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2020 NFL Draft: One mock draft based on analytics has the Cowboys taking a particular wide receiver

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Not the name you’ve been hearing connected to the Cowboys.

Washington v Colorado Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

Mike McCarthy is the head coach of the Dallas Cowboys and that is still a reality that we are all getting used to. As you are well-aware, McCarthy did not coach last season and instead spent the year forming a 33rd NFL staff of sorts, a group that he referred to as The McCarthy Project. McCarthy focused on analytics, and in the day and age of 2020, if you say that word out loud you are likely at the very least to perk the ears of some football teams, obviously it translated into the Cowboys head coaching job for McCarthy.

The world of analytics is vast and in many ways uncharted. There are certainly pioneers and plenty that are doing great work in it. NFL.com’s Cynthia Frelund is one of the people that has been lighting the path for so many and she recently dropped a mock draft that was based around analytics more than anything.

An analytics-based mock has the Cowboys taking a wide receiver that hasn’t been as connected to them

There are a lot of mock drafts out there right now, here is the latest round-up at BTB, and some of them are starting to connect wide receivers to the Dallas Cowboys. The hot name is Oklahoma’s CeeDee Lamb.

Frelund has the Cowboys taking a different wide receiver, but it’s important for you to know how she is drawing conclusions.

Welcome to my first official Round 1 simulation of the 2020 draft season! My analytics-based mock is based solely on a contextual, data-driven model that aims to do one thing: maximize each team’s potential to win as many games as possible in 2020. So, before you read any further, take note:

I am NOT attempting to predict or divine what teams will ACTUALLY DO on draft day.

Now, we’re starting the process off a little earlier this year than last, when my one and only mock dropped in early April. So, for this particular file, the model considered current rosters and the overall market of potential free agents. How exactly? Well, here’s how my mock works.

I use my draft prospect model, explained at the top of the article linked here, to create a numerical value for each player. These ratings can be compared across years. Then I use my NFL model, which considers the market of potential free agents at each position, to create projected win-contribution metrics by player, position group and side of the ball. These get added up to forecast win totals for the season. (An example of these metrics for WRs can be found in the article linked here.) The results quantify strengths and weaknesses of current NFL rosters. My model also factors in as many known elements of coaching philosophies (of the current staffs) as possible, and of the 2020 opponents. Then my model “selects” the draft prospect that would yield the highest win total for each team in the coming season.

Cynthia Frelund’s NFL Media colleagues Daniel Jeremiah and Bucky Brooks have both mocked Lamb to the Cowboys. That is definitely a hot name these days.

Obviously Frelund doesn’t have Dallas drafting Lamb. She has a wide receiver going at number 17 overall, but a different one - Colorado’s Laviska Shenault.

17: Laviska Shenault - WR

School: Colorado | Year: Junior

With 1,060 yards after the catch since 2018 (most in the Pac-12), Shenault’s ability to create first downs lands him here with Dak Prescott (and likely a veteran receiver who doesn’t command a premium salary). If you want to know why my model likes him so much, go back and watch his 2018 film. This past season, nagging injuries and a new coaching staff sapped his production.

Shenault has had his name circled by NFL Draft minds for a while now, but he obviously isn’t the head of the current class like Lamb or Alabama’s Jerry Jeudy.

Oftentimes players pop off earlier in their college careers and then cool down and therefore their names aren’t as discussed around February and March. Consider what The Athletic’s Dane Brugler said about Shenault back in 2018.

Shenault has dealt with injuries which is why he hasn’t been as popular as other names in recent memory. It is possible that the Cowboys could land him say in the second round (where many are projecting him to go) as other teams draft the more-discussed and widely-known receivers.