Hamlin was statistically the most consistent tackler in the secondary in 2009, despite playing a position that is arguably the hardest from which to make tackles.

Gerald Sensabaugh

Pass Defense: C

Sensabaugh has the worst Dallas Cowboys Times Pass Defense Rating of all three safeties, but that is to be expected since he is targeted more frequently at strong safety. Still, his 67.4 completion percentage against is much too high.

Like Hamlin, Sensabaugh did not make many big plays on the season, securing just one interception. Unlike Hamlin, however, Sensy conceded a few easy scores. He allowed five touchdowns (compared to just two for Hamlin), a stat which we do not even factor into our Pass Defense Rating.

Run Defense: C+

2009 Safety Run Support Statistics

Sensabaugh’s missed tackle percentage of 15.6 percent was nearly twice that of Hamlin’s, despite generally playing closer to the line of scrimmage and thus obtaining more “easy tackle” situations. He also secured just eight more tackles than Hamlin despite this difference in pre-snap alignment and playing more downs.

  • Alan Ball

Pass Defense: B

Ball registered a worse score on our Pass Defense Rating than Hamlin, so why are we giving him a better grade? Well, Ball’s inexperience led team’s to target him frequently. In fact, he was thrown at on 6.53 percent of all snaps, nearly three times the rate at which opposing quarterbacks tested Hamlin.

Despite this, Ball allowed the lowest completion percentage of any safety at just 45.0 percent. He also led the safeties in yards-per-attempt against and passes defended percentage. It is not a stretch at all to label Ball the closest thing Dallas has to a “ball-hawk” at the safety position.

Run Defense: D

Ball struggled quite a bit against the run. He missed nearly 1/4 of all tackles, a rate almost triple that of Hamlin. His tackle-per-play average was also the worst among the three safeties.

Final Safety Rankings

1. Ken Hamlin: 82.3 (B-)

2. Alan Ball: 78.3 (C+)

3. Gerald Sensabaugh: 75.7 (C)

The Cowboys’ safeties are obviously not future Hall-of-Famers. We believe Hamlin is unfairly ridiculed due to his lack of takeaways (and we realize we are the only ones who view him as underrated), but he is no Ed Reed.

Should the Cowboys address the safety position early in the draft? If the value is there, yes. Perhaps Texas safety Earl Thomas will drop down to pick #27.

If the Cowboys do not see good value in the first round, however, there is no reason to panic. There are a wealth of intriguing second round safety prospects that should present adequate value for Dallas in round two, such as Georgia Tech’s Morgan Burnett.

Further, we believe Hamlin is still a starting quality safety. He is certainly not irreplaceable, but it is unlikely that a rookie free safety, outside of Thomas or Tennessee’s Eric Berry, could step into the starting role and immediately perform better than Hamlin.

Assuming the team passes on a safety in the first round, expect Hamlin and Sensabaugh to be the Cowboys’ opening day starters and to force more turnovers in 2010.

By Jonathan Bales

Potential Draft Picks: Akwasi Owusu-Ansah, CB, Indiana of PA

Owusu-Ansah reminds us of Dominique Rodgers-Cromatie. Both were small-school prospects with a big game.

We recently detailed the 2009 success of the Cowboys’ cornerbacks in our Grading the ‘Boys segment. Leading the pack was Mike Jenkins, who really took tremendous strides last season. The second-year player led the team in interceptions, pass deflections, completion percentage against, and yards-per-attempt against.

Surprising to some was how highly we graded Terence Newman (B+). Newman has been underrated for years, though, and last season he was finally healthy enough to perform well over the course of an entire 16-game schedule. Newman was thrown at on just 9.49 percent of plays, making him the least targeted cornerback on the team.

The success of Jenkins and Newman was not matched by nickel CB Orlando Scandrick. Scandrick, who began the season as a rotational starter, regressed in his second season in Dallas. He was actually one of the most targeted players in the league and yielded a pedestrian 62.9 percent of passes his way to be completed.

The difference between Jenkins and Scandrick doesn’t appear to be in their skill sets as much as it is in their minds. Jenkins gained confidence at a seemingly exponential rate as the 2009 season progressed. Scandrick, who was often in position to make a play, often displayed a bit of hesitation which ended up costing him by year’s end.

We believe Scandrick has the adequate physical tools and mindset to rebound nicely in 2010. Still, a team can never have enough talented cornerbacks. Thus, the Cowboys may be looking to bolster the position during the draft, perhaps even in the early rounds.

Akwasi Owusu-Ansah is a small-school cornerback out of Indiana University of Pennsylvania. He is a personal favorite of ours not only because of his coverage, but also due to his electrifying return ability. The latter of these skills is the primary reason we view him as a target for Dallas (we rated a dominant return man as the team’s #1 draft need).

Scouting Report

Owusu-Ansah is eerily similar to Cardinals’ CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. At 6’0”, 207 pounds, Owusu-Ansah has the requisite size to be solid in run support. He does not have the blazing speed of DRC (AOA ran a 4.47 at the Combine), but he may actually be a more versatile player.

Owusu-Ansah was highly productive in college, albeit against DII talent. The major knock on him coming out is that he has not faced elite competition. How will he react when he gets beat? That basically never happened at IUP, so his ability to respond to adversity is a question mark at this point.

For Dallas, Owusu-Ansah would be an upgrade at both punt and kickoff returner. He displays great vision and has the strength to break tackles. His biggest weakness on returns is his propensity to use his superior athleticism to dance around before getting up-field. That will obviously not work in the NFL.

A possible concerning issue for Dallas is the fact that Owusu-Ansah is probably better suited to play outside than in the slot. If the team is interested in bringing someone in to compete with Scandrick, they may want to look elsewhere. However, this concern could easily be alleviated by playing Newman in the slot and Owusu-Ansah outside in nickel situations (assuming AOA beats out Scandrick).

Projection

AOA is steadily climbing draft boards just as Rodgers-Cromartie did two seasons ago. While he won’t be a first round selection, AOA figures to go somewhere in round two. In our opinion, he represents great value if he falls to Dallas at pick #59. We would rate the odds of this happening at about 50/50.

By Jonathan Bales

March Madness: Dallas Cowboys Draft Pick Style (Sweet 16)

As the NCAA Basketball Tournament kicks off, we thought it would be fun to complete our own bracket of Cowboys’ possible draft selections. Below is our “Sweet 16″–the draft prospects we view as the top 16 possibilities for Dallas in the first round. This is Part I of a three-part series.

Each player is seeded No. 1-16. Match-ups proceed just as in the NCAA tourney. Match-up “winners” are not necessarily the best choice for Dallas, but those which we consider most likely among the two.

Idaho guard Mike Iupati is our #1 seed because he is such a popular selection for Dallas in mock drafts.

The Sweet 16

1 Mike Iupati, G, Idaho

vs.

16 Brian Price, DT, UCLA

  • In our first match-up, Idaho guard Mike Iupati faces UCLA defensive tackle Brian Price, the ultimate “sleeper.” Many see Price as a three-technique player, but we think he could transition to a five-technique end for Dallas. No #1 seed has ever lost in the real tourney, however, so Iupati marches on.

8 Taylor Mays, S, USC

vs.

9 Trent Williams, OT, Oklahoma

  • In our closest battle of the Sweet 16, USC safety Taylor Mays faces off against Oklahoma tackle Trent Williams. While we believe Dallas would prefer Williams, Mays gets the nod due to a higher probability that he is still available at pick #27.

5 Maurkice Pouncey, C/G, Florida

vs.

12 Charles Brown, OT, USC

  • #12 seeds are known to pull off the upset, but it doesn’t happen in this case. We profiled Brown as a potential Cowboys draft pick, but his small frame makes him a less likely fit for Dallas scheme than Pouncey.

We just profiled Nate Allen and he is moving up draft boards quickly.

4 Anthony Davis, OT, Rutgers

vs.

13 Nate Allen, S, USF

  • Our first upset of the tournament is a big one. Anthony Davis, a player who is sliding due to work ethic concerns, cannot hold off a charging Nate Allen–a unique talent who some are now considering a late first-rounder.

6 Earl Thomas, S, Texas

vs.

11 Kyle Wilson, CB, Boise State

  • The 6/11 match-up in our Sweet 16 features a dream scenario for Cowboys fans. If Thomas and Wilson are somehow both available, Jerry Jones will do backflips. Despite Thomas probably being higher on the Cowboys’ board and being a superior fit, Wilson wins this match-up due to a higher probability of actually being available.
  • Winner: Kyle Wilson

3 Bruce Campbell, OT, Maryland

vs.

14 Brandon Graham, DE/OLB, Michigan

  • Campbell as a #3 seed. . .what were the bracket-makers thinking!? In any event, yet another upset occurs here as Graham–a player we see as the most under-the-radar possible Cowboys’ selection–overtakes Campbell. Watch our for Graham come April 22nd. You heard it here first.
  • Winner: Brandon Graham

    Golden Tate has had a nice offseason, but we think Dez Bryant is the only WR Dallas would consider on round one.

7 Dez Bryant, WR, Oklahoma State

vs.

10 Golden Tate, WR, Notre Dame

  • This is a tough match-up because we see both players as unlikely to join the Cowboys. Despite Bryant’s recent fall down some boards, we still think he will be gone by pick #27. However, Tate is not a big enough game-breaker to justify Dallas passing on a player at a larger position of need.
  • Winner: Dez Bryant

2 Jared Odrick, DT/DE, Penn State

vs.

15 Devin McCourty, CB, Rutgers

  • We really like McCourty, so it pains us to kick him out of the tourney so soon. Depending how the draft shakes out, though, we see Odrick as very likely to become a Cowboy. We have been pushing his selection for weeks.

So there you have it. In Part II of our March Madness Cowboys Draft Pick Tournament (should we have chosen a shorter name?), we will detail the “Elite Eight” match-ups, listed below.

Elite Eight (coming tomorrow)

1 Mike Iupati

Check back to see just how far sleeper Brandon Graham will go in our tourney.

vs.

8 Taylor Mays

5 Maurkice Pouncey

vs.

13 Nate Allen

11 Kyle Wilson

vs.

14 Brandon Graham

7 Dez Bryant

vs.

2 Jared Odrick