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NFL comparisons for Dante Fowler and James Washington to understand their skillset

To get a better idea of the two new Cowboys, what players are most similar to them?

NFL: Atlanta Falcons at Buffalo Bills Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

It is human nature to find similarities in everyday objects. You find new music by listening to artists that are similar to what you already like. Netflix recommends shows you might enjoy by finding similar titles based on what you've already watched.

And NFL players are no different. We describe college players through their NFL comparison. This is not an attempt to disparage them, or even assume they will live up to the potential of the comparison. It simply provides an avenue for understanding a player in a new light.

So, how should Cowboys fans look at Dante Fowler and James Washington? Well, simply using their 2021 performance, there are other NFL players that are incredibly similar to these two. Who are they?

NFL comparisons for Dante Fowler: Mario Addison, Tarell Basham, Jason Pierre-Paul

Oh, the irony. The three players most similar to Dante Fowler are a free agent, a current Cowboys DE, and a player that Dallas has been reportedly interested in signing. However, this isn’t as coincidental as it might seem.

The reason these players are similar is because they were all on a DE rotation in 2021. Between Fowler, JPP, Basham, and Addison, the largest difference in snap counts between two players was 191. Fowler played the least amount of snaps at 508 and JPP played the most at 699. The other two fell in between.

These are four defensive ends who ranked between 40th to 64th at their position by snaps played. They are all reliable players when needed, and they are regular pieces in the rotation. But none of these four are good enough to justify keeping them in for every single play.

But there are a lot of players that fall into this “part of a rotational DE group” category. What makes them similar is how they performed last year in the 500-700 snaps they played. Here is how Fowler, Addison, JPP and Basham finished by various metrics:

(Note: JPP played last year with a shoulder injury that needed offseason surgery)

Dante Fowler Comparisons

Player Team Snap Count Forced Fumbles PFF Grade Missed Tackle % Penalties Sacks Tackles Total Pressures
Player Team Snap Count Forced Fumbles PFF Grade Missed Tackle % Penalties Sacks Tackles Total Pressures
Dante Fowler Jr. ATL 508 3 55.9 25.6 4 5 22 30
Mario Addison BUF 539 2 60.8 28.1 3 7 17 38
Tarell Basham DAL 650 1 60.2 22 3 4 24 36
Jason Pierre-Paul TB 699 1 45.3 16.2 4 4 24 29

Obviously, these players are in a DE by rotation for various reasons. Basham came in when Demarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory were injured, JPP is aging (and was injured) and the Bills simply enjoy rotating the ends no matter talent level.

But, if you want to classify this group of defensive ends by their performance it would be “solid when on the field but won’t jump off the page as someone who needs to be on the field every down.” But with Dallas already having Basham, Dorance Armstrong, and Chauncey Gholston opposite Demarcus Lawrence, maybe a DE by rotation is all Dallas needs.

And if you need a DE by rotation, Fowler is the man. At least, based on 2021, he fits into the group of edge defenders that played admirably in a rotation. Maybe Fowler rebounds in Dallas, maybe not. But from his player comparison, expect him to be a solid but not particularly eye-popping rotational piece.

NFL comparisons for James Washington: DeAndre Carter, Robby Anderson, and Demarcus Robinson

A quick disclaimer, the basis for comparison is not size and speed alone. In fact, those two factors played a relatively minor role in this analysis. Instead, we're looking for players with similar playing styles, situations, and 2021 output.

With that said, these three players are nearly identical to James Washington for three reasons:

  1. All three were playing behind an elite receiver or a solid receiving corps and thus didn't get the opportunity to shine. And outside of Demarcus Robinson, everyone was playing with horrific quarterback play. These four were in bad situations.
  2. However, they all have the same skillset. They are intermediate threats that won’t create yards after the catch and often won’t win in 50/50 balls. But they are all targets that find the hole around 10-15 yards and move the chains. Not a deep threat, not a slot or short-yard receiver, they fall somewhere in the middle.
  3. It is because of this somewhat niche role, paired with struggles winning contested catches and dropping the ball, that all four saw little success in 2021. The highest receiver by yards of this group was Robby Anderson at 519, and the best receiver by yards per route run was DeAndre Carter at 1.13.

The result of this is that all four receivers finished with remarkably similar stats in 2021:

James Washington Comparison

Name Team Average Depth of Target Contested Catch Percentage Drop Rate Recieving Yards Yards After Catch Yards per Reception Yards per Route Run
Name Team Average Depth of Target Contested Catch Percentage Drop Rate Recieving Yards Yards After Catch Yards per Reception Yards per Route Run
James Washington PIT 12.6 33.3 7.7 285 3.4 11.9 0.85
DeAndre Carter WAS 11.9 33.3 11.1 296 3.3 12.3 1.13
Demarcus Robinson KC 10.8 33.3 3.8 264 2.6 10.6 0.57
Robby Anderson CAR 11.2 23.8 8.6 519 3.1 9.8 0.83

But there should be a point made about the second similarity. Only two of these players have had a season over 700 receiving yards, Washington once and Anderson four times. In each of these five seasons, Washington and Anderson had an average depth of target higher than 13.6. An ADOT of 13.6 would be the 16th highest in the NFL this season.

Meaning that the question for Washington in Dallas is: can he regain his ability to become a true field-stretcher instead of an intermediate route runner? This is not to say that Washington won’t be able to contribute if he is an intermediate route runner. Because in 2021 he was being targeted by a QB who finished 37 out of 38 by average depth of target. So, there might be a correlation versus causation issue where Washington might have become an intermediate route runner with Ben Roethlisberger not able to throw it past ten yards.

And this is also not to say that Washington needs to be a deep threat out of necessity, Michael Gallup is now coming back and he can fill that role. But if his best season came as a vertical route runner, with little success coming on intermediate passes, why not use him as such?

Ultimately, these are comparisons only using 2021 data. This is not a commentary about how these players’ careers will develop, nor should it be used to project upcoming production with a new team. Situations change and so do the players’ roles on the team.

But it is helpful to know what type of player the Dallas Cowboys have signed, and more importantly, what not to expect. Fowler likely won’t be on the field for every defensive snap and be a consistent defensive presence, and Washington isn’t going to find success if Prescott refuses to target him downfield. With every new signing, knowing what to expect and not expect is important.

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