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The Dallas Cowboys have the second highest cluster of high-value players in the NFL

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Several times this offseason we’ve looked at Approximate Value in assessing the Cowboys. Let’s take another look.

NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Dallas Cowboys Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Pro Football Reference developed a stat called Approximate Value.

Created by PFR founder Doug Drinen, the Approximate Value (AV) method is an attempt to put a single number on the seasonal value of a player at any position from any year (since 1950).

They explain its purpose.

"AV is not meant to be a be-all end-all metric. Football stat lines just do not come close to capturing all the contributions of a player the way they do in baseball and basketball. If one player is a 16 and another is a 14, we can't be very confident that the 16AV player actually had a better season than the 14AV player. But I am pretty confident that the collection of all players with 16AV played better, as an entire group, than the collection of all players with 14AV."

What we’re going to use it for in this article is to see how many high-value players there were on each team in 2016. We don’t have data for this year yet, and we can’t guess how this year’s players will perform, so last year’s data will have to do for now.

We have chosen to arbitrarily cut off the evaluation at players who achieved a 10 AV or higher in 2016. 128 NFL players received grades that high or higher last year.

If those players were divided equally over the 32 teams, one would expect exactly four 10 AV players per team. Of course, that’s not how they were divided.

  • 29 of the teams had at least one 10-AV or higher player. The three that didn’t? Chicago, San Francisco, and Cleveland.
  • The top team had nine 10-AV or higher players, two teams had seven such players, and 14 teams had at least five such players.

Which teams had the highest number of players with 10 AV or higher? Which had the highest cumulative AV score for those players? Let’s look at the top 10 teams, ranked by cumulative AV.

1 - Atlanta Falcons

9 players, 124 AV

Rk Player Age Tm G GS PB AP1 AV
1 Matt Ryan 31 ATL 16 16 1 1 21
10 Julio Jones 27 ATL 14 14 1 1 16
13 Alex Mack 31 ATL 16 16 1 0 16
20 Devonta Freeman 24 ATL 16 16 1 0 15
51 Vic Beasley 24 ATL 16 12 1 1 12
58 Jake Matthews 24 ATL 16 16 0 0 12
64 Ryan Schraeder 28 ATL 16 16 0 0 12
98 Chris Chester 33 ATL 16 16 0 0 10
111 Andy Levitre 30 ATL 16 16 0 0 10

2 - Dallas Cowboys

6 players, 87 Av

Rk Player Age Tm G GS PB AP1 AV
9 Ezekiel Elliott 21 DAL 15 15 1 1 16
11 Sean Lee 30 DAL 15 15 1 1 16
15 Dak Prescott 23 DAL 16 16 1 0 16
37 Travis Frederick 25 DAL 16 16 1 1 13
41 Zack Martin 26 DAL 16 16 1 1 13
50 Tyron Smith 26 DAL 13 13 1 1 13

3 - New England Patriots

7 players, 84 AV

Rk Player Age Tm G GS PB AP1 AV
26 Dont'a Hightower 26 NWE 13 13 1 0 14
31 Tom Brady 39 NWE 12 12 1 0 13
32 Malcolm Butler 26 NWE 16 16 0 0 13
33 Marcus Cannon 28 NWE 15 15 0 0 13
78 Julian Edelman 30 NWE 16 13 0 0 11
112 Devin McCourty 29 NWE 16 16 1 0 10
120 Nate Solder 28 NWE 15 15 0 0 10

4 - Kansas City Chiefs

7 players, 77 AV

Rk Player Age Tm G GS PB AP1 AV
48 Marcus Peters 23 KAN 15 15 1 1 13
52 Eric Berry 28 KAN 16 16 1 1 12
65 Alex Smith 32 KAN 15 15 1 0 12
105 Tyreek Hill 22 KAN 16 1 1 1 10
107 Travis Kelce 27 KAN 16 15 1 1 10
117 Mitchell Schwartz 27 KAN 16 16 0 0 10
123 Spencer Ware 25 KAN 14 14 0 0 10

5/6 - Seattle Seahawks

6 players, 73 AV

Rk Player Age Tm G GS PB AP1 AV
6 Bobby Wagner 26 SEA 16 16 1 1 17
30 Russell Wilson 28 SEA 16 16 0 0 14
70 Cliff Avril 30 SEA 16 16 1 0 11
90 K.J. Wright 27 SEA 16 16 1 0 11
93 Doug Baldwin 28 SEA 16 15 1 0 10
119 Richard Sherman 28 SEA 16 16 1 0 10

5/6 - Tennessee Titans

6 players, 73 AV

Rk Player Age Tm G GS PB AP1 AV
17 Jack Conklin 22 TEN 16 16 0 1 15
40 Marcus Mariota 23 TEN 15 15 0 0 13
60 DeMarco Murray 28 TEN 16 16 1 0 12
74 Jurrell Casey 27 TEN 15 15 1 0 11
82 Taylor Lewan 25 TEN 16 16 1 0 11
84 Brian Orakpo 30 TEN 16 16 1 0 11

7 - Buffalo Bills

6 players, 71 AV

Rk Player Age Tm G GS PB AP1 AV
23 Tyrod Taylor 27 BUF 15 15 0 0 15
42 LeSean McCoy 28 BUF 15 15 1 0 13
68 Lorenzo Alexander 33 BUF 16 16 1 0 11
72 Zach Brown 27 BUF 16 16 1 0 11
80 Richie Incognito 33 BUF 16 16 1 0 11
113 Jordan Mills 26 BUF 16 16 0 0 10

8 - Green Bay Packers

5 players, 69 AV

Rk Player Age Tm G GS PB AP1 AV
3 Aaron Rodgers 33 GNB 16 16 1 0 18
4 David Bakhtiari 25 GNB 16 16 1 0 17
46 Jordy Nelson 31 GNB 16 16 0 0 13
73 Bryan Bulaga 27 GNB 16 16 0 0 11
91 Davante Adams 24 GNB 16 15 0 0 10

9 - New York Giants

5 players, 68 AV

Rk Player Age Tm G GS PB AP1 AV
2 Damon Harrison 28 NYG 16 16 0 1 18
24 Olivier Vernon 26 NYG 16 16 0 0 15
35 Landon Collins 22 NYG 16 16 1 1 13
57 Janoris Jenkins 28 NYG 15 15 1 0 12
95 Odell Beckham 24 NYG 16 16 1 0 10

10 - New Orleans Saints

6 players, 68 AV

Rk Player Age Tm G GS PB AP1 AV
7 Drew Brees 37 NOR 16 16 1 0 16
75 Brandin Cooks 23 NOR 16 12 0 0 11
88 Zach Strief 33 NOR 16 16 0 0 11
106 Mark Ingram 27 NOR 16 14 0 0 10
115 Andrus Peat 23 NOR 15 15 0 0 10
122 Michael Thomas 23 NOR 15 12 0 0 10

Everyone Else

We won’t chart out all the rest of the players, but here’s how the other teams rank by total AV.

Oakland, 5 players, 61 AV
Pittsburgh, 5 players, 61 AV
Washington, 5 players, 56 AV
Arizona, 4 players, 53 AV
Miami, 5 players, 53 AV
Indianapolis, 4 players, 50 AV
Tampa, 4 players, 47 AV
Denver, 3 players, 45 AV
Minnesota, 4 players, 45 AV
Cincinnati, 4 players, 44 AV
Philadelphia, 4 players, 44 AV
Houston, 3 players, 39 AV
Baltimore, 3 players, 38 AV
Los Angeles Chargers, 3 players, 34 AV
Carolina, 3 players, 32 AV
Los Angeles Rams, 2 players, 28 AV
Detroit, 2 players, 24 AV
New York Jets, 1 player, 10 AV
Jacksonville, 1 player, 10 AV. (Puts to lie Barry Church’s claim that Jacksonville has more talent than Dallas.)

Analysis and Final Notes

The way the teams line up is fairly consistent with how they played last year. Atlanta and New England, ranked first and third, played in the Super Bowl. Dallas, ranked second, finished with the best record in the NFC and was led by its two high-value rookies and offensive line. Sure, New Orleans and Buffalo may be outliers, but perhaps they just have very poor supporting casts for their stars.

Dallas has the youngest group of high-value players, with its six players averaging just 25.1 years old. They are followed by NYG (25.6), TN (25.8), KC (26.2), NO (27.6), SEA (27.8), GB (28), ATL (28), BUF (29), NE (29.4).

Dallas also retained all six of its high-value players. Meanwhile, Chris Chester, an offensive guard who scored 10 AV for the Falcons, retired. We didn’t track who might have moved on from other teams, but the names are above for the top-10 teams.

Overall, this bodes really well for the Cowboys. In addition to the overall scores and ages of the Cowboys who made the cut, Cole Beasley just missed the cut with 9 AV, Dez Bryant scored 8 AV last year, but has had years as high as 14 AV, Maliek Collins scored 7 AV as a rookie, and has tremendous upside, and Jaylon Smith should attain those levels, if not this season, then perhaps by 2018 and beyond. La’el Collins also has the potential to add to the luster of the Dallas offensive line. Can Byron Jones make the leap from 6 AV to Landon Collins levels (13 AV)? Can DeMarcus Lawrence have a big season in his contract year?