Protected: Are The Dallas Cowboys Tipping Their Plays?

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Protected: Wide Receiver Arbitrage Remains

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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.

The Damage Of The Dallas Cowboys Draft

The Dallas Cowboys seemed to exemplify an organization in disarray and troubled in its decision making. A draft that should be well planned for every possible scenario apparently didn’t factor in one in which they would draft C Travis Frederick in the first round. Besides images that allowed the Cowboys draft board to be put together, the camera also caught a heated exchange between Dallas Cowboys executives after their first round selection.

So, what do we make of the Dallas Cowboys 2013 NFL Draft? Well, they did stay with their draft board in terms of player rankings, but that is not always a positive. An NFL Draft is like a portfolio and you want the best portfolio possible at the end of the day. If player A is the top player on the board, then what should also factor in is the probability that he will make it to the next pick that you have. If that probability is high, you could take a player better with the current pick than you would have gotten with the next pick and come back and likely get the other player as well.

The Dallas Cowboys own draft board showed that they took a player with a 2nd round grade in the first round, even though he was the highest rated player on their board. With the ability to sign a first round pick to a longer rookie contract, it is highly likely that an organization would have had interest in the pick, and the Cowboys could have moved back and still taken him.

As for the evaluation of C Travis Frederick, the pick left a lot of value on the table both on his analytical profile and with the value of the position. The center position rates only above the RG position on the offensive line in terms of value related to a Quarterback’s rating.  They drafted a couple of decent players in this draft but missed heavily on value where arbitrage was at max value. In a league built on parity, the draft must be on maximizing value.

Quarterbacks, Analytics, And Arbitrage

There is an ongoing debate right now regarding who the best Quarterback is of all time, and it usually results in a Joe Montana versus Tom Brady debate.  I see a different problem that needs to be resolved.  Why were neither taken in the first round?  The NFL is a league where the play of an organization’s QB will affect coaches, management, and their families.

With record turnover with Head Coaches and General Managers, the common theme by the media is the inability to find a Quarterback.  From radio to ESPN talking heads, to a recent USA Today article, it is clear that a system that evaluates Quarterbacks well is of tremendous value.

Understanding Quarterbacks is not an easy task, but rather a complex problem.  It takes outside the box analytical thinking.  What if you could bring in not 1, not 2, but 3 Quarterbacks that if provided the opportunity would be successful?  The only way to do that is to understand what leads to success and then use it as a framework to determine the probability of success.  The Cowboys were ahead of their time when they formulated a draft pick chart and used arbitrage to amass talent that would bring multiple Super Bowl Championships.  They understood the value of an asset because they did the research and analysis to make it quantifiable.

The Green Bay Packers had a great stretch of years bringing in Quarterbacks that went on to have success with other organizations, and none of them required an early pick.  Among them were Matt Hasselbeck (6th), Mark Brunnell (5th), Kurt Warner (UDFA), and Aaron Brooks (4th).  None of them were starters sitting behind Favre who was acquired via trade for a 1st round pick.  The type of success by the Packers to evaluate the QB position is something a strong analyical system can replicate.  It proves that an organization can accumulate multiple Quarterbacks that have a high probability of success and are also undervalued in the market.  Using an approach that is measurable, it is very possible to cash in on the arbitrage that exists with Quarterback evaluation.  Obtaining QBs for far below the perceived market value would also help remove the monetary bias and allow a true competition for the job.  And a competition among a good group of Quarterbacks means success for the coaches, management, and their families.  It also means a very satisfied owner and fan base.