On the front page, Dave pointed out the Pro Football Focus top 101 list. Only three Cowboys made that list: Tyron Smith, Jason Hatcher, and DeMarco Murray. The first name called out as an obvious omission and a sign of anti-Cowboys bias was Dez Bryant. Part of the reason for this claim was the fact that Marques Colston and TY Hilton, who were included on the list ahead of him.
If we're going to make claims of a bias against the Cowboys, we owe it to the accused to actually look at the evidence and their methodology. Clearly, if anyone were to draft Dez or Marques or TY, you'd pick Dez, but was Dez actually more productive last year or not? While we're at it, we'll glance at all of the Cowboy receivers.
We need to understand PFF's methodology. First, they keep track of a variety of advanced statistics we're going to look at. The traditional stats all have limitations. We'll examine all of them. PFF, for this particular exercise, only took 2013 into account, not past history but they did include postseason performance. Also, they pay attention not simply to pass-catching for receivers, but also blocking, running, and penalties.
The columns of the chart, left to right, are: Targets, Receptions, Receptions/Targets, Drops, Drops/Catchable Balls (Not necessarily targets), Yards, Yards/Reception. Yards/Route Run, Yards After Catch, YAC/Reception. Missed Tackles, Touchdowns, Fumbles, Penalties.
The chart starts with Colston (All games, including playoffs), Colston (Normalized to 156 Targets), Hilton, Hilton (All games, including postseason, Bryant, the other Cowboy receivers, and then the rest of the top 30 receivers to give you a sense of the context of these stats.
By the way, let me know if this chart doesn't display correctly so I can see what I can do to fix it.
Editing Note: I have updated the chart to reflect that I found more information on PFF website. First, I have included Colston's stats to include his playoff stats, and then re-normalized his stats to 156 catches. Also, I have put in Hilton's exact YPRR.
|M. Colston (A)
|M. Colston (N)||156||110||70.1||5.0||4.35||1379||12.5||1.84
|TY Hilton (A)||158||99||62.7||7||6.60||1410||14.2||2.27||475||4.8||12||7||0||2|
Editing Note: I have changed the arguments below to reflect changes in the statistics added above. This is only to make the numbers consistent.
First, let's look at usage. PFF specifically said that Hilton's playoff performance put him into their top 101 and you can see the improvement here on the Hilton (A) row, which includes all of his stats including the playoffs. Conveniently, his total targets were 158 and Dez's were 156. Hence, we can basically compare counting stats straight across. I also created the Colston (N) row, which are his counting stats normalized to 156 targets assuming his efficiency remained the same. Now we can compare the counting stats of all three players easily.
What we see is that Dez definitely did better in terms of the traditional counting stats during the regular season, however, we can see that his superiority in these categories is primarily derived from his large number of targets. Given basically the same number of targets, Colston would have had 110 catches, Hilton had 99 counting playoffs, and Dez was third with 93. Hilton led all three with 1410 yards, Colston comes in second with 1379 at 156 targets, and Dez third with 1249. Dez, however, caught more TDs than either TY and Colston, 13 to 7.5 and 7. In conclusion, in terms of counting stats, each of the three was markedly superior in one category, and frankly there's not a lot to choose from here. I can absolutely see picking Dez for his TDs, but arguments can be made for each.
Hence, let's look at some of the other more advanced stats. Clearly, in terms of efficiency per throw, Colston is the best. His reception percentage is considerably higher than either Hilton or Bryant and was 4th in 2013. Hilton came in 27th and Dez 36th. His drop rate is tremendous (3rd in NFL). Dez was by far the worst of the three, with about the same number of drops as the other two combined (32nd in NFL). Hilton came in at 14th in the NFL. Dez is also significantly worse than the other two in catch percentage. In terms of reliability, I'd rather throw to Colston, then Hilton, then Dez, and it's fairly obvious.
By the way, all of these rankings, including those listed below, are out of receivers with 90 targets or more in 2013, including playoff games.
Let's look at what they do with the ball after the catch. Looking at YAC per reception, Dez is the best after the catch, though not by a huge amount over Hilton. Colston is clearly a guy who gets open, catches the ball reliably, but is not explosive. By the way, please note that Dez was good but not great in 2013. Eddie Royal and Chris Givens led the top receivers with 7.7 YAC/Rec, and Dez is tied for 14th with Calvin Johnson.
Along these lines, Dez is very good at eluding and breaking tackles, which is reflected in his YAC/Rec. His 15 missed tackles is sizably better than Hilton's 12 or Colston's 6.3. Here Dez was tied at 5th.
So far, these stats match the eye test, by the way. I definitely prefer Dez with the ball in his hand, but he hasn't always been consistent and we can all think of annoying drops he's had. Also, while his running ability with the ball is a positive for Dez, I don't think it outweighs the reliability of the Colston and Hilton.
We can also see explosiveness by looking at Yards per Route Run. Colston is easily the worst of the three with 1.84 YPRR (20th in NFL). Hilton was tremendous with a YPRR of 2.23 (8th in NFL). That's significantly better than Dez's 2.05 (15th in NFL).
Now, let's look at mistakes. I am struck by how mistake-free Colston is. No fumbles, 1 penalty. Hilton's very good as well, with only 2 penalties and 0 fumbles. Dez, on the other hand, had 3 fumbles and 4 penalties, which was more than any other receiver on the list except Alshon Jeffery.
As I said, PFF grades blocking and running and adds that into their judgement here. These are challenging numbers to quantify, so I'm going to use their grades and since they're small I'm going to combine them. Colston graded out at -1.9 for the two, Hilton at -1.5, and Dez -2.7. Dez, by the way, did so poorly because he's not a very good blocker. Given their subjective nature, though, I'm going to just accept these as essentially even. Hilton may have an advantage but it is slight.
Nevertheless, I think if you look objectively at the numbers Dez was the third most productive of these three. Yes, when he has the ball he's more explosive than either of the other two. However, his lack of consistency catching the ball in the first place and his large number of mistakes doom him.
Again, I think this matches the eye test. About once a game it seems there's a "Dammit Dez!" moment for me, and these numbers suggest that's true with 18 combined drops, fumbles, and penalties. I didn't watch Colston much but 3 drops, no fumbles, 1 penalty and a 70% catch percentage are hard to argue with.
However, of these three I'd pick Hilton's 2013 as the most productive. He only had 7 drops and 2 penalties in 18 games. He was not particularly consistent catching the ball, only 62.7%, true, but was very good running deep routes as shown by his overall YPRR (2.23) and yards/reception (14.2).
A few side notes. First, is there evidence of an anti-Cowboys bias? I don't think so. It seems clear to me that the choice of Hilton is supportable without relying up PFF's grades, though they don't help Dez's case. In the end, I agree with Hilton better than Colston better than Dez in 2013, which is what PFF had. So, I don't see a bias there.
Nor do I see an overall bias. We were 8-8, so we were average. 101 players divided by 32 teams is 3.15625. The Boys had 3 players on the list. Our average team got as close to an average number of players on the list as they could. Again no evidence of bias there.
A quick commentary on our other receivers. Williams was not our second-best receiver, Beasley was. This is true for much the same reason that Hilton and Colston were better than Bryant. Beasley had 1 drop, Williams had 4. Beasley's catch percentage was huge at 75. Williams was basically the same as Bryant. 1 penalty and no fumbles for Beasley and 1 of each from Williams. I'm going to make the prediction that Devin Street will be significantly better than Williams sooner rather than later. Oh, and 3 drops in 12 catchable passes sort of explains why Dwayne Harris doesn't get many targets, despite doing a lot of little things well.
Again, if I were to draft any of these three receivers I would definitely take Dez. However, in 2013 he just wasn't consistent enough to be in the top 101. It is clear, though, that he was close, and the PFF guys confirmed that in their mail responses. It doesn't surprise me to say, in the end, if Dez fixes the mistakes, often caused by trying too hard, he will be one of the best in the NFL. Until he does, receivers with lesser talent but more consistency will be more productive.
In the end, I give Hilton, who was absolutely fantastic on deep throws a 7 Seas (Gig Harbor, WA) Ballz Deep Double IPA, Colston a Block 15 (Corvallis, OR) Sticky Hands Imperial IPA, and for Dez, an Amsterdam (Toronto, ON) Catch A Fire Rauchbier in hopes that catches fire in 2014.