I know what you're sitting there thinking... What the heck is a four-pronged ranking? If you thought it was a way to rank the most-utilized utensils in the kitchen drawer you'd be incorrect; but I wouldn't blame you for your train of thought.
CBS Sports' controversial writer Pete Prisco released a ranking system on Friday that raised an eyebrow or two. Prisco has been an NFL Senior Writer for CBS Sports since 2000 and since the invention of social media such as Twitter, doesn't mind being confrontational with sports fans that have a different opinion than he. This time, it's his annual Four-Pronged Rankings, which I must admit, this is the first time I've heard of it. He writes with a certain "confidence" that his opinion is the correct one.
In this instance, his opinion is that the Cowboys have the main four components necessary to be a top NFL team and while I agree that these components are very important, I don't know if I agree with his singular premise of "Four key positions. Four key players. If you have all of those, you should have success."
So what exactly do the Four-Pronged Rankings consist of? Here's the criteria and order of importance:
1. Get a franchise passing quarterback.
2. If you have that guy, get the player who can knock down the other guy's franchise passer.
3. If you have those two, get the corner who can knock down the quarterback's passes.
4. If you have those three, make sure to get a premium tackle to keep the other teams' pass rushers off your quarterback.
* I used my four-pronged approach to rate the 32 teams heading into 2012. Each of the four categories has players ranked 1-32, with only one player per team per category. So if a team has two elite pass rushers, only the top one counts. The player ranked first gets 32 points, with the player ranked last getting one.
I then added up the total points to come up with a four-pronged total score. There is a catch. The quarterback position, which is now maybe 65 to 75 percent of the game, gets double points.
Follow the jump to see where they landed in the individual position rankings, how Dallas achieved the top overall score and whether or not the ranking pass the smell test.
OK, so we know that Prisco applied a random value to adjust for quarterback worthiness. I'll never be mistaken for a stat guru, but I'm sure that breaks all kinds of correlation or logic rules somewhere in the secret squirrel rulebook.
The fact that each team has to have one representative, like the MLB All-Star game, also allows in some rank skewing. I'm sure Asante Samuel of the Falcons deserves a nod over DeAngelo Hall of the Redskins; but hey, I hate them both.
So, we'll have to suspend a bit of reality while looking at these rankings. Prisco does in fact add the caveat that he isn't predicting that Dallas will make a Super Bowl run because of leading these rankings, just that they are best equipped, overall, at the key areas of need.
Dallas ranked first overall by a pretty large margin. Their total team score was 135 points. The next closest was Green Bay at 119. To put that in perspective, the 16 point gap was only seen one more time in the ranking, between the sixth-place Giants (110) and the Saints and Eagles tied for 7th (94 pts). The rest of the top five? Denver (118 pts) Houston (118 pts) and Carolina (113 pts).
2011 ranking: 7th (107 pts)
Tony Romo enters the discussion for Prisco in the tenth slot of the quarterback ratings, giving him 23 points (46 because franchise QBs are worth exactly twice as much!) Is Romo a top-ten QB? That's a question that has been asked ad naseum around the NFL for the past few years. Pro Football Focus has him with the 10th best cumulative grade on the 2011 season. Meanwhile, Football Outsiders said he had the fourth-best '11 behind only Brees Rodgers and Brady in Defense-Adjusted Yards Above Replacement (DYAR). Advanced NFL Stats ranks Romo sixth in "Win Probability Added". Averaging the three advanced stat sites together, you'd have to say that Romo deserves a slightly better rating than 10th best, but it's probably nothing to quibble over.
2011 ranking: 13th
Prisco has Tyron Smith ranked as the third best left tackle in the game. Here was my initial reaction: Look, I love Tyron. I'm amazed at what I saw in his rookie season at right tackle. But assuming he'll be the league's third-best left tackle is an amazing jump in my humble opinion. Then I started looking over the list of left tackles in the league. Has the left tackle position ever been this depleted of game-changers? I'd consider Joe Thomas tops in the league, and I know Eugene Brown has earned his kudos even though I haven't watched him much. Outside of that, who moves the needle? Jake Long? Jordan Gross? Both are top players, but do they have the physical ability of Tyron?No, but they do have experience. Now, Tyron has a lot of work to do with his upper body positioning that hopefully Bill Callahan is working diligently on. If he is, this may not be as far-fetched as my insta-reaction.
2011 ranking: 9th (Doug Free)
Is there even anything to argue about here? Prisco lists DeMarcus Ware as the league's number one pass rusher. Ware is an elite rusher, who always is competing for the league sack title. He plays the run better than most elite pass rushers. He can drop back in pass coverage and hold his own. Year in, year out, he plays every game. Year in, year out, he's the best in the business. You know how they used to argue whether you'd bet on Tiger Woods or the field? That's what this is; DeMarcus or the field. If you had to place a bet on who would lead the league in sacks in 2012, DeMarcus isn't getting your two bits?
2011 ranking: 1st (DeMarcus Ware)
Whoa Nelly. Prisco has Brandon Carr ranked as the sixth-best cornerback in the league. Now hear me out. His former secondary mate, Brandon Flowers is ranked as the 4th best corner. Now as much as my interest is piqued by Carr and the limited times I've seen him in action and highlight reels, I don't know if I could call Carr the sixth best, but maybe it's true. I know Kansas City greatly missed Eric Berry, but to have two of the top six corners in what was a pretty bad pass defense they trotted out last year?
Was Carr one of the top free agent corners available? Definitely. Is he a top 20 corner, not much of a doubt. PFF thought he was only the 29th best corner in 2011; Advanced NFL stats ranked him 80th. That doesn't mean I think Dallas made a bad signing; not at all. Both of those sites are limited by the same camera views we see as fans. There are some great individual stats that contradict those rankings as well.
Among corners that played the majority of their teams defensive snaps, he ranked fifth in NFL QB Rating against (61.7). With the same qualifications (75% or more of defensive snaps), he was sixth in catch percentage allowed (49.4%).
So maybe "crazy ol' Prisco" is right on with his rankings here as well. However I need to see him applied in the press coverage of Rob Ryan's defense successfully (switching sides of the field as well) before saying he's a top 10 corner. Color me cautiously optimistic.
2011 ranking: 22nd (Mike Jenkins)
So what say you, BTB? Are you in agreement that Dallas has the best collection at the four key positions? Do you believe in the concept or are you more like me, believing that the strength of a team up the middle is just as important as the weapons that play on the fringe? Share your thoughts in the comments section.