With an abundance of rookies and free agents providing meaningful contributions this season, the Dallas Cowboys’ 2013 roster is quite a bit different from the roster just 12 months ago. Injuries have forced many of the new faces into the lineup. Some have panned out, and others have not.
To judge the impact of the high-profile rookies and free-agent acquisitions, I’ll assign them a letter grade based on their performances at midseason. The grades will be generated using a combination of stats and film study, the stats coming from Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Advanced NFL Stats and my own research.
Through eight games, rookie center Travis Frederick has been solid inside for Dallas. He’s been best in the running game. Cowboys running backs are averaging 4.35 yards per carry (YPC) with him at the point of attack—a quality number for a center.
Pro Football Focus has tracked Frederick as allowing two sacks thus far in 2013. More importantly, he’s yielded a 2.4 percent pressure rate—a decent, but not outstanding, number.
Although he was supposed to be a big part of the Cowboys’ “12” personnel packages this year, rookie tight end Gavin Escobar has played only 118 snaps—fewer than the 166 for fellow tight end James Hanna.
Escobar has caught only four of his nine targets, compiling 65 yards. That mark of 7.2 yards per target isn’t stellar, and Escobar has been a liability as a blocker.
After a rough opener, rookie wide receiver Terrance Williams has really responded well. After he was drafted, I suggested that Williams would have a quality rookie season because he’s already 24 years old. NFL production seems to be far more correlated with age than experience.
If you want an idea of how efficient Williams has been in his first year, consider that quarterback Tony Romo has a 131.9 passer rating when targeting Williams this year—the fourth-highest for a quarterback to any single receiver.
Rookie safety J.J. Wilcox looked like he might be a gem for Dallas in the early portion of the year, and he’s compiled 25 tackles in 360 snaps—a decent 6.9 percent tackle rate.
In coverage, Wilcox has been quietly efficient. With only 110 yards allowed on 17 targets, Wilcox yielded just 6.5 yards per pass thrown his way, a really good number for a safety.
He had a few key missed tackles that have stood out, but he’s flown under the radar as an effective rookie in Dallas over the first half of the season.
As the Cowboys’ fourth cornerback, Webb hasn’t seen that much action thus far in 2013, playing only 71 snaps. He’s been targeted just twice, allowing 21 yards, so we can’t really grade him on such a small sample.
Webb has been in coverage on 47 plays, though, meaning he’s allowed just 0.45 yards per route. That’s a sensational number, especially since you’d expect opposing quarterbacks to target him.
Grade: B- (but we need to see more)
One of the cool things we can do with stats is track an offense’s expectation—how many points it can be expected to score—before and after plays. In looking at the difference in expected points before and after plays involving certain players, we can get a good idea of how many points they’re “worth” in an objective way.
Well, on his 2013 touches, rookie running back Joseph Randle has cost the Cowboys 7.9 expected points.
Meanwhile, running back DeMarco Murray has added 11.3 net points.
Randle is also averaging only 2.5 YPC.
As I’ve explained many times in the past, the Cowboys should have seen this coming when they drafted a slow, light running back.
After a sensational preseason, sixth-round rookie linebacker DeVonte Holloman has played just 18 snaps in the regular season.
He’s been injured the past few weeks, but it’s a bit perplexing that he didn’t see any time when the Cowboys linebackers were struggling in coverage earlier in the year. He’s someone who could really help the team covering tight ends and backs.
It’s looking like veteran guard Brian Waters will miss the rest of the season with an injured triceps muscle, as the Fort Worth Star-Telegram's Cowboys Corner blog points out.
That's a huge blow for Dallas. The team will now need to either move offensive tackle Doug Free inside or start veteran Mackenzy Bernadeau at right guard.
Waters was good at the point of attack, blocking for running backs who averaged 4.35 YPC behind him. He also allowed just a 2.8 percent pressure rate.
Durant hasn’t played a full game all year, with a season-high of just 32 snaps against the Rams in Week 3.
Though he was supplanted by veteran linebacker Ernie Sims, Durant actually had a 12.4 percent tackle rate and allowed only 6.3 yards per attempt (YPA) in coverage over the first half of the season.
The Cowboys made the right call in cutting veteran safety Will Allen earlier this month.
Allen had only five tackles in 170 snaps, yet he still managed to miss three other attempts. Worse, he allowed an unfathomable 163 yards on only nine attempts—18.1 YPA—including two touchdowns.
No matter whom the Cowboys play at safety, he’ll perform better than Allen did during his short stint in Dallas.
Playing inside next to Jason Hatcher, defensive tackle Nick Hayden hasn’t made much noise over the first half of the season. He’s made a tackle on 5 percent of his snaps and has generated just a 3.2 percent pressure rate.
Finally, we reach the gem of the Cowboys’ 2013 free-agent class: defensive end George Selvie.
If we were paying attention in the preseason, we should have known that Selvie might be special.
Through the first eight games, Selvie has 20 tackles and five sacks. He ranks sixth in the NFL among defensive ends with 23 pressures. He also ranks 14th among defensive ends with 20.7 expected points added—more than defensive end DeMarcus Ware.
The Cowboys hit a home run with Selvie, so expect to see him in Dallas for a few more years at least.