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Ranking The Athleticism Of The Cowboys' Offensive Line: Why Analytics Only Tell Part Of The Story

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Dallas likes players who have superior measurables, but sometimes there is much more to the story than numbers.

Notoriously bad athlete Travis Frederick.
Notoriously bad athlete Travis Frederick.
Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Over at Pride of Detroit, our sister blog for the Lions, writer Kent Platte took a detailed look at NFL offensive lines. He was searching for answers as to why Detroit is struggling up front. Seeking an analytic indicator, he examined a number called Raw Athletic Score (RAS), which uses combine and pro day numbers to try and quantify the talent of the players. He built a chart of the starting offensive line for every NFL team in 2015, which I have reproduced here. And you may notice some things that are rather surprising.

Rank TM Left Tackle Left Guard Center Right Guard Right Tackle AVG
1 PHI Jason
Peters, 8.32
Allen
Barbre, 8.75
Jason
Kelce, 9.35
Brandon
Brooks, 10.00
Lane
Johnson, 9.92
9.27
2 CLE Joe
Thomas, 8.29
Joel
Bitonio, 9.36
Cameron
Erving, 9.09
John
Greco, 5.59
Alvin
Bailey, 8.56
8.18
3 IND Anthony
Castonzo, 8.62
Jack
Mewhort, 5.69
Ryan
Kelly, 9.29
Hugh
Thornton, 9.26
Denzelle
Good, 6.99
7.97
4 TAM Donovan
Smith, 6.94
J.R.
Sweezy, 9.46
Joe
Hawley, 4.81
Ali
Marpet, 9.8
Demar
Dotson, -
7.75
5 ATL Jake
Matthews, 8.89
Andy
Levitre, 3.36
Alex
Mack, 7.79
Chris
Chester, 9.43
Ryan
Schraeder, 9.11
7.72
6 NYJ Ryan
Clady, 8.13
James
Carpenter, 7.25
Nick
Mangold, 8.57
Brian
Winters, 7.48
Breno
Giacomini, 6.67
7.62
7 ARI Jared
Veldheer, 9.97
Mike
Iupati, 4.60
A.Q.
Shipley, 6.69
Evan
Mathis, 9.97
D.J.
Humphries, 6.07
7.46
8 GNB David
Bakhtiari, 4.82
Josh
Sitton, 9.33
Corey
Linsley, 8.7
T.J.
Lang, 9.19
Bryan
Bulaga, 4.96
7.40
9 LAR Greg
Robinson, 9.02
Rodger
Saffold, 8.83
Tim
Barnes, 7.92
Jamon
Brown, 9.26
Rob
Havenstein, 0.92
7.19
10 CIN Andrew
Whitworth, 8.16
Clint
Boling, 7.15
Russell
Bodine, 6.28
Kevin
Zeitler, 6.51
Cedric
Ogbuehi, -
6.74
11 KAN Eric
Fisher, 9.67
Jarrod
Pughsley, 7.49
Mitch
Morse, 9.03
Laurent
Duvernay-Tardif, -
Mitchell
Schwartz, 0.68
6.72
12 CHI Charles
Leno, 5.39
Cody
Whitehair, 7.38
Hroniss
Grasu, 6.82
Kyle
Long, 9.53
Bobby
Massie, 4.28
6.68
13 DAL Tyron
Smith, 9.19
La'El
Collins, 5.94
Travis
Frederick, 1.17
Zack
Martin, 8.22
Doug
Free, 8.73
6.65
14 TEN Taylor
Lewan, 10.00
Quinton
Spain, 8.76
Ben
Jones, 2.99
Chance
Warmack, 1.31
Jack
Conklin, 8.54
6.32
15 NEP Nate
Solder, 9.76
Shaq
Mason, 8.83
Bryan
Stork, 1.49
Tre'
Jackson, 0.47
Sebastian
Vollmer, 9.95
6.10
16 SNF Joe
Staley, 9.86
Zane
Beadles, -
Daniel
Kilgore, 5.34
Joshua
Garnett, 6.78
Trenton
Brown, 1.87
5.96
17 NOS Terron
Armstead, 9.43
Tim
Lelito, 7.02
Max
Unger, 3.38
Andrus
Peat, 8.76
Zach
Strief, 1.17
5.95
18 MIN Matt
Kalil, 8.02
Alex
Boone, 6.99
Joe
Berger, 4.61
Brandon
Fusco, 7.99
Phil
Loadholt, 1.33
5.79
19 HOU Duane
Brown, 7.37
Xavier
Su'a-Filo, 7.75
Nick
Martin, 5.71
Jeff
Allen, 2.51
Derek
Newton, 4.91
5.65
20 BAL Eugene
Monroe, 2.68
Ryan
Jensen, 6.11
Jeremy
Zuttah, 7.83
Marshal
Yanda, 8.29
Ricky
Wagner, 2.93
5.57
21 WAS Trent
Williams, 9.32
Spencer
Long, -
Kory
Lichtensteiger, 2.34
Brandon
Scherff, 9.63
Morgan
Moses, 0.89
5.55
22 SEA Garry
Gilliam, 9.02
Rees
Odhiambo, 2.95
Patrick
Lewis, 1.88
J'Marcus
Webb, 5.85
Germain
Ifedi, 7.62
5.46
23 CAR Michael
Oher, 2.66
Andrew
Norwell, 3.62
Ryan
Kalil, 8.51
Trai
Turner, 5.5
Mike
Remmers, 5.55
5.17
24 DEN Russell
Okung, 6.75
Max
Garcia, 3.44
Matt
Paradis, 3.51
Robert
Myers, 2.82
Donald
Stephenson, 8.94
5.09
25 NYG Ereck
Flowers, 4.39
Justin
Pugh, 8.03
Weston
Richburg, 4.74
Bobby
Hart, 0.97
Marshall
Newhouse, 6.64
4.95
26 SDC King
Dunlap, 5.04
Orlando
Franklin, 5.69
Matt
Slauson, 7.47
D.J.
Fluker, 2.71
Joe
Barksdale, 3.28
4.84
27 BUF Cordy
Glenn, 3.77
Richie
Incognito, 8.56
Eric
Wood, 8.12
John
Miller, 2.25
Jordan
Mills, 1.36
4.81
28 MIA Branden
Albert, 5.53
Dallas
Thomas, -
Mike
Pouncey, 3.18
Laremy
Tunsil, -
JaWuan
James, 5.66
4.79
29 JAX Kelvin
Beachum, 0.7
Mackenzy
Bernadeau, 7.79
Brandon
Linder, 4.03
A.J.
Cann, -
Luke
Joeckel, 5.93
4.17
30 OAK Donald
Penn, -
Gabe
Jackson, 3.99
Rodney
Hudson, 0.45
Kelechi
Osemele, 5.69
Austin
Howard, 5.37
3.88
31 PIT Alejandro
Villanueva, -
Ramon
Foster, 0.5
Maurkice
Pouncey, 2.86
David
DeCastro, 7.32
Marcus
Gilbert, 2.82
3.38
32 DET Riley
Reiff, 3.55
Laken
Tomlinson, 3.39
Travis
Swanson, 2.92
Larry
Warford, 1.28
Taylor
Decker, 5.45
3.32

Yes, that is the Dallas Cowboys offensive line coming in as only the 13th overall in the league using this metric. Also of note, the most athletic line in the NFL belongs to our beloved rivals, the Philadelphia Eagles.

That seems odd, but the article explained that this number was much better at predicting failure than success. That seems fairly clear in the case of the Cowboys. While Tyron Smith, Doug Free, and Zack Martin all had very good scores, La'el Collins was just a little better than average. And Travis Frederick had a very poor number.

This is something of a cautionary case about measureables. As Fredbeard illustrates, there is a lot more to playing in the NFL than just how you stack up against others when running set drills. Frederick has a reputation as being a superb technician more than any kind of athletic freak. His low score is not a big surprise (although just how low it is was a bit unexpected). This may have had something to do with how everyone else in the league and just about all the draft gurus sorely underestimated his worth when he was drafted. The numbers alone can't gauge skill, or the nasty attitude that he brings to the middle of the line. And things like speed and agility play a bigger role for almost all positions other than center. He is not going to be running pass patterns or even be expected to pull and lead a running back. That very low RAS in the middle of the line has not kept it from being regarded as the class of the NFL.

The fact the Eagles' line has the best composite score in the league also demonstrates that there is much more to success than looking good at the combine. You would think such a talented group, when paired with the previous year's rushing champion, would produce quite the formidable ground game. But they were just middle of the pack, and DeMarco Murray was turned into a compete non-factor in another example of how the towering genius of Chip Kelly totally ruined that team.

Okay, that was a bit of a cheap shot (not that it results in even a scintilla of regret), but the basic principle holds true. The fact the Cleveland Brows have the second most athletic line also supports how this stat is unreliable in predicting any kind of success. Athleticism is not the be all and end all, especially in a position that is so dependent on technique and teamwork. One of the ironies of football is that members of the offensive line are not considered "skill positions", but there may be more need for technique and precision there than anywhere else on the field. And those are things that are not going to be evident at the so-called "Underwear Olympics".

Fortunately, they are very much so on the Dallas offensive line.

Follow me @TomRyleBTB