Quickness Part 3: Who's The Quickest Cowboys Defensive Back?

Rob Ryan will be looking to capitalize on Gerald Sensabaugh's quickness this season.

In Part 1 of this series, I introduced the concept of deriving a quickness measure from players' 10-yard splits and short shuttle times. Part 2 expanded on the idea by refining the 3-cone drill (the results of that exercise weren't what I was looking for, so I'm shelving that one for awhile).

Now, we'll be taking what we learned about quickness numbers and applying them to the Cowboys' entire roster, one position group at a time. We'll start with defensive back, a position where, last year, quickness was the biggest weakness as we watched an oft-hobbled, aging Terence Newman struggle to keep up with the likes of Victor Cruz and Mario Manningham.

In the draft, free agency, and college free agent signings, the Cowboys added a large number of defensive backs to the roster. The big question, though, is "did they add quickness?"

Follow the jump to find out...

Given the large number of defensive backs on the roster, and the lack of any logical ordering, I've decided to put them into a sortable table (HTML stolen from one of OCC's posts, of course).

Player 40yd Dash 10yd Split 20yd Split Short Shuttle SS - 10yd 5yd Avg Max 10yd Max 20yd Max 40yd
Morris Claiborne 4.43 1.56 2.58 4.12 2.56 1.28 1.74 2.76 4.61
Orlando Scandrick 4.32 1.46 2.49 4.37 2.91 1.455 1.88 2.91 4.74
Mike Jenkins 4.38 1.47 2.53 4.4 2.93 1.465 1.90 2.96 4.81
Gerald Sensabaugh 4.44 1.55 2.6 3.98 2.43 1.215 1.67 2.72 4.56
Brodney Pool 4.52 -- -- 4.49 -- -- -- -- --
Lionel Smith 4.44 1.53 2.6 4.28 2.75 1.375 1.82 2.89 4.73
Matt Johnson 4.52 1.52 2.6 4.07 2.55 1.275 1.72 2.80 4.72
Mario Butler 4.39 1.56 2.56 4.37 2.81 1.405 1.86 2.86 4.69
Brandon Carr 4.43 1.47 2.57 4.19 2.72 1.36 1.79 2.89 4.75
Barry Church 4.64 1.58 2.78 4.17 2.59 1.295 1.76 2.96 4.82
Isaac Madison 4.47 1.51 2.6 4.64 3.13 1.565 2.01 3.10 4.97
Danny McCray 4.45 1.62 2.63 4.36 2.74 1.37 1.84 2.85 4.67
Akwasi Owusu-Ansah 4.32 1.48 2.51 4.19 2.71 1.355 1.79 2.82 4.63
Mana Silva 4.43 1.52 2.55 4.16 2.64 1.32 1.77 2.80 4.68
Justin Taplin-Ross 4.53 1.61 2.63 4.33 2.72 1.36 1.83 2.85 4.75
Eddie Whitley 4.39 1.49 2.6 4.36 2.87 1.435 1.87 2.98 4.77
C.J. Wilson 4.53 1.52 2.62 4.2 2.68 1.34 1.78 2.89 4.80

As you look through the data, keep in mind that, at the time of these workouts, all of these players were dealing with different sets of circumstances; not everyone was at their best. Orlando Scandrick, whom many had projected as the quickest DB on our roster, posted a terrible short shuttle time due in large part to a thumb injury (assuming the reported time is accurate; I got it from here). He did not perform the drill at the combine.

Isaac Madison, one of our UDFA signings, performed even worse in the short shuttle, as a result of a knee injury suffered in college. I'm not aware of circumstances excusing the other poor performances, but remember, as always, to consider the big picture when evaluating a player.

Oh, and Brodney Pool just seems to be taking up space. He doesn't seem to have any records for split times, but I included his basic measurables so that you could see that, first, his straight-line speed is about par for an NFL safety, and also that his basic change-of-direction is the worst of all of our defensive backs without a recently blown-out knee.

Now, I'd like to take a moment to address some of the many brilliant points that have been raised in the comments section of the previous posts in this series.

Quickness is not reaction time. In any real-world situation, your true time to change direction will be impacted by both quickness and mental reaction time. The last time I checked, the quickest legal reaction time at an Olympic-level sprint was 0.1 seconds, so you can go ahead and add at least that much time to every one of these COD estimates.

There is no existing metric for reaction time, so, in order to derive it, you'd have to watch the games frame-by-frame and, essentially, guess. The best I can do is to derive their physical quickness and understand that, as their comfort with the scheme increases, they will be able to more quickly read and react to plays.

Quickness is essential to this defense. Rob Ryan allows his players to line up wherever they want, as long as, after the snap, they maintain their proper assignments. Players will intentionally be moving away from where they need to be in order to confuse the offensive players, and will need to recover at the snap in order to capitalize on that confusion.

The difference between 10yd split and 10yd max time is intended to be the actual change of direction time. In other words, the time it takes to stop all forward momentum and re-orient yourself in the opposite direction, but not including the time that it takes to go anywhere in that new direction. It is derived by modelling the 0-10 yard portion of the 40yd dash to the line y = square root of x, and substituting the time at 5 yards in the original 40 with the 5 yard average time.

The essential assumption in this is that roughly 71% (square root of one half) of the 10-yard split time is spent covering the first 5 yards. The remaining 5 yards is assumed to be covered at the same speed in both cases, and so roughly 29% (1 minus the square root of one half) of the 10 yard split is added to the 5-yard average to generate the 5 yard max time. The error with the assumption should be negligible.

My overall opinion on athleticism is that it alone determines the ceiling of a player. It can be improved, of course (and when it improves, so does the ceiling), and often is. How much of that potential shows is entirely mental. Therefore, I believe a player with elite potential (let's arbitrarily call that 100) but only mediocre mental acuity (call it 50%) will perform at the same level as a player with good physical ability (75) and above average mental acuity (66%). In both cases, the player will perform at level 50 (100 x 50% and 75 x 66%), but the player with elite potential has more room for improvement.

This applies very easily to quickness. First, quickness is offset by slow reaction times, but the quickest players have the most to gain by improving their reaction times. Also, quickness comes into play once you're caught out of position, overpursuing, or biting on a fake, all of which are mitigated by mental ability (again, the quicker player has more room for improvement).

Finally, if you have any more questions, want to see comparison numbers, or want to suggest the next position group to look at, let me know in the comments!

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