It was a great weekend for beer drinkers in Kansas City with the Westport Beer Festival. I did my part to ensure that all of the kegs were lighter at the end of the evening. I will admit to a moment of sadness when I saw the Lagunitas Brewery banner in front of an empty spot, but it was merely a case of being offset from the tables. I did some damage there.
Anyway, let’s talk about beer in relation to the Cowboys. I want to focus on the defensive line today, given all of the doom and gloom from pundits recently and see what we really have to work with.
I’m going to start with George Selvie. We are all grateful for the yeoman’s work he gave us last year, but let’s recognize who he really is. PFF gave him overall a -0.4 grade, or the grade of an average player. In Selvie’s case it was because he was good against the run, and despite his 7 sacks, he was a mediocre pass rusher. So, in the sense that we are relying on him, pundits are right to be critical. Nevertheless, in the injury shambles of our defensive line last year, he was almost a religious icon. Average lineman? But who actually could play all 16 games? For that he gets a St. George (Hampton, VA) Oktoberfest Marzen by playing throughout the fall.
There’s no doubt in my mind that Selvie is a useful player but in a backup role. When we signed Terrell McClain and Jeremy Mincey I believe our collective response was generally "meh." McClain, as I will discuss, is essentially a league average player and probably not much more. But Mincey might be a little better than that. Here are his grades for his career: 5.3 in 2013, -3.5 in 2012, 14.0 in 2011, 4.3 in 2010. In this case, the -3.5 in 2012 is an outlier and a closer look suggests there might have been a nagging injury during weeks 11-14 of that year, when he posted a -13.0 grade. In other words, except for those 4 weeks, he graded out at 9.5 for the rest of 2012. These are the grades of an above average player, especially on an inexpensive contract. My only worry with Mincey is that he is 30, but if he stays healthy he will be an upgrade over Selvie and if he doesn’t we’re no worse off. He gets a Greenbush (Sawyer, MI) Mince Meat Porter for the mincemeat we hope he makes of opposing ballplayers.
Another player who stepped in was Nick Hayden. Again, we were pleased that he was able to actually play and not get hurt. Again, however, let’s recognize who he was. Hayden was not the worst DT in the NFL according to PFF last year. Nope, Chris Jones of New England was worse. Still, there’s no getting around Hayden’s -27.4 grade. I don’t think Hayden is a surprise cut, because when he is cut it will be no surprise to me. Even if guys like Davon Coleman, Ken Bishop, or Ben Bass don’t turn out to be great players, they are younger and almost cannot be worse than Hayden. We have to appreciate his efforts last year, though, even if he was overmatched. Nick, here’s a Brasserie Dieu Du Ciel (Montreal, Quebec) Friendship and Farewell American IPA. I’m happy to buy you a beer so you can enjoy watching the game from a chair and not looking up from the FieldTurf.
It’s Terrell McClain who is slated to start at 1-technique. In 2013, PFF graded him out at -0.8, although that was in a fairly small number of plays. Now Brian Broaddus has been very complimentary of McClain in OTAs and maybe he’s a better player than average. Though we can’t count on him being better, we can expect him to be league average. Compared to Nick Hayden, one of the worst in the NFL in 2012, we can thus expect a large improvement because of that. In fact, with average play, we’ll be ecstatic, and that earns McClain a Ska (Durango, CO) Euphoria American Pale Ale.
So far, we can anticipate moderate improvement at two line positions, but probably not at the 3-technique. That’s because Jason Hatcher was tremendous last year, earning a 27.3 grade from PFF. In 2012, though, Henry Melton had earned a 15.8 grade which is obviously very good. I don’t think we can expect to replace Hatcher completely, but I do think that if Melton is healthy we will be fine. Admittedly, that’s a question, so I’m sending him a FiftyFifty (Truckee, CA) Healthy Spirits American Strong Ale to keep him healthy throughout the year.
However, we’re not replacing Hatcher with one player, but at least two. In 2012, Crawford put up an overall grade of 2.5, or slightly above average. He was also better against the run than the pass, but remember that in 2012 he was used as a 3-4 DE. I suspect he’ll be even better as a 3-technique DT, especially against the pass. Crawford, of course, will be playing up and down the line, giving it glue and production. Tyrone, you get a Hardywood Park (Richmond, VA) Great Return American IPA for, well, your great return.
Another player that I think will be a versatile producer is Ben Bass. I don’t think he’s a great player either, but I think he’s likely to be league average. I’ll admit I don’t have any objective reason for this anticipation. Essentially, I’m relying upon scouting reports here. However, these reports have been consistent that he’s got something. He gets what is now a very basic, not particularly special beer, a Bass (Burton-on-Trent, Staffordshire) Pale Ale. It’s certainly drinkable, but not a first choice, just as Bass is serviceable but not a starter. Yet, he’s a depth player, sort of like the last beer in the cooler. After I drink 5-6 others, Bass Ale tastes just fine, and I think he’ll do good in the rotation.
I remain intrigued by Caesar Rayford. He has the physical assets, at 6ft 7in, 270lbs, and running a 4.56 40 in college (though he was lighter). In the Arena league he was very productive, totaling 29.5 sacks. He also played in the CFL briefly but was productive there also. In 2013, he came out of the AFL season basically to go right into camp with the Colts without a break and was stellar. This is the first year he’s ever had that he’s coming into an NFL camp with a shot and didn’t play in the spring after gaining his physical maturity. He’s got a great productive ratio in these other leagues. He wasn’t particularly productive in 2013 for the Cowboys but that might be because of injuries, which have healed, and fatigue, which has passed. Here’s a link to his story: http://hardcorehusky.com/news/caesar-rayfords-relentless-fight-to-live-a-nfl-dream. Again, I don’t think he’s a great player, but I do think he’s got a chance at being a useful pass rushing rotation player. So, Caesar, shoot at the moon, and I’m giving you a Great Lakes (Cleveland, OH) Moondog ESB in the hopes that you succeed.
I am combining two players here, Amobi Okoye and Anthony Spencer. The truth is their injuries may preclude either one from contributing at all this year. Anything we get from them is a bonus, either at 3-technique or DE. However, this is a perfect example of creating luck. Both of their contracts are team-friendly. Both of them have produced in the past. Both of them have a chance to get healthy and provide quality snaps. If one of them succeeds pundits will be talking how lucky the Cowboys are, but in reality this "luck" is the residue of smart design of creating chances at low risk. I’m giving each of them a Calfkiller (Sparta, TN) Christmas Bonus 2013 Smoked Beer in the hopes that one or the other will be a bonus player for the Cowboys late in the year.
Now I’m going to combine all of the rookies but one: Bishop, Coleman, Gardner, and Whaley. I think we can take it a given that Whaley will be on the DL. I think you can also take it as a given that at best, a reasonable hope is that one of these other three will turn into a league average player. The odds are against it for any one of the three, but there’s a reasonable chance that one of them will show that kind of quality. They get a Krönleins (Halmstad, Sweden) Three Hearts Strongest Brew European Strong Lager as we watch training camp and see which of these is the strongest heart.
Now we get to DeMarcus Lawrence. Pundits have pointed out that he simply cannot replace DeMarcus Ware. I agree. I have no expectation or even hope that DeMarcus Lawrence will be a Hall of Famer. However, the concept that Lawrence cannot replace Ware’s 2013 in 2014 is a completely different argument. Ware did not play like a Hall of Famer in 2013, with only 6 sacks. I’ve seen a number of suggestions that we can anticipate something like 5 sacks from Lawrence. Now, understand that part of the reason that Ware didn’t accumulate more sacks in 2013 was his health. When he played, especially early in the year, he was great. I’m not a big believer in the "injury-prone" label because of sample size, but we do have good solid statistical evidence that older players tend to be injured more than younger players. So, while I don’t expect Lawrence to be as good as Ware when Ware is fully healthy, I expect that Lawrence will be on the field at full strength much more than Ware will be, meaning that he can indeed replace Ware’s production. Lawrence gets a Devils Canyon (San Carlos, CA) Full Boar Scotch Ale for his ability to, well, go full bore.
Finally, let’s give one to Leon Lett, whose job it is to coach all of these guys up. When people think of him, of course, they think of the two great blunders that he is associated with. I will point out two things. One, he’s really shown me something as he’s grown into being a position coach for the Cowboys. Two, in both years where those mistakes happened, the Cowboys won the Super Bowl. I have a great deal of respect for Leon because he’s built himself this life coming from Emporia State University, which is not exactly a powerhouse. Here’s a Neshaminy Creek (Croydon, PA) Leon Imperial Stout for working at making this defensive line stouter.
I’m not here to tell you that this will be a dominant line in 2014. I am, however, here to tell you that I think this will be a league average defensive line. Mincey and Selvie will be league average or better. McClain and, say, Bishop, will be league average at the 1-technique. Melton and Crawford and Bass will be league average or better at the 3-technique. And at LDE Lawrence will give a performance similar to Ware at LDE. Not as efficient, but healthier and more consistent.
In 2013 this was not a league average defensive line, even with Jason Hatcher. At defensive tackle, Hatcher played 773 snaps earning a 27.3 grade. The other 1500 or so DT snaps graded out negatively, and Hayden accrued a -27.4 grade in 843 snaps. Sadly, Corey Irvin, Jarius Wynn, and David Carter were worse per play. In the 2300 or so defensive snaps, only Ware was positive, though Selvie was average, but that left almost 1000 plays by below average players. If the Cowboys can play at league average on the defensive line this defense will be dramatically improved. Especially the DBs.
And I think it’s not only possible but likely.