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WMQB: Reviewing the draft

 

I wasn’t crazy about the 1st round pick. As everyone knows I’m focused on efficiency statistics, specifically passing efficiency. Dallas’s big problem last year was pass defense and frankly if you watch the passing efficiency statistics the defensive performance has been declining since 2008.

The table below summarizes Dallas’s adjusted passing efficiency for the period from 2007-2010.

 

 

Offensive Adjusted Pass YPA

Offensive Pass YPA Rank

Defensive Adjusted Pass YPA

Defensive Pass YPA Rank

2007

7.1

2nd

4.9

5th

2008

6.2

11th

4.6

3rd

2009

7.0

6th

5.4

10th

2010

6.7

7th

6.8

28th

I’m not predicting a catastrophe. I suspect that Dallas will experience some mean reversion, the defensive pass efficiency will improve to modestly below average: in the 18th-23rd range. If the offense is back to being top 5, say #4 and the defense is below average, say 20th, the most likely outcome is that Dallas muddles along to an 8-8 record (with +/- 2 wins, depending on unpredictable bounces that gives a range of 10-6 to 6-10).

In terms of the actual pick my issue is that JJ Watt was still available. There were 4 defensive players that I was very high on: Von Miller, Patrick Peterson, JJ Watt, and to a lesser extent Robert Quinn. I’m not sure that people appreciate just how rare JJ Watt is. I focus on vertical jump and short shuttle as athletic markers. This is just a fact, JJ Watt had the best combination of vertical jump (37") and short shuttle (4.21) in the last 5 years for a DL that size. The last guy that was comparable was Mario Williams with a 40.5" VJ and 4.37 short shuttle, and Williams wasn’t as good in the short shuttle. There have been some prospects that were close like Chris Long (34", 4.21) but none that were actually better. Last year for example, there was one elite DL, Ndamakong Suh. If you weren’t picking Suh then you had guys like Brandon Graham, Derrick Morgan, JPP, ugghh.

I was recently reading Irrational Exuberance (an appropriate book around draft time). There was a discussion about how people are not very good about predicting how they are going to feel about future events. Basically, humans aren’t particularly good at predicting how they’ll feel if future events occur, and hence don’t take the future into account.

Nonconsequentialist reasoning: reasoning that is characterized by an inability to think through the elementary conclusions one would draw in the future if hypothetical events were to occur.

 When we learn to play games of logic, for example chess, we must practice thinking ahead to the decisions we will make in the future in response to the other player's decisions. One learns to  think, "If I move here, then she might move either here or there, and if she moves  here I will be fine, but if she moves there I will be faced with a difficult situation...."   That is, one learns to think through the ramifications of all relevant branches of a decision tree.

I bring this up because I think that even if Tyron Smith is as advertised Dallas probably muddles along to the 8-8 record anyway. I think that at the end of the year most fans are going to find that very disappointing for a few reasons. First, it will be a little more obvious that the defense is in decline and it’s unknown if the 2012 draft will have the elite defensive players we saw in 2011. 2012’s draft may be like 2011 with 3 or 4 elite players or it may be like 2010 where Suh was the only guy. Second, the age of the defense will be more undeniable. In 2012 Newman will be 34, Ratliff will be 31, and Ware will be 30. That’s old. Not only is that old, those 3 players also occupy the 3 most important positions on the defense. CB #1, pass-rushing NT, and OLB. One factor that I didn’t see brought up in the whole draft discussion is how much harder it’s going to be to replace Newman, Ratliff, and Ware than it is to replace Marc Colombo. Colombo was a below average RT. Dallas could get Joe Schmoe and improve the position. Newman is Dallas’s #1 CB, Ratliff is a pass rushing NT, and Ware is the defensive MVP. It’s going to be a lot harder to replace those players without a decline in performance. It’s a bit like if in 2012 Dez was going to be 34, Free was going to be 31, and Romo was going to be 30.

If there’s a silver lining it’s that we get an almost perfect test of the strategy that I wanted Dallas to follow. Across the state there’s a team that statistically looks just like Dallas: the Houston Texans.

 

 

Offensive Adjusted Pass YPA

Offensive Pass YPA Rank

Defensive Adjusted Pass YPA

Defensive Pass YPA Rank

Houston

6.8

6th

7.4

31st

Dallas

6.7

7th

6.8

28th

 

Just like Dallas, Houston has a fearsome passing attack and an awful passing defense.

 

The key assumptions that fans have made about the Dallas defense are as follows:

-The talent level on the Dallas defense is satisfactory,

-Wade Phillips was a bad coach and that’s why the defense struggled, and

-The best way to use the draft picks was to invest in offense.

 

With Houston we get as good a test of those assumptions as we could possibly hope for. Houston actually hired Wade Phillips so we’ll see if Wade was the problem. Houston took the players I wanted Dallas to take, JJ Watt and Brandon Harris. And Houston, with a similar statistical profile, decided to invest in defense instead of offense. I would much rather have JJ Watt on Dallas but at least I get to see how it might have worked out if Dallas had drafted him.

 

In terms of the actual draft picks, I’m going to quote the same advice I’ve been quoting from Brian Burke for a year now.

 

If I were advising a general manager, I’d tell him to largely forget about the run. Get a running back who’s good at picking up blitzes or catching the ball. Never draft a running back in the first few rounds, and whatever you do, don’t waste precious cap space (or payroll budget) on him.

 

Get a quality QB at all costs. Assess your linemen on how well they pass-block, and don’t worry as much about their run blocking. Get lots of pass rushers on defense. Got a LB that’s a great run stopper but can’t play coverage? Trade him to some sucker team that cares that they only give up 3.8 yards per carry rather than 4.2 yards per carry. That’s how you build a perennial playoff contender.

 

It’s uncanny. Dallas followed every single one of these recommendations to a T. So strategically I think it was a sound draft.

 

1. Assess your linemen on how well they pass-block.

 

Check, Smith was hands down the best pass blocking OL in the draft.

 

2. Got a LB that’s a great run stopper but can’t play coverage? Trade him to some sucker team that cares that they only give up 3.8 yards per carry rather than 4.2 yards per carry.

 

Check, Bruce Carter is smaller LB that excels in coverage. Carter could be Dallas’s Derrick Brooks.  

 

3. Get a running back who’s good at picking up blitzes or catching the ball. Never draft a running back in the first few rounds, and whatever you do, don’t waste precious cap space (or payroll budget) on him.

 

Check. Demarco Murray is good at blocking, catching the ball, and was a 3rd round pick. I like the pick. RB is kinda important to a football team. I’ve seen some people wondering why Dallas would draft a RB that’s just like Felix. It’s because Dallas likes what Felix provides as a RB. Personally I love Felix. The only problem with Felix is he can’t handle the ball 30 times a game and he isn’t particularly durable. It makes perfect sense to grab a low cost clone of Felix. Now the offense can run the same plays whether Felix is in or Murray is in. In addition, Murray had a Speed Score (a weight adjusted 40 time) of 112. As per Football Outsiders, that’s the average for a 1st round pick! Good value.

 

The average first-round pick has had a speed score of 111.8  

 

Here’s what Football Outsiders said about Murray.

 

But if there's one back besides Fannin who really qualifies as a sleeper, it's Oklahoma's DeMarco Murray. Murray's 112.6 Speed Score is well above average for a player who grades out as a mid-round pick, and that's before considering the fact he's arguably the best receiving back in this class. Don't be surprised if Murray ends up as the surprise hit in this year's cast of backs.

Is drafting injured players Fool’s Gold?

 

One quibble that I have with Dallas’s draft strategy is the tendency to draft injured players. In the case of Carter it sounds like it might be ok. While Carter did have an ACL reconstruction, Butch Davis is apparently saying that Carter only had a partially torn ACL. Hat tip to sixring09.

 

Butch Davis was on the Ticket at the end of the Draft He told Norm that the ACL tear was only partial and Carter could have continued through the season

 

 That’s good news because that increases the likelihood that the ACL was the only structure of the knee that was injured (often if there’s enough trauma to rupture the ACL other parts of the knee are damaged as well).

 

This study suggests that the prognosis for isolated ACL reconstruction (i.e. where nothing else is injured)is essentially as good as no injury.

 

Isolated ACL surgery did not significantly reduce the length of career in years or number of games played in this cohort.

 

Although I found that incredibly surprising, I’m not one to disregard correctly constructed research because it doesn’t fit my previously existing beliefs. Anyway, that’s great news in regards to Carter.

 

However, my key concern is that Dallas’s strategy of drafting players who fall because of injury concerns (Sean Lee, Mike Mickens,etc) is a bad strategy. I get the sense that Jerry just can’t resist wildcatting: trying to get a 1st round star with a 2nd round pick. Two years ago I might have agreed with that strategy, but then I saw this results from SackSEER.

 

The final metric is both the strongest factor and the least intuitive: missed games worth of NCAA eligibility. SackSEER suggests that a college edge rusher who misses numerous games for any reason other than early declaration for the NFL Draft has little chance of succeeding as a professional. This includes players who miss games due to injury, suspensions, academic standards, or sickness. Medical redshirts are included, although standard freshman redshirts are not. Players with health issues in college tend to have health issues in the NFL (Erasmus James, for example). Missing games for other reasons is also indicative of failure at the NFL level.

 

All the usual caveats apply. This study was for edge rushers, didn’t explicitly look at injuries, etc. But it forced me to re-examine my views on the subject. While I used to believe that it made sense to acquire a 1st round talent with a 2nd round pick, I’ve started to question that. If you’re filling your roster with players who have had prior injuries aren’t you somewhat assured of having a less durable team with shorter careers? Remember how I said before that ACL injuries tend to go hand in hand with other injuries? Here are the findings for players with ACL reconstructions and meniscus damage.

 

Comparing the athletes with meniscectomy or ACL reconstruction to athletes with combined ACL reconstruction and meniscectomy, a history of both surgeries resulted in a shorter career in terms of games started (7.9 vs. 35.1, p<0.01), games played (41 vs. 63, p=0.07) and years in the league (4.0 vs. 5.8, p=0.08) than a history of either surgery alone.

 

 

Dallas: Drinking their own Kool-Aid

 

I get the sense that Dallas is drinking their own Kool-Aid and believes that the defense has satisfactory talent (I take that to be a bad sign BTW). I say that for a couple reasons. First, you may remember Jerry Jones a couple months ago was optimistic about Dallas’s CBs 

 

They’re probably, and I go down through all of them, they’re a little better than probably the taste we have in our mouth … I’m not saying we hung them out, but I’ll say that we sure ask a lot of them, relative to maybe what we might do in the future … Now I don’t think we were pleased with the year they had compared to other years, … But a part of this job is looking at not only to the talent of the player, but how he compares to other players. But in general, I’m not as negative on our cornerbacks as you might think.

 

Then you read the post draft comments from Jerry Jones and Stephen Jones.

  

Jerry ...

"We probably should give Rob Ryan some due here," Jones said. "I do feel our defense personnel will play better than last year and we did underachieve last year, and I want to be able to say that without throwing [Wade Phillips] under the bus."

and Stephen ...

Added Stephen Jones, the Cowboys executive vice president: "Rob's the best when it comes to that. He's just tells me, 'Who I'm coaching, I'll have them ready.'"

Here’s how I interpret this. One of the hardest things to do in a job is to tell your boss that he’s wrong. Jerry Jones built this defense and Jerry Jones believes that he built a talented defense. I can imagine it’s be pretty hard for Garrett to say to Jones  ‘Jerry, actually you’re a crap GM and the problem with the defense is the players you drafted’. So we get another year of giving the defense a chance to prove that Jerry is actually a good GM. It sounds like Rob Ryan is telling Jerry what he wants to hear, that Jerry drafted good players and Rob can win with the current players.

And I get the sense that Garrett might have resented the prior underinvestment in offense. Garrett’s been winning with an UDFA QB and a UDFA #1 WR. Presumably Garrett agreed with Stephen Jones logic that Dallas used 5 of 7 picks on D last year so this year it was time to draft for the offense.

Obviously we can look - when it does come - to unrestricted free agency. We can fill holes in that regard too. I would also say, if you look at last year's draft, in which we had some young guys who didn't contribute last year who might this year, we drafted 4 out of 6 defensive players. If you throw Josh Brent-Price in there then that's 5 out of 7 or you could put Josh in this draft.

Anyway, I’m disappointed with Garrett. I hope that he isn’t going to be an offensive coach in the Norv Turner, Sean Payton style. Football dynasties have been built through a combination of offense and defense. As head coach Garrett has to be responsible for both units, not just one.

Another user-created commentary provided by a BTB reader.

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