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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.

Review Series: Comparing Montee Ball To LeSean McCoy

When NFL Data Consultants used a comparison of Montee Ball to LeSean McCoy in the opening of a series of projections last summer, it was done for three purposes.

  • It was to highlight the power of analytics and forecasting of personnel in a billion dollar industry. Rookie deals are the best salary cap bargains so why not devote resources to player forecasts as an additional decision tool?
  • It was to compare to others using an analytical approach. Montee Ball was heavily attacked on other analytical players. He was repeatedly stated to be too slow or just another Wisconsion RB. With NFL Data Consulants rules/methodology/metrics, these were able to be dispelled. Montee Ball had 50 less carries than Gio Bernard and had just as many 20+ yard runs and 1 more 40+ yard runs. Montee Ball had an amazing 29.2% of his carries go for a first down. That was better than Eddie Lacy, Le’Veon Bell, Zac Stacy, Giovanni Bernard, and Andre Ellington. The objective of the game is to win and moving the chains is critical.
  • It was also put out there to be graded and reviewed because we name this project “The Win Project”. That is why NFL Data Consultants measures and compares and grades ourselves. It is just the tip of the iceberg of the ideas that NFL Data Consultants has in store for an organization that fully embraces this approach and is willing to commit to a team to carry the more advanced ideas out.

Graphed below is first 120 carries of Montee Ball compared to the first 123 carries of LeSean McCoy. This does not factor in age, but Montee Ball’s 2nd half jump correlates with the jump that LeSean McCoy saw in his 2nd year. Montee Ball is a little older than what LeSean McCoy was during his rookie season. McCoy averaged 4.11 ypc as a rookie, and then it jumped to 5.22 yards per carry in his second season. After his first 120 attempts, McCoy topped out at career average of 4.98 ypc at just past 525 carries at 23.33 years old. McCoy’s surge began near 140 carries in and continued until around that 525 mark. Montee Ball’s last regular season game was at 23.07 years old and he sits at 4.66 and averaged over 6 yards per carry over his last 6 regular season games. Montee Ball is still trending up after a slower start, but was clearly the better runner in the Denver Broncos backfield. Knowshon Moreno averaged 4.31 ypc and had only a 22% first down percentage.

Montee Ball versus LeSean McCoy

Review Series: NFL Data Consultants Comparison of Montee Ball to LeSean McCoy

If you are an organization seeking to draft a RB, this type of projection analysis can work as a tool for your decision makers. NFL Data Consultants uses enough metrics to fill an NCAA tournament bracket for RBs.

If you are an organization considering an early round Quarterback, this article on the odds of selecting a franchise Quarterback is worth the quick read.

The Odds Are Stacked Against NFL Organizations Drafting A Franchise QB In The First Round

If you are in need of a Quarterback, it is important to understand whether the ones that fit your system are capable of consistently winning at the next level. The sad nature of the NFL is that if you don’t have a reliable Quarterback, your job will always be in jeopardy. Under 20% of Quarterbacks taken in the first round since 1998 have a career QB Rating of >=90 and a QB Rating of 90 is the threshold for a QB to make the playoffs consistently with a league average defense or better. The question for the organizations selecting a Quarterback in this draft class, especially in Round 1: will you obtain one with a good chance to beat those odds that are already stacked against you? They only get harder the later you draft a Quarterback. You are lucky if there is one that will have at least a career 90 QB Rating in a given class, yet current draft projections show the possibility of 4 potential Quarterbacks chosen in the first round. Only the 2004 QB Draft class had more than 1 first round QB in it to surpass a career QB Rating of 90. NFL Data Consulants has Analytical QB Career Forecasts on around 150 Quarterbacks available. Now you know why we are confident when writing this on the Philadelphia Eagles Quarterback Situation and this on the New York Jets Quarterback Situation

You can go here to contact me for Quarterback Analysis.

The Contrarian View Of QB Matt Barkley

As noted in the NFL Data Consultants prediction of the Philadelphia Eagles QBs, both Nick Foles and Matt Barkley have analytical comparisons to Pro Bowl Quarterbacks using our comparative analysis methodology. For Nick Foles, the comparison is Aaron Rodgers, who was afforded some development time behind Brett Favre. Foles has undertaken a very different development track, but the same upside remains and one game shouldn’t decide his fate, whether it was the poor performance against the Dallas Cowboys in Week 7 or the record breaking performance against the Oakland Raiders in Week 9. The key is using an analytical approach, not an emotional approach┬áis to understand the upside, potential, or lack of it for a Quarterback and to understand measuring his development; this allows an objective approach when a single game may just be an outlier in either direction. (Example: The Nationally Televised MNF Football game between the Atlanta Falcons and New Yorks in which Geno Smith threw 3 touchdowns and no interceptions with a 147.7 QB Rating. To date, that is the only game in which he has a positive touchdown to interception ratio with 9 games played, and his current QB Rating of 71.0 is in the low 70s, which is in the range of Geno Smith’s analytical prediction.)

With that introduction, I want to show the contrarian view of Matt Barkley. This is an analytical comparison you will see no where else, and you must buckle down with an analytical mindset and take in all the facts before you emotionally sound off. Out of nearly 900 QBs included in this analytical study, Matt Barkley only has one other Quarterback in his group, meaning it is a very well defined group. That other quarterback? Peyton Manning. If you take the emotional approach, you are probably exiting now before even seeing the data and analysis. You see where Peyton Manning is now and assume he has always played like a super star. Peyton Manning had his share of very tough games as a rookie (similar to Matt Barkley).

At this point, Matt Barkley has thrown 49 attempts, and I wanted to chart his start to the first two starts of Peyton Manning’s career, which includes Peyton Manning’s first 70 passes in the league.

 

Was that a lot closer than you would expect? Peyton Manning was taken 1st overall in the NFL Draft, thus the Indianapolis Colts committed to him and let him progress and develop. Peyton Manning has lost arm strength since his neck injury, but his game is not predicated on arm strength, but on the mastery of his offense and pre-snaps reads, and adjustments. Matt Barkley’s arm strength will improve as he has entered the league with a shoulder injury, but his arm strength will never be his calling card. If Peyton’s career progression is any indication, Barkley will need about 600 pass attempts to reach his next level and has the upside to reach a very high level. With the analytical comparison and play of Nick Foles, it will be very difficult for Matt Barkley to get those reps as a member of the Philadelphia Eagles. Thus stated in the original prediction, it would serve the Philadelphia Eagles better to go with Nick Foles and Matt Barkley for the long term and to get Matt Barkley reps when blowouts or injury make it possible. This was similar to the approach suggested for the Houston Texans Quarterbacks with Case Keenum and Matt Schaub, although Case Keenum’s QB group was not as strongly defined as Matt Barkley’s and Keenum needed reps for evaluation due to the massive upside of his group. Needless to say, the evaluation of Quarterbacks by the Philadelphia Eagles in the past two NFL drafts has been stellar, as they have loaded the position with massive talent and upside using only 3rd and 4th round picks in the NFL Draft. Kudos to the Philadelphia Eagles scouting department and General Manager, Howie Roseman.