2011 Dallas Cowboys Free Agent Safety Primer: Elam, Huff, Landry, Harper and more

Free agency will officially open tonight at 6:01 p.m. ET and during the course of the day, over the weekend and likely next week as well, you'll be hearing all sorts free agent safeties being connected to the Cowboys.

Abram Elam, Michael Huff, Dawan Landry, Roman Harper and many more names will pop up as potential candidates for one of two spots in the Cowboys secondary. To help you stay on top the who's who in the safety market, we've compiled a little free agent safety primer with key stats for all the free agent safeties who played at least 25% of their teams' snaps last year.

After the break, we look at 25 free agent safeties, how they held up in pass coverage and against the run, how effective they were in pass rushing and how they ultimately graded out.

Obviously, stats are not the only thing that counts in evaluating free agents, otherwise the Cowboys would have re-signed Gerald Sensabaugh already. But stats do help a little to form a picture of a player you may have never heard of, or whom you've never watched play.

All of the stats below are highly contingent upon the scheme, position, number of snaps, type of defense and many other variables that affect a players' numbers. Just because one guy has a better defensive passer rating (to use just one example) than another guy doesn't automatically make him better. So don't take the rankings as gospel, rather, use them as an orientation as you navigate the Cowboys' options among free agent safeties.

Free agent safeties in pass coverage

Quick explanation of the stats we'll use below:

Burn rate: number of catches a defensive back allows versus the number of balls thrown at the receiver he is covering. For example, a burn rate of 80% would mean that opponents have completed eight of ten passes thrown at the receiver the cornerback is covering. The lower the number the better.

Defensive Passer Rating (DPR): uses the same data and formula used for the passer rating for the quarterback (i.e. completion percentage, yard per attempt, touchdowns and interceptions), but applies them to a defender, where they become completion percentage allowed (aka 'burn rate'), yards per attempt allowed, touchdowns allowed and interceptions made. The lower the number the better

NFL rank: DPR ranking among 85 safeties who played on at least 25% of their teams' snaps in 2010.

Name Team Snaps Targets Receptions Yds TDs INTs Burn Rate DPR NFL Rank
Brodney Pool NYJ 765 26 11 107 0 1 42.3 38.5 2
Gerald Sensabaugh DAL 929 42 24 292 1 5 57.1 47.0 5
Roman Harper NO 883 39 22 179 0 1 56.4 57.5 11
Danieal Manning HOU 925 40 22 213 0 1 55.0 59.7 13
Roy Williams CIN 477 8 7 65 0 1 87.5 60.9 15
Deon Grant NYG 675 51 34 280 1 3 66.7 62.5 16
Quintin Mikell STL 996 50 27 315 3 3 54.0 68.3 25
Aaron Francisco IND 785 17 12 207 0 2 70.6 72.1 26
Jon McGraw KC 437 25 18 185 1 2 72.0 72.9 28
C.C. Brown DET 607 18 9 138 0 0 50.0 75.7 33
Abram Elam DAL 1071 33 19 254 2 2 57.6 77.1 34
Jordan Babineaux SEA 380 33 20 146 2 1 60.6 78.6 36
Eric Weddle SD 977 31 19 241 2 2 61.3 80.2 37
Michael Huff OAK 1009 33 20 297 3 3 60.6 82.5 42
Nedu Ndukwe CIN 538 23 17 206 0 1 73.9 82.9 44
Dashon Goldson SF 1038 37 20 345 2 1 54.1 92.7 52
Tom Zbikowski BLT 341 3 2 32 0 0 66.7 102.1 60
Eric Smith NYJ 502 22 14 184 1 0 63.6 105.1 63
Madieu Williams SF 825 28 18 332 2 1 64.3 114.0 72
Reed Doughty WAS 633 31 21 258 2 0 67.7 114.7 73
Sean Considine CAR 419 22 19 205 2 1 86.4 116.9 74
Lawyer Milloy SEA 1066 31 17 224 4 0 54.8 117.5 75
Dawan Landry JAX 1043 45 27 316 5 0 60.0 118.4 77
Bernard Pollard BAL 1025 38 24 279 6 0 63.2 124.9 81
Donte Whitner BUF 1121 39 28 328 6 1 71.8 125.9 82
Red indicates player has signed a new contract

I've left Weddle, Mikell and Manning in the table, even though they are no longer available, simple to have some reference points of where some of the most sought after players in 2011 rank.

Pass rushing, tackles and stops

Again, just to get the definitions right:

Pass rushing points (PRP): Total Sacks + (Total Hits x 0.75) + (Total Hurries x 0.75) = PRP

NFL rank: PRP ranking among 85 safeties who played on at least 25% of their teams' snaps in 2010.

Stops: the number of solo defensive tackles that constitute an offensive failure

Name Team Snaps QB Sacks QB Hits QB Hurries PRP Tackles Assists Missed Tackles Stops NFL Rank
Roman Harper NO 883 3 9 5 13.5 75 9 8 40 2
Bernard Pollard BAL 1025 3 1 4 6.8 87 19 8 34 3
Quintin Mikell STL 996 1 0 4 4 79 8 13 33 4
Dawan Landry JAX 1043 1 1 5 5.5 83 10 6 31 5
Gerald Sensabaugh DAL 929 2 0 2 3.5 60 3 7 30 7
Lawyer Milloy SEA 1066 4 1 5 8.5 65 13 10 28 10
Donte Whitner BUF 1121 1 0 2 2.5 107 23 5 25 13
Eric Weddle SD 977 1 0 1 1.8 84 13 13 25 13
Michael Huff OAK 1009 4 1 6 9.3 65 7 5 23 18
Deon Grant NYG 675 1 6 3 7.75 48 6 10 22 21
Danieal Manning HOU 925 0 0 2 1.5 64 8 3 20 24
Reed Doughty WAS 633 1 1 1 2.5 52 16 5 18 28
Nedu Ndukwe CIN 538 2 3 5 8 42 5 6 16 34
Brodney Pool NYJ 765 1 1 4 4.8 39 9 6 16 34
Jordan Babineaux SEA 380 2 1 4 5.8 24 5 3 15 42
Dashon Goldson SF 1038 1 2 2 4 64 10 10 15 42
Madieu Williams SF 825 1 0 2 2.5 61 7 11 15 42
Sean Considine CAR 419 1 0 2 2.5 34 6 10 14 47
Jon McGraw KC 437 0 1 1 1.5 30 5 8 14 47
Abram Elam DAL 1071 2 0 2 3.5 62 8 8 13 55
Eric Smith NYJ 502 1 1 6 6.3 39 5 5 11 57
Roy Williams CIN 477 1 1 2 3.3 39 13 6 10 62
C.C. Brown DET 607 0 1 2 2.3 32 3 10 9 64
Aaron Francisco IND 785 0 0 0 0 40 12 10 8 66
Tom Zbikowski BLT 341 0 0 0 0 15 0 1 3 82

Overall 2011 Safety Grades:

We'll use the Pro Football Focus grades for this last exercise. Once again, just to make sure we have the definitions right:

PFF Grades: PFF look at game tape, assign a grade for every play and then ‘normalize’ the data so that the average player for a given position is graded at zero. The higher the positive grading the better the performance and vice versa.

However, these grades are cumulative. Say you have two players who consistently are graded with a +1.0 per game. However, one is injured after eight games, the other plays the full 16 games. The result: one player gets a +8.0 for the season, while the other gets a +16.0 although they basically played the exactly the same.

Expected Points Added: EPA is a metric developed by Brian Burke at Advanced NFL Stats. It measures the impact a given player has on a given play by comparing the result of the play to the league average results on plays from that down and distance (details here). The result is calculated as expected points a team would score as a result of that play. The higher the value the better.

Rank Name Team Age Snaps Overall Grade Pass Rush Coverage vs. Run Penalties EPA
1 Quintin Mikell STL 30 996 17.0 -3.3 10.8 11.0 -1.5 60.2
2 Michael Huff OAK 28 1009 13.9 3.8 8.4 1.1 0.6 41.2
3 Eric Weddle SD 26 977 12.6 1.5 1.5 8.0 1.6 26.7
4 Dawan Landry JAX 28 1043 10.5 -3.2 2.5 9.5 1.7 48.6
7 Danieal Manning HOU 28 925 9.5 -0.5 6.4 4.0 -0.4 17.8
10 Gerald Sensabaugh DAL 28 929 7.4 1.1 3.3 1.5 1.5 30.7
11 Roman Harper NO 28 883 7.1 1.9 1.9 6.8 -3.5 49.2
17 Jordan Babineaux SEA 28 380 4.4 1.6 2 0.3 0.5 29.4
22 Nedu Ndukwe CIN 26 538 3.4 4.3 -2.9 1.1 0.9 22.3
25 Tom Zbikowski BLT 26 341 2.5 -0.3 1.1 2.1 -0.4 n/a
25 Brodney Pool NYJ 27 765 2.5 -2.8 6.5 0.5 -1.7 31.5
37 Roy Williams CIN 30 477 0.2 1.1 -1.7 0.9 -0.1 24.5
49 Deon Grant NYG 32 675 -2.1 -0.1 1.6 -4.9 1.3 46.2
53 Donte Whitner BUF 26 1121 -3.4 0.8 -6.1 2.2 -0.3 38.8
55 Reed Doughty WAS 28 633 -3.7 -0.4 -5 0.7 1.0 15.4
57 Dashon Goldson SF 27 1038 -3.8 1.1 -5.4 1.9 -1.4 25.9
61 Abram Elam DAL 29 1071 -4.1 -3 0.6 -3.4 1.7 33.5
66 C.C. Brown DET 28 607 -5.1 1.8 -1.7 -6.1 0.9 21.0
68 Lawyer Milloy SEA 37 1066 -5.5 -3 -3.5 0.4 0.6 29.3
70 Bernard Pollard BAL 26 1025 -6.1 3.3 -6.3 -1.1 -2.0 32.8
71 Jon McGraw KC 32 437 -6.5 -1.8 -1.2 -3.1 -0.4 15.9
74 Sean Considine CAR 29 419 -7.8 0.1 -4.4 -3.1 -0.4 18.5
75 Aaron Francisco IND 28 785 -8.0 -0.3 -2 -5.9 0.2 12.6
77 Eric Smith NYJ 28 502 -9.5 -2.7 -3.4 -0.5 -2.9 12.1
84 Madieu Williams SF 29 825 -13.4 -0.3 -9.3 -4.1 0.3 11.3

Say what you will about these grades, but they are easily the numbers that correlate the strongest with the signings that have already happened.

Now that you have all this data, who do you think the Cowboys should go after, and are there candidates here that you haven't thought about before?

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