Approximate Value Of The 2011 Cowboys Roster

If you're a regular reader of Blogging The Boys, you're probably familiar with a metric called Approximate Value. If not, consider this post your introduction.

We've used Approximate Value (AV) and the closely related Career Approximate Value (CAV) on and off for the last two years or so, but as we ramp up our draft coverage, we'll be using it a lot more. And in order to get everybody on the same page, we'll use this post as a detailed introduction to the metric.

"Approximate Value" was developed by Doug Drinen at Pro-Football-Reference.com and is designed to assign a value to any player at any position for any given year. The algorithm behind AV weights position specific metrics (i.e. yards or points scored/allowed) with an indicator for durability (total games played and seasons as their team's primary starter) and quality (Pro Bowl and All Pro nominations) and then normalizes all this at a team level.

One way the metric can be used is look at how much value a player had for a particular season. So after the break, we'll look at the 2011 Cowboys roster through the AV lens as a way to introduce the AV metric.

Before diving into the Cowboys' numbers though, a little more explanation by Doug Drinen:

"Essentially, AV is a substitute for --- and a significant improvement upon, in my opinion --- metrics like 'number of seasons as a starter' or 'number of times making the Pro Bowl' or the like. You should think of it as being essentially like those two metrics, but with interpolation in between."

And like every stat, AV has its limitations.

"AV is not meant to be a be-all end-all metric. Football stat lines just do not come close to capturing all the contributions of a player the way they do in baseball and basketball. If one player is a 16 and another is a 14, we can't be very confident that the 16AV player actually had a better season than the 14AV player. But I am pretty confident that the collection of all players with 16AV played better, as an entire group, than the collection of all players with 14AV."

This is an important aspect to keep in mind: The AV numbers are relative. Players on good teams will score higher than players on bad teams, some positions (e.g. QB) will score higher than others (e.g. safeties), position groups (e.g. offensive linemen) will score roughly the same even if there are differences in actual performance.

The AV number starts at 0 and can go as high as 25. A very rough scale would look something like this:

AV Description No. of players 2011
20-25 MVP- or Player Of The Year level performance 6
12-19 All-Pro/Pro Bowl level performance 81
7-11 Starter quality 395
3-6 Backup player or limited playing time 372
1-2 Role player ca. 600
0 Scrub ca. 900

Note that there is some double-counting of players in the PFR database, so I've rounded the figures for the players with 0-2 AV points. Note also that there are only 482 players in the league with an AV of 7 points or more indicating starter quality. That's an average of only 15 players per NFL team.

No team in the league has starter quality at every position. Keep that in mind as we review the Cowboys roster below, sorted in ascending order from zero points to 15 points.

Zero Points - The Scrubs:

This list contains all players who were active on the game-day roster at least once in 2011 but did not record any significant stats or playing time. Note that kickers are not included, as the AV metric doesn't work for them.

1. David Arkin
2. Josh Brent
3. Mario Butler
4. Rob Callaway
5. Bruce Carter
6. Shaun Chapas
7. Clifton Geathers
8. Chris Greisen
9. Dwayne Harris
10. Andre Holmes
11. Jon Kitna
12. L.P. Ladouceur
13. Orie Lemon
14. Bryan McCann
15. Akwasi Owusu-Ansah
16. Jermey Parnell
17. Martin Rucker
18. Mana Silva
19. Chauncey Washington
20. Teddy Williams
21. C.J. Wilson

Before anybody starts hyperventilating about who the AV metric is calling a scrub, keep in mind that this is a measure of the performance in 2011. Bruce Carter is definitely not a scrub (I hope and pray every day), but 41 defensive snaps in 2011 simply don't move him higher on this list.

One Point - The Role Players:

1. Alex Albright
2. Victor Butler
3. Tashard Choice
4. Barry Church
5. Derrick Dockery
6. Jesse Holley
7. Kevin Kowalski
8. Danny McCray
9. Stephen McGee
10. Sammy Morris
11. Kevin Ogletree
12. Phillip Tanner
13. Frank Walker

For the most part, these are players got some playing time in 2011 and occupied the last slots on the depth chart at their positions. This is usually a group out of which you would expect to grow future starters, but many of these guys have already been with the Cowboys for a while now and have probably reached their ceiling. For this group, it's up or out: They need to show that they belong on the 2012 roster or they'll likely be gone.

Two Points - The Marginal Contributors:

1. Alan Ball
2. Tony Fiammetta
3. Sean Lissemore
4. Bill Nagy

All of these guys have contributed more than the one-point group. The question here is about trajectories: Are their arrows pointing down (Alan Ball) or up (all others)?

Three Points - Backups: The Specialists

1. Martellus Bennett
2. Keith Brooking
3. John Phillips
4. Orlando Scandrick
5. Marcus Spears

These are all backups with specialized roles. Bennett the blocker, Phillips the H-back, Spears the run-stuffer etc. Outside of Scandrick, all players here were on the field for less than half the snaps this season, and Scandrick gets downgraded due to the overall cornerback play.

Four & Five Points - Backups: The Injured Starters

1. Mike Jenkins (4 points)
2. Miles Austin (5)
3. Jason Hatcher (5)
4. Montrae Holland (5)

All of these guys missed significant playing time in 2011 with injuries. It's a crying shame to have to label players like Miles Austin and Mike Jenkins as backups, but that's what their contributions in 2011 amounted to.

Six Points - Backups: The Borderline Starters

1. Abram Elam
2. Bradie James
3. Felix Jones
4. Terence Newman

I am baffled by why Bradie James is ranked this high. For some reason, James started 13 games last season, and that pushes him ahead of Keith Brooking, who had only 3 starts. But overall this group was just shy of being classified as starters. Elam and Newman due to performance and Jones due to playing time.

Seven Points - The Foundation

1. Kenyon Coleman
2. DeMarco Murray
3. Laurent Robinson
4. Gerald Sensabaugh
5. Anthony Spencer

Murray and Robinson could be the future of the franchise, the other three are players that every team needs: they may not be Pro Bowlers, but they are starter quality players that the Cowboys will find hard to replace once they're gone. I hate the term Just A Guy - these are players that may not be the core of the franchise that you build your team around, but they are the glue that keeps the team together. These are the types of players that allow the superstars on the team to shine (if your team has any).

Eight & Nine Points - The Future Face Of The Franchise (with two exceptions)

1. Tyron Smith (9 points)
2. Doug Free (9)
3. Sean Lee (8)
4. Dez Bryant (8)
5. Phil Costa (8)
6. Kyle Kosier(8)

The AV metric obviously likes the play of the Cowboys O-line and basically lumps all four main starters in one group. Based on their 2011 performance, Costa and Kosier don't belong in this group, and neither does Doug Free. However, it is encouraging that outside of Kyle Kosier, these are all young guys who may soon become the faces of the Dallas Cowboys franchise.

Ten & Eleven Points - The Pro Bowlers

1. Jay Ratliff (10 Points)
2. Jason Witten (11)

Ratliff made the Pro Bowl this year, Jason Witten didn't, but not because of his level of play. Both are extremely valuable players whose contributions to the team go way beyond some simple stats.

Thirteen Points - The Pro Bowl Snub

1. Tony Romo

The Cowboys had the fourth best passer in the league last year, and still weren't able to manage a winning season. Here's Roger Staubach weighing in on Romo yesterday:

“I think Tony definitely is more of the solution. He’s not the problem at all. He’s more of the solution. Part of the solution has to be on defense. That was an issue for the Cowboys this year, but you’re a game or two away. Look at the Giants.”

Fifteen Points - The All-Star

1. DeMarcus Ware

Voted to his sixth consecutive Pro Bowl and getting his fourth All-Pro nod this year, DeMarcus Ware is probably the best player on the Cowboys' roster.

So there you have it, the entire 2011 Cowboys roster at a glance. In case you lost track, that's 214 AV points for the Cowboys and 15 players with an AV of seven points or more.

The Giants came in with 204 points and only eight players with seven points or more, yet the Giants are in the Super Bowl and the Cowboys didn't make the postseason. The Eagles match the Cowboys exactly, with 214 points and 15 starter-level players, the Redskins are a bit further down with 172 points and eight players with seven points or more.

If you want to check out the AV numbers in more detail, here's the link.

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