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Cowboys 2012 Draft: How Good Is Dallas At Assembling A Draft Board, Part II: Offense

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About ten days ago, I penned a quick synopsis outlining what NFL scouting departments do each offseason to winnow the massive amount of draftable players down to a workable number. Looking at Dallas' 2011 haul, I surmised that a lot of guys on their "short list" (check out the above link to see a 2011 "little board") had in fact become Cowboys and had acquitted themselves well. Because they had found good players across available rounds (everything from top-ten picks to UDFAs), I concluded that the Cowboys' personnel department had done a good job of evaluating talent and, more importantly, in their "Dallas Day" invitees, had focused on guys, across rounds, that looked to be legit NFL players.

Further, I speculated that this applied not only to the players Dallas actually selected but to all the dudes on their short list--in other words, beyond the guys the Cowboys actually drafted. A look at Dallas' "little board" offered some confirmation that a high percentage of the Cowboys' targets in fact sparkled during their rookie years. In particular, I was impressed by how many mid- and late-rounders, guys like Cecil Shorts and Da'Norris Searcy, got a lot of snaps and made plays in 2011. Again, I noted that this speaks well about the job Tom Ciskowski and his scouts do to identify talent across the board, at least in terms of the ol' eye test.

Given the unreliability of the eye test, however, I wanted to compile some firmer evidence, considering, among other things, PFF grades, position on depth charts, games played, and total snaps. Did these numbers confirm or overrule my gut reaction? In this post, I'll take a look at the offensive studs on Dallas' 2011 short list; later, we'll look at the defensive guys. Then, to cap off the series, I'll look at the infamous "leaked" 2010 draft board, focusing on players drafted more than 40 picks above or below where Dallas slotted them.

Charts and observations after the jump...

Okay, on to the offensive short list. Let's begin by looking at a handy-dandy chart:

Team and Round (pick #) Games Played/ Starts Position on Depth Chart PFF Grades Total Snaps Rookie Year AV
Running Back
Bilal Powell NYJ 4 (126) 2/0 4 -2.8 27 0
DeMarco Murray DAL 3 (71) 13/ 7 1 9.4 390 7
Phillip Tanner DAL UDFA 10/0 3 0.6 50 1
Stevan Ridley NE 3 (73) 15/ 2 2 1.4 192 4
Wide Receiver
Andre Holmes DAL UDFA Practice squad 4 (FL) 0
Cecil Shorts JAX 4 (114) 10/1 3 (FL) -4.9 179 0
Edmund (Clyde) Gates MIA 4 (111) 15/ 0 2 (FL) -2.7 156 0
Jon Baldwin KC 1 (26) 11/3 2 (SE) -6.6 404 2
Jimmy Young CHI UDFA, cut, PIT optioned for 2012 4 (SE)
Offensive Line
Anthony Castonzo IND 1 (22) 12/12 1 (LT) -7 713 4
Danny Watkins PHI 1 (23) 14/ 12 1 (RG) -8.4 807 5
DeMarcus Love MIN 6 (168) 0/ 0 (inactive for all 16) 2 (LT) NP NP 0
Derek Sherrod GB 1 (32) 5/0 2 (RT) -5.1 115 0
Gabe Carimi CHI 1 (29) 2/2 1 (RT) -0.3 100 1
Jake Kirkpatrick IND UDFA ??
Mike Pouncey MIA 1 (15) 16/ 16 1 (OC) -1.7 1025 6
Nate Solder NE 1 (17) 16/ 13 1 (RT) -2.5 880 8
Tyron Smith DAL 1 (9) 16/ 16 1 (RT) 13.7 1074 (missed 8 all season) 9
Will Rackley JAX 3 (76) 14/ 13 2 (LG) -35.7 955 0??

Some context:

  • The PFF grades for first round draft picks ranged from +53.0 (Von Miller) to -49.9 (Blaine Gabbert). Tyron Smith's grade (13.7) was the fourth-highest for a first rounder and the highest for an offensive player taken in round one.
  • AV is Pro Football Reference's cumulative season grade (they also offer career AV). Again, some context: for the first rounders, the highest 2011 AVs were Patrick Peterson's 25 and Cam Newton's 19. Tyron Smith's score of 9 places him sixth in the rookie class, just behind Julio Jones and J. J. Watt (and well above the first-round average of 5.75)

And a few takeaways from this list:

  • An encouraging sign: four of these players received positive season grades from Pro Football Focus. Three of them were Cowboys. Nice!
  • There is little evidence to suggest that Dallas either significantly over- or under-valued these players. Of course, we don't know what the Cowboys 2011 draft board looked like, but there seem to be pretty clear correlations between what the Cowboys saw and what the rest of the league perceived in these guys. No Quincy Carters or Dwayne Goodriches here, thank goodness (and Parcells).
  • Dallas targeted several mid-round running back types--and seem really to have had a good eye for running back talent. All four of their targets played, and two of them started (Ridley for a conference champion). Both Powell and Tanner showed promise even though they were buried on a talented running back depth chart. The Cowboys certainly seem to have chosen the right back; Murray's numbers far exceed those of his other invitees.
  • At receiver, the numbers are less clear. The Cowboys honed in on several mid-to late round receiving types (other than the late-first to early-second round Baldwin). All of the legitimately draftable guys (Holmes and Young both had "UDFA" stamped on them from the get-go) were taken about where we imagined the Cowboys had them, and all three saw fairly significant playing time; for Shorts and Gates, most of this was on special teams.
  • The Cowboys targeted a passel of first-round offensive linemen, so it should not surprise that many of their targets performed well, save for Sherrod, who was behind a stout pair of tackles on the Packers' depth chart, and Carimi, who was injured early in the season. The exceptions, Love and Kirkpatrick, weren't expected to do as well and ended up performing about how one might expect. Again, the numbers suggest that Dallas definitely picked the right one in Tyron Smith, who outperformed even Solder and Pouncey, both of whom had outstanding rookie years.

And that's the chief dilemma when looking at this data: these are rookie years. Certainly, the majority of the players Dallas targeted--even late round types, were picked up by NFL teams, and at about the round one might expect. Where their careers go from here, however, is anybody's guess, as is the burning question: where did Dallas slot these guys, exactly?--which is one of he reasons why monitoring the progress of the leaked 2010 draft board will be so instructive: we can see exactly where the Cowboys had them slotted, and more accurately measure projection vs. production.

In the meantime, we'll extend the above exercise to the defensive side of the ball to revisit the other half of the Cowboys 2011 short list. I'll have that up later in the week.

Thoughts? Observations? How do you you interpret the data? Share your analytical acumen n the comments section below.

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