With two games to go, crucial ones at that, there still remains much to be written about the 2011 NFL season and player performances. With that caveat though, and with the conclusion of the fan voting segment of the true Pro Bowl nomination process, Pro Football Focus has weighed in with whom they feel are the most deserving players at each position.
PFF makes a profession out of evaluating each player's worth on each play, and grade said performance on a scale of -2.0 to +2.0. Here's their extensive FAQ which explains their grading process in full detail. You'll see these continuously referenced here on BTB in O.C.C's outstanding "Grading The Performances" series after each week's games. I also use them more often than not to weigh my eye-test evaluations and rely on them for trench-battle evaluations.
Through 14 games, PFF feels that the individual performances of the Cowboys players ranks them as the sixth-best offensive collection of players, the ninth-best defense and the 17th-ranked special teams unit. A snapshot analysis says that they place more weight on bad luck than bad play to explain Dallas' middle-of-the-road 8-6 record.
Individually though, PFF only feels that two Cowboys rank as the best at their positions for 2011. Follow the jump for the skinny.
RT Tyron Smith | Overall Grade +18.7 (Pass Block +11.2 Run Block +5.3 Screen Block +0.5 Penalty +0.3)
LT – Jason Peters (PHI), RT – Tyron Smith (DAL), and Tyson Clabo (ATL)
The third-best pass blocking left tackle in football is also the best run blocker. Peters is an unbeatable combination of ability that makes him the best offensive lineman in the NFL this year. Only one player is even close and that he is Tryon Smith is remarkable. Not since Jake Long entered the NFL have we seen such an accomplished performance from a rookie tackle. Rounding out the selections is right tackle Clabo. Like Smith, Clabo is a better pass blocker than run blocker and while this may not be ideal for a right tackle, their respective prowess in that area is good enough for this team.
Just missed: Bryan Bulaga (GB) – He played very well and was much improved on 2010, but injury and hence lack of snaps went against him.
OLB DeMarcus Ware | Overall Grade +24.4 (Pass Rush +25.9 Run Defense +3.6 Pass Coverage +2.6 Penalty -7.7)
DeMarcus Ware (DAL), Clay Matthews (GB), and Sean Weatherspoon (ATL)
So this wasn’t Ware’s best year? Certainly not but he’s still the gold standard against which all other outside linebackers are judged and, even with injury, he still played extremely well–although nine penalties is too much for anyone’s taste. Matthews got derided because his sack numbers were down but that’s just by people who should know better. They should know for example his 20 QB hits are first among 3-4 OLBs and his 39 hurries third. Weatherspoon struggled last year but now his talent is showing through; he was a force in the running game and did well when blitzing. He’s a little inconsistent in coverage but that’s experience and he’s every bit the player the Falcon’s hoped for when they picked him.
Just missed: Aldon Smith (SF), Brian Orakpo (Was) – Smith may be the next great pass rusher and be a rival for Von Miller for many years to come, but we can’t pick a player just playing in sub-packages can we? In Orakpo’s case it was close but not just not good enough; he gets pressure almost as frequently as Ware and almost identically to Matthews but plays the run far worse than either.
TE Jason Witten also merited a mention under their "just missed" categorization. Witten graded out as +7.2 overall, but was greatly impacted by a -5.4 run blocking grade.
Just missed: Jason Witten (DAL) – it’s not that Witten did "just miss" (he was some way off) but when you’ve been at the pinnacle of your position for so long it’s at least worth a footnote. The truth is he actually has regressed a lot this year and his blocking was no longer good enough to overcome the superior receiving performance of Gonzalez.
So what do you think of PFF's assessment? Anyone you think they may have undervalued (cough, Tony Romo ranked eighth in QBs, cough)?