Will the grades be an accurate reflection of how the Cowboys have graded their players, and do the Cowboys draft picks and off-season moves so far support this? But perhaps more importantly, does the data pass the eye test?
Today, we let the coaches and other franchise luminaries weigh in on each position group.
Obviously, we do not have the grades the Cowboys handed out for each player, but we do have access to a data source that does a similar exercise for all NFL teams. In their own words: "Profootballfocus.com analyze and grade every player on every play in every game to provide you with the most in-depth statistics you can find anywhere outside the team's film room". After the jump we 'peek' into the Cowboys' film room using profootballfocus.com's data.
Note on the data: The ranking data is limited to players that played at least 25% of their team's snaps, and I've removed the penalties from the overall ratings as I felt they were weighted far too heavily in the overall score.
What you'll see for each player below is his rank relative to all other NFL players at that position, a "better than" number which tells you that the player ranks better than xx% of the players at his position in the league and his PFF ratings (overall score and a breakdown by specific areas).
Green is good (positive), yellow is about average and red is bad (negative). The higher the positive grading the better the performance and vice versa.
||Player||NFL Rank||Total||Better Than||Overall Rating||Pass||Run||Block|
The wide receiver data should not really come as a surprise to anyone. Miles Austin had a stellar year, Roy Williams clearly did not, and while Patrick Crayton's numbers look pretty average, he's arguably one of the better slot receivers in the league. Kevin Ogletree (44 snaps) and Sam Hurd (103 snaps) have an overall rating of 1.2 and 0.8 respectively.
If these numbers are anywhere close to where the Cowboys ended up grading their players, the receiver position suddenly becomes a position of need, and drafting a receiver with the number one pick makes a lot of sense. Especially if that receiver turns out to be Dez Bryant. Coach Ray Sherman, who has coached receivers such as Jerry Rice, Randy Moss and T.O, had this to say about Dez Bryant:
He's in a class of his own. He's different than any guy I've ever had and I think that he's going to be a special player. Because he has the want-to, he has the ability and he wants to be good. He's just different, the body structure, the power, being able to do more things as a punt returner, kickoff returner, receiver. Most guys are just one or the other, this guy can do a lot of different things. Plus he's a powerful guy. He's a guy that's going to be able to break tackles. He's a guy that's going to be able to make the big play because he can utilize his body, sort of like Michael Irvin or Chris Carter.
Which still leaves the question of what to do with Roy Williams. Asked about whether Roy Williams would have to compete for a starting job next season, Jerry Jones replied:
"No. No. A big no. I’m optimistic about Roy Williams. He’s certainly got room for improvement. We all know that. But we’ve got to do some things with the way we get him the ball to enhance his game. We’re going to do that."
Drew Pearson had some ideas on what was wrong with Roy Williams and how that could be fixed:
"The No. 1 thing I see is that he plays too tall [...] Because Roy is so limited in the types of pass routes he runs, the defensive backs and coordinators have caught up to his ability. What he's got to do is learn how to play small. They play him off the line of scrimmage, before they weren't playing that. At first, they were like, "How can we stop him." But now, his first move is up. Now defensive backs can get up in there and hold him up for 1.2 seconds, and that's enough to disrupt the pass pattern. They are taking away his favorite routes with the chuck and aggressive man defense. The fade routes, the slant routes man routes, the deeper post routes, those are the only routes he runs effectively.
You got to coach him. When I say get lower I mean get in a deeper crouch and come off strong so you don't give them anything to hit. You have to use less choppy steps to get in and out of your break. That means you will get in and out of your break faster. That's how you create separation between you and the defensive back."
Imagine a receiving corp with Austin, Bryant and a Williams playing to the level of his contract. Tony Romo will be playing with a permanent smile all next season.
||Player||NFL Rank||Total||Better Than||Overall Rating||Pass||Run||Block|
Last week it was reported that the Cowboys had moved Felix Jones to the top of the depth chart at running back. Again, if the PFF numbers are anywhere close to how the Cowboys graded their players, this move makes sense. Obviously Barber's numbers were impacted by his nagging quad injury, but after finishing 2008 with a -1.8 rating as well, it may be time for a change. In an interesting side note you'll notice that Jones graded out better not just in running, but also in blocking and in pass receiving.
According to running back coach Skip Peete, pass receiving may actually be the area where switching Jones to number one may have the most visible impact:
"You utilize him and try to create certain matchups against outside linebackers or safeties where there’s a speed factor as far as his advantage to create a mismatch. A lot of times you look at guys and 60 of their catches are on check down routes. Then they turn and create a play from a simple two-yard pass, so just trying to get him the ball any kind of way we can is obviously going to increase his receiving yards and catches."
It does come as somewhat of a surprise to me that Deon Anderson graded so highly. He is a complete non-factor as a runner and as a receiver, but he does grade out very high as a blocker.
||Player||NFL Rank||Total||Better Than||Overall Rating||Pass||Pass Block||Run Block|
According to PFF, Jason Witten graded out as the best tight end in the league with an absolutely dominant performance as a run blocker. In the world of fantasy football, tight ends are judged by their receiving yards and TDs. In the real world of football, run blocking is where tight ends earn their paychecks. Run-blocking may not bring the same glory that catching the key 3rd down pass in the red zone will, but a tight end who can block is an invaluable asset to his team.
The tight end is the catalyst for most off-tackle and outside runs. On these runs the tight end will often be at the exact point where the ball is being run and his block will determine the success or failure of the play. Blocking skills are always important for a tight end by the simple nature of where they line up – anybody that close to the line had better know how to block. But most people don’t see blocking, and neither do most stats.
Martellus Bennett has taken a lot of flak for his disappointing performance as a receiver, and rightly so. But what is often overlooked is his contribution as a blocker. PFF grade Marty B as the fifth best blocking TE in the league.
TE coach John Garrett, in an interview on The Blitz, was also complimentary about Bennett as a run blocker:
"Martellus had some bright spots but also had some struggles, as we know. I was really pleased with his run blocking development. If you had asked me at the beginning which area would develop faster, I would have probably said: as a receiver. So I’m pleasantly surprised that he’s done a really good job of buying into what we’re teaching him in the run game and he really blocked well and sprung some big runs for the backs."
||Player||NFL Rank||Total||Better Than||Overall Rating||Pass Block||Screen Block||Run Block|
As the saying goes, it all starts in the trenches, and the offensive line as a whole has graded out pretty well. Granted, the Vikings game is not included in these numbers, and the numbers also do not reflect the struggles the line had in power blocking in short yardage situation, but the reports of the demise of the Cowboys O-line may have been a tad premature.
Flozell Adams graded out as the weakest link in the O-line last year, particularly in terms of pass protection, and has consequently been replaced by the up-and-coming Doug Free who graded out quite promisingly.
Jerry Jones is bullish on Free replacing Adams at left tackle:
"The question now is he got all of his time in at right [tackle]. I say that because if you look at his pluses and what he does the best, it’s more left tackleish than it is right tackleish, which is good feet, runs good, moves good and you want everybody to be an anchor, but you don’t do it as much over there as you do on the right."
The real question for Hudson Houck is about depth on the O-line. Houck is busy moving guys around to provide the needed depth: Travis Bright, Montrae Holland and Cory Procter all project as center and guard. Robert Brewster is a left tackle, Sam Young is mainly a right tackle and Pat McQuistian is being moved from tackle to guard.
Jerry Jones weighs in on these moves:
"We’re going to see how this thing goes. Montrae’s signing gives us some flexibility there. We now can see how things go in OTAs. We might not be [in market for a free agent tackle] because of the flexibility he gives us in moving guys around."
At the same time, Jones is keeping all his options open:
"We did not necessarily address needs in the offensive line. We'll still be looking at that. The pick of Sam didn't necessarily do that. A high pick may have done that. If you're going to spend some money and allocate roster spots and make it Romo-friendly, you sure want to protect him ... But next to that, get him that firepower to go to."
Tony Romo ended up in the 15th spot on PFFs ranking of QBs. Even adjusting for my own built-in homerism, this number strikes me as excessively low, and honestly, I cannot explain this ranking. This data does not pass my eye-test.
By most traditional measures, Tony Romo in 2009 was a top ten quarterback in the league: 8th in passer rating, 6th in YPA, 10th in TDs, 12th in completion percentage, etc.etc.
I do not know enough about PFFs grading process of quarterbacks to properly critique their ranking and methodology. Perhaps the fact that QB is the only position they do not normalize has something to do with it. Perhaps there was a technical glitch in the PFF film room just as they were reviewing Tony Romo.
Anyway, in the hypothetical scenario where we are lurking in the Cowboys' film room, this is where Wade Phillips fires the analyst.