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Perception versus Potential: Draft and FA Solutions for the Trenches


In the first ever Perception versus Potential post, we reviewed the in-house talent of our O-Line and D-Line depth and compared the perception of the 2010 results with the potential for their 2011 performance.  The poll showed the great majority of the BTB community (at least the nearly 400 poll respondents) felt OT was the best choice for our 1st round pick.  67% felt trading down for an extra draft pick and getting best available OT was the best solution. 12% felt we should take our favorite OT at the #9 spot, and 20% felt BPA for the defense was the best solution.

But the debate rages on.  Should the Cowboys worry about O-Line as a top priority or is D-Line where the Cowboys have greater needs?  In this edition of Perception versus Potential, we will take a look at the possible solutions for the Cowboys’ woes…but with a twist.  Let’s nullify part of the debate and assume the needs are equal on both sides of the trenches. As such, we will use our 1st round pick on one and a big money FA signing on the other in hopes of curing what ails us.

Disclaimer: This post is written acknowledging that a starting safety is a huge need, but with the common acceptance that there is no 1st round solution and that it’s either 2nd or 3rd round rookies like Moore, Black, or D. Williams, or FA signings like Weddle or Huff that will solve the problem.

D-Line 1st Round and O-Line FA

For those advocating D-Line in the 1st round of the draft, the usual caveat is that we use free agency to help our O-Line.  The perception is that a dominant defensive end or pass rusher in the 1st round can provide greater potential for the team than a 1st round RT.  This is a valid line of thinking. Common perception is that RT is not the sort of position that makes or breaks teams and everyone knows teams are more worried about the LT position which faces the opponent’s best pass rushers.  But what about the potential of the solutions?

Remember, this post is based on considering D-Line and O-Line are of equal need (which I don’t, but anyway…) which means Spears and Bowen as our starting DEs isn’t the solution.  So, if we think Spears and Bowen aren’t as good as I implied in the first P vs P edition, getting Cameron Jordan or JJ Watt in the 1st round is an upgrade in potential.  But what about the FA solutions for RT?  OCC’s post on O-Line individual grades and available free agents to sign shows us through his chart (below) some worrisome results.

The FA pickings are slim.

NFL rank

Player

Age

Team

Snaps

2010 Overall Grade

Pass Bock

Screen Block

Run Block

Penalty

'09 Grade

2

Marshal Yanda

26

BLT

1021

17.4

4.2

0.5

10.6

2.1

-3.3

4

Tyson Clabo

29

ATL

1153

10.8

5

0

-0.4

6.2

6.6

- -

Ryan O'Callaghan

27

KC

159

4.9

2.2

-0.5

2.2

1

-15.1

8

Sean Locklear

29

SEA

997

2

11

0

-8.1

-0.9

-1.2

11

Ryan Harris

25

DEN

668

-0.9

0.6

3

-4

-0.5

-1.2

18

Langston Walker

31

OAK

995

-3.6

-14.7

0

12

-0.9

-1.8

- -

Corey Hilliard

25

DET

271

-4.4

-2.5

1

0

-2.9

- -

24

Jeromey Clary

27

SD

1104

-12.6

-8.9

0.5

-5.4

1.2

5.6

26

Stephon Heyer

27

WAS

384

-13.4

-8.3

0.5

-1

-4.6

-19.0

27

Wayne Hunter

29

NYJ

361

-13.4

-8.9

0

-0.7

-3.8

-4.4

 

Yanda is the clear cut favorite and best available FA OT, but it is very doubtful that Baltimore will let him walk.  While they wouldn't apply the franchise tag and pay him top LT money (not to mention they'll use it on Ngata if push came to shove - more on that to follow), the bidding for the best OT in FA will be furious and the Ravens would do their best to keep him.  So if we only manage to grab the 2nd best OT, we would get 29 year old Tyson Clabo…ouch. While he did improve from last season and graded out well above average in PFF’s calculations, is a 29 year old RT really a great solution? O’Callaghan at 27 is the youngest of the “above average” OT available, and considering how bad he was in ’09 and his low grade in ’10, I don’t see a great deal of potential. Sure, an upgrade from Colombo, but is it the best solution? 

Three names missing that may be of interest are Jamaal Brown, Jared Gaither, and Jeremy Trueblood.  Brown is 29, missed most of the ’09 season due to a hip injury and sports hernia that required surgeries, and must have graded out lower than -13.4 to not make this list. Old, plagued injury history, and bad 2010 season…no thanks.  Jared Gaither is not on the list due to missing most of the season on IR. Only 24 and with a lot of potential heading into the NFL, but Gaither played only 6 games his rookie year, managed 16 in ’08 (though lack luster and penalty ridden), and only played 11 games in ’09 (again plagued with penalties). In 2010 he went on IR in October due to back problems. The injury history and performance makes you wonder about his potential.  Trueblood is 27 and a backup RT for the Buccaneers. He started 7 games in ’10 and allowed 3.5 sacks.  He isn’t great, but he may be the best option in FA market.

Ok, so if we draft 1st round D-Line and FA OT, we will be replacing Bowen or Spears with Cameron Jordan or JJ Watt, and Colombo with Trueblood, Clabo, or O’Callaghan.  Even if we decide to go with a pass rusher instead of D-Lineman and draft Quinn or Von Miller to replace Spencer…we are still stuck with some unimpressive RT, in which case we may even see Sam Young win the starting job.  Even if you consider those rookies as tremendous upgrades (which I don’t), is anyone really excited about the other side of the equation at RT?

O-Line 1st Round and D-Line FA

The above example is the reason I strongly advocate signing a 1st round OT. There is only one great solution in FA which is doubtful to be available and not much else, not to mention the rookie stock takes a huge tumble after the 1st round.  So let’s consider the opposite. What if the Cowboys draft one of the best OT in the draft?  It would mean Colombo is replaced by Carimi, T. Smith, or Sherrod (take your choice) and the team would look to FA to bolster their D-Line. Are there any solutions?

2011 D-Line Free Agents

Player

Advanced NFL Stats SR%

SR% Ranking by Position (DE or DT)

Haloti Ngata

85.5

8th (DT) or 6th (DE)

Shaun Ellis

88.1

4th (DE)

Cullen Jenkins

NA

NA

Aubrayo Franklin

90

Tied 3rd (DT)

Paul Soliai

90.7

2nd (DT)

Richard Seymour

81

20th (DT) or 15th (DE)

 Let’s start by explaining SR % (success rate) and why I used that stat.  SR% is from Advanced Football Statistics.

Success Rate (SR) – The proportion of plays in which a player was directly involved that would typically be considered successful. Specifically, SR is the percentage of plays resulting in positive Expected Points Added (EPA)

Some may say I should use EPA, however, in the case of D-Linemen this calculation seems to be swayed heavily towards 4-3 DE’s. There is no 3-4 DE in the top 25. This is likely due to the weight placed on sacks, but I am no expert and would welcome some further explanation. As such, I decided to show SR% which expresses how often the player was directly involved in a successful play.  Finally, I don’t have PFF premium stats, so I can’t show you those grades, but feel free to include them in comments if you have them.

Long story short, some of the best 3-4 D-Linemen in the league are FA this year.  It is pretty safe to assume that Ngata and Ellis, the two best 3-4 DE’s in the league (Ngata also plays NT, as does Ellis in some of Ryan’s schemes) will likely get the franchise tag as their respective teams will not risk losing them.  But that still leaves a lot of talent, though Seymour is a little old for my liking.

On a side note, for those that think Ratliff didn’t have a down year consider the following – it is a big reason why I expect and hope to see Ratliff play a lot of DE in Rob Ryan’s D-Line rotations this year:

Year

Tackles (Solo+Ast)

Tackles for a Loss

Sacks

SR%

2008

51

5.5

7.5

78.1

2009

39

7.5

6

85.7

2010

31

0

3.5

61.5

 

Now, back to the matter at hand.  Consider the available big money free agents at D-Line, each one arguable better than the 1st round rookies, and the fact that the depth of rookie D-Linemen in the draft means there are talented rookies past the 1st round, it seems clear that there is far more potential at the D-Line position in both the draft and FA market than there is for OTs. 

As opposed to having Jordan/Watt/Quinn/Miller over Spears/Bowen/Spencer and then Trueblood/Clabo over Colombo, I would much rather have Carimi/Smith/Sherrod over Colombo and any of the aforementioned DLine FAs to play alongside (or in-between) Ratliff and Bowen/Spears.  I think the perception and potential of this difference is considerable, no matter on which side of the ball you perceive the Cowboys to have greater needs.

Your thoughts?

Another user-created commentary provided by a BTB reader.

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