Brodney Pool runs down field after intercepting a pass against the Steelers in the 2011 AFC Championship game.
When the Cowboys' interest in Brodney Pool first became public, many a Cowboys fan quickly scrambled to look up Pool's Pro Football Focus grades for last year and the year before. There was much consternation when, at first glance, Pool's grades for the previous two regular seasons didn't turn out to be all that exciting:
Very quickly, and partly based on these numbers, a consensus opinion was reached that described Brodney Pool as an 'average' safety. But as anybody with even a rudimentary understanding of statistics will tell you, averages can be very misleading.
When people describe players like Pool as 'average' they're like the statistician who put his head in the oven and his feet in the refrigerator and said "Overall, the temperature here is pretty average."
Brodney Pool is now a Dallas Cowboy. I refuse to believe the Cowboys signed any of their free agents without doing extensive homework on each prospect. After all, that is what Judd Garrett's Pro Scouting department is for. The Cowboys obviously saw something in each prospect that may not be obvious at first glance. So after the break, we take a detailed look at Brodney Pool to figure out just what type of a player the Cowboys acquired in Pool, and whether 'average' is a term that should be used in that context.
Right after signing Pool, Jason Garrett addressed the press in a conference call in which he briefly addressed the Cowboys' reasons for targeting Pool:
"Brodney is a guy who is very athletic. He was a second-round pick out of Oklahoma and played in Cleveland for coach Ryan and also for Jerome Henderson and most recently had been with the Jets.
He’s a guy we targeted last year; a guy we think has very good ball skills and is very good on the back end; who can also be a guy who can come down and do all the jobs that a safety in our defensive scheme has to do. His strengths are on the back end, using his athleticism and going to make plays on the ball down the field. We feel like he can be a real asset for our team as well."
When looking at safeties, it's important to keep in mind that unless you're talking about a once-in-a-generation player, there are basically two kinds of players manning the position today: the hitters and the ball hawks.
In many people's minds, a safety is the classic headhunter of 15-20 years ago who stood out for his bone-jarring hits and occasional interceptions. As the passing game has become more and more important, the cornerback-turned-safety emerged as an alternative model at the position. With the way defenses have evolved, you'd ideally want to have two safeties on your team who are equally adept against the run and against the pass in order to have maximum scheme versatility. But very few teams have two of those players.
Garrett is clear in his assessment of Pool: Pool is in Dallas for his ball skills, not because he is an in-the-box safety who's strong against the run. Now let's see if that assessment is supported by the metrics we have at our disposal.
With an overall PFF grade of -0.4 in 2011, Pool graded out as the 30th ranked safety out of 87 total safeties. PFF aggregates four different grades into their overall grade: a pass rushing grade; a pass coverage grade; a run defense grade and a penalty grade. In 2011, Pool graded out between +0.7 and -0.9 across all categories. To get a better feel for what type of player Pool is, I've aggregated his regular season grades over the last three years:
Based on these numbers it's probably fair to say that Brodney Pool is a pure free safety who is quite good against the pass, but he's not a guy you want to have in the box to stop the run. And please, don't ask him to rush the passer.
If you're wary of the PFF grades, take a look at Pool' defensive passer rating: In 2011, Pool recorded a defensive passer rating of 60.4, the tenth best value among the 87 qualifying safeties. In 2010, he was second in the league with a 38.5 DPR; in 2009 he was 30th with a 70.5 DPR. In each of those seasons, Pool had a better DPR than any Cowboys safety - by a long shot.
Pool is not a world-class safety, and nobody is claiming that. But he has shown that he has good ball skills and can play the pass. He is not a great tackler, and again, nobody claimed that. Having played for both Rob Ryan and Jerome Henderson in Cleveland, the coaching staff knows exactly what they're getting with Pool. The key for the Cowboys will be to put Pool in a situation where he can play to his strengths. And that's probably as a center fielder playing the pass.