The Dallas Cowboys Linebacker Situation: Sean Lee, Anthony Hitchens, Justin Durant, and Rolando McClain

When the Dallas Cowboys drafted LB Anthony Hitchens out of Iowa in the 4th round, the draftniks blasted the team because they felt he should have been a late round pick or undrafted. As a football analyst, I like to highlight observations and provide analysis that goes beyond an eyes only approach to demonstrate the type of benefit that I bring to the table.

While the draft community bashed the selection, I decided to run some comparative analysis on about 1200 LBs. What was uncovered is critical to how the Cowboys can look at their situation at linebacker. Anthony Hitchens compared to 3 other linebackers that have played a hybrid of inside and outside with better success on the inside; this includes Curtis Lofton, Erin Henderson, and Desmond Bishop. Every one of them has started NFL games and been a starter for a season or more. This demonstrated two things that the Dallas Cowboys did right with their personnel. First, selecting him in the 4th round is warranted with his comparatives. Second, the coaches moving him inside will help facilitate getting the most out of Anthony Hitchens.

Since the Sean Lee injury, the Dallas Cowboys have both tried moving Justin Durant (more optimal to leave at WLB) to the middle and trading for a LB that has retired more than once in Rolando McClain. The Cowboys seem to be reluctant at their own success at finding a gem at linebacker. While many may not always have an understanding of analytics, being able to trust in the concept will be in an organization’s favor for the long term. Using NFL Data Consultants analytical system, Anthony Hitchens profiles as a starting linebacker that would have his best success in the middle.

Football Analysis – Post NFL Week 2 Notes

Two weeks and a Week 3 NFL Thursday Night game into the season, and NFL Data Consultants has notes and analysis on trades, NFL personnel decisions, and a review of some of the analytical predictions made regarding the careers of some NFL players.

  • Rarely do we see trades after only two weeks of the NFL season, but we saw a big one between the Cleveland Browns and Indianapolis Colts. The Indianapolis Colts acquired RB Trent Richardson for a 2014 1st round draft pick. There has been much debate as to who won this trade, but that cannot be known until the Cleveland Browns make a selection with the draft pick or use it in a trade. A simple way to evaluate a trade is to look at how it will affect Quarterback Rating differential for the organization. QB Andrew Luck is sitting at a career QB Rating of 78.4 after two weeks in the 2013 NFL season. Despite all the accolades he has received, his Quarterback Rating is below the standard necessary to sustain winning long term. The question then becomes is how much will his own development plus the benefit of the running game boost his Quarterback Rating. The barrier that needs to be surpassed is a QB Rating just over 90 since that is what the Indianapolis Colts defense has given up with Andrew Luck at Quarterback. For the Cleveland Browns, the team Quarterback Rating since the start of the 2012 season has been among the worst in the league at just above 70. The biggest key to having a positive Quarterback Rating differential will be at Quarterback, and thus whether this trade was good for them will be based on how they use the pick to improve the Team QB Rating offensively. Expect an analytical review of the Indianapolis Colts side of this trade after the season is completed.
  • After consecutive weeks of baffling gameday roster management by the Philadelphia Eagles, they finally let DE Vinny Curry play. He only played 12 snaps, but his first three snaps netted the following results: a sack, a Quarterback hit and errant throw that was nearly intercepted, and a holding penalty by the offensive lineman trying to block him. NFL Data Consultants projected him as a 45-12 (tackles-sacks) type of DE when he came out, and he needs to be on the field as often as possible.
  • While we are talking about the Philadelphia Eagles, QB Michael Vick┬ámay in the process of showing signs of a regression to the mean as a passer with a 49.4 QB Rating in Week 3 against the Kansas City Chiefs. His QB Rating on the season still remains at 96, and what he has been able to do for the run game remains a bright spot.
  • Washington Redskins TE Jordan Reed continues to progress and see a steady diet of snaps at Tight End. In Week 1, he had 24 snaps, and followed that up with 26 snaps in Week 2. On the season, he has 8 catches, 56 yards, and a touchdown.
  • WR Quinton Patton of the San Francisco 49ers has not yet made an NFL reception, playing only on 13 pass snaps. While the Seattle Seahawks CB Richard Sherman was manhandling WR Anquan Boldin, the San Francisco 49ers lacked answers in the passing game. A solution to the problems exists on their own roster, but he needs more snaps on pass plays to make a difference.
  • Only four linebackers on the New England Patriots roster have logged snaps in the first two weeks. The only one without a negative grade by Pro Football Focus is LB Jamie Collins. However, Collins has only been on the field for 6 snaps, but should see increased playing time as long as continues to develop mentally.

The New England Patriots Great Trade Nets Them LB Jamie Collins

The New England Patriots were on the other side of the trade with the Minnesota Vikings in the 2013 NFL Draft, picking up 3 additional picks in the draft by moving from 29th to 52nd in the draft. In this case, the New England Patriots had their best move of the offseason.

This is a passing league, and QB Rating differential is a key indicator to wins. So, bringing in a defensive player that has the ability to do reduce the Quarterback Rating of the opponent in multiple ways is a tremendous value. Jamie Collins can do it in pass coverage and as a pass rusher. Getting to the passer will reduce a QB Rating by 25% or more, and Collins is off the charts in pass rush metrics. His analytical profile screams as a player destined to play in multiple pro bowls.

Jamie Collins also brings versatility to play multiple positions (ILB, 3-4 OLB, 4-3 DE, MLB, WLB, SLB). At Southern Mississippi, he changed positions each year, and even played Safety for a season. In his final season, he had 10 sacks and 4 forced fumbles for a winless team. Rarely do you get such high upside with such a high floor, but that is a summary of Jamie Collins. He has barely scratched the surface of his potential since he has not had a chance to focus on a specific position.

It would be an understatement to say that the New England Patriots have had a very difficult offseason, but the trade to net multiple picks and still acquire the highest rated defensive player on our board was art in action. The New England Patriots drafted a player that I am confident will play in multiple pro bowls and be a force in this league for a long time.