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Using analytics to decide if the Cowboys improved over the offseason

The Cowboys roster is essentially set, so is it better or worse than 2021?

SPORTS-FBN-ENGEL-COLUMN-FT Amanda McCoy/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

On Saturday afternoon, the final pick in the 2022 draft was announced and teams rushed to sign the undrafted free agents. The Dallas Cowboys added 19 players, bringing their total additions for the weekend to 28.

And this should be close to the last of the Cowboys' offseason activity for roster building. It is possible they add a few free agents as training camp approaches, but for the most part, they are likely done. This means that the 2022 roster is essentially set.

So, despite all of Dallas’ offseason drama, are they walking into 2022 with a better team than last year?

Using analytics to decide if the Cowboys improved over the offseason

To determine overall roster strength, we can use weighted average value. Calculated similar to wins above replacement, it doesn't incorporate a player's value in relation to NFL wins, but rather their contribution above the average player. So for example, the highest individual AV from 2021 was Josh Allen at 19, and the Super Bowl champion Los Angeles Rams finished with a team total AV of 233.

For the remainder of this study, we will assume full health. Obviously, this is an imperfect assumption but there is no way to predict which players will get injured. We are also operating under the assumption that regression or improvement at the player level balances out to zero in 2022.

With that in mind, there are various aspects of the offseason that changed the roster and can be used as measurement points.

Baseline AV

As previously mentioned, Josh Allen led the NFL with an AV of 19. There is then a four-way tie for second place between Justin Herbert, Cooper Kupp, Patrick Mahomes, and Micah Parsons all at 18. Not only was Parsons the best Dallas Cowboy player by AV, but in his rookie year, he was tied for the second-best in the league.

Other notable Cowboys include Trevon Diggs finishing tied for 14th in the league with his eleven interceptions. Dak Prescott finished with an AV of 14 which was good for the 10th ranked quarterback in the NFL last year by this metric.

The remaining top ten Cowboys by AV in 2021 are as follows, adjusted for the games they missed:

4.) Zack Martin: 13.8 AV
5.) Tyron Smith: 12.4 AV
6.) CeeDee Lamb: 10.6 AV
7.) DeMarcus Lawrence: 9.7 AV
8.) Tony Pollard: 9.1 AV
9.) Randy Gregory: 8.5 AV
10.) Ezekiel Elliott: 8 AV

Dallas finished with a total AV of 243, but this number rises to 298.9 when adjusting for injuries. In comparison, the Philadelphia Eagles finished with a non-injury adjusted AV of 219, the Chiefs were at 230, and the Buccaneers stood at 246.

So, did the Cowboys do enough to surpass a team AV of 299 in 2022?

Offseason losses

Before a player was added to the Dallas roster, the Cowboys moved on from several of their key contributors from 2021. And the rest of the offseason has been spent retaining, adding, and drafting players that they hope will replicate that lost production.

This group is highlighted by Randy Gregory and Amari Cooper, who finished with an injury-adjusted AV of 8.5 and 7.9, respectively. Gregory finished ninth in this metric among Dallas players last season, and Cooper finished 12th.

But this is not the end of the list for the Cowboys 2022 departures. The other names that fall in this group and their approximate value include:

La’el Collins: 7.1
Connor Williams: 6
Cedrick Wilson: 5.3
Damontae Kazee: 5
Keanu Neal: 3.6

When the dust cleared, Dallas had lost nearly 59 points in injury-adjusted AV due to their offseason losses.

Offseason additions and projected new roles

Even though Dallas lost talent in free agency, they were able to retain and add several players that project to be contributors in 2022. There are also players that should carry a larger role next season.

Free agency was quiet in Dallas. Most recently, the Cowboys added Ryan Nall who finished with an AV of zero in 2021 and thus didn't add to their recovery efforts. However, through 14 available games, Dante Folwer posted an AV of three last year, and James Washington was at two through 15 games. Adjusting for the weeks they missed, the Cowboys added 5.9 AV points with these additions.

But with the departures, there will be other players that take a larger role next season.

For example, with the loss of Cooper, Dak Prescott’s targets will go elsewhere. Based on the target share from last season, this likely means an increase in 3.3 AV units spread across CeeDee Lamb, Michael Gallup, and Dalton Schultz.

We discussed this whole idea in greater detail on the latest episode of 1st and 10 on the Blogging The Boys podcast network. Make sure to subscribe to our network so you don’t miss any of our shows! Apple devices can subscribe here and Spotify users can subscribe here.

The next hole that will be filled is at the edge rusher position opposite DeMarcus Lawrence. Once again, if we assume that Dorance Armstrong and Dante Fowler split these voided snaps equally, that adds 5.2 AV points.

Other adjustments include Terence Steele adding 2.3 AV units in replacement of Collins, and the safety group contributing an extra 2.1 with Kazee and Neal gone.

An important note is that these numbers are based on the players remaining, not just taking the AV of the players that departed. Thus, while new contributors will emerge and Dallas was able to sign a few free agents, this only added 19 AV points. That is a long way off from the 59 points they lost.

2022 NFL draft

As usual, the Cowboys decided to rebuild through the draft instead of in free agency. The only issue with that is they just added nine players whose ceiling and floor are unrealized. Meaning they could have just drafted nine All-Pros or nine players that never start a game. Determining their AV is difficult.

Thus, instead of trying to project the careers of these new players, we will use historical data instead. Since Jerry Jones took over drafting duties in 1989, here is the average AV of Dallas’ selections in their first year by draft round:

First round: 7.2
Second: 5.0
Third: 3.9
Fourth: 3.1
Fifth: 1.8
Sixth: 1.7

Clearly, this is an imperfect method because the 24th overall pick is less valuable than a top-five selection. But sample size starts to become an issue when getting too granular.

The Cowboys had one pick in rounds one through four, four fifth-round selections, and another in round six. This means that in year one, the Cowboys 2022 draft class should add 28 approximate value points.

Final AV

The roster should be close to finalized. With it, we have a rough estimate of Dallas’ offseason efforts.

While acknowledging that this is an imperfect method due to injuries and unexpected improvement or regression, here is the final breakdown:

  • Injury-adjusted 2021 AV: 298.6

AV of 2022 offseason losses: 58.6
AV of free-agent additions: 5.9
AV of role increases: 12.9
AV of first-year draftees: 28.1

  • Total 2022 Projected AV: 286.9

Taken at face value, the Cowboys didn't experience a significant regression to their roster in 2022. Interpret that as you will.

There are a few miscellaneous factors working against this conclusion. Michael Gallup likely will miss the first few games in the upcoming season. The assumption is Tyler Smith will provide an AV of seven this season if healthy, which you might not believe. And Dallas probably won’t have the same injury luck they did last season.

But all said, the Dallas Cowboys offseason wasn't as disastrous as some might believe. Their roster projects to be weaker than it was last season, but not by a significant margin. If you don't adjust for injuries, their projected AV in 2022 is 233. That is the exact same number as the Super Bowl-winning Rams team in 2021.

No one knows how the next nine months will manifest itself. But on paper, there is still hope for the 2022 Dallas Cowboys.