Last week, I published my take on the four most overrated players on the Dallas Cowboys—a list that included tight end Jason Witten, cornerback Orlando Scandrick, right tackle Doug Free, and wide receiver Cole Beasley. I’m going to break down the most underrated players today, but I first wanted to more thoroughly describe what I mean by "overrated" or "underrated."
When I label Witten as an overrated player, it’s not necessarily a jab at his ability as a player. Witten is still a good tight end and certainly the type of player you want on your team.
However, when labeling someone "overrated," I’m concerned less with pure ability and more with how that ability matches up to public perception. The perception among players and fans is that Witten is still a truly elite tight end.
The truth is that Witten is out of his career prime and, although a decent player, simply not as good as the general public believes. I could be the second-best sportswriter in the world, but if I were widely regarded as the No. 1 overall writer, I’d be overrated. It’s as simple as that.
With that said, here are the four most underrated players in Dallas.
WR Dez Bryant
Everyone knows wide receiver Dez Bryant is a great wide receiver, yet there’s still talk about whether or not he’s elite. Further, Bryant was ranked just 25th on the NFL’s Top 100 List, behind Antonio Brown. Antonio Brown!
People don’t realize how effective Bryant has been during his NFL career, and you could make the argument that he’s already the second-best wide receiver in the NFL. Here’s a look at quarterback Tony Romo’s passer rating when targeting Bryant during their four seasons together, along with Bryant's rank among all receivers:
The fact that the number decreased in 2013 isn’t really cause for concern, since Bryant saw all kinds of defensive attention. Actually, the fact that Romo’s quarterback rating when throwing to Bryant was, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), still 104.9, despite so much double-coverage, is pretty scary.
Bryant’s biggest plus is his ability to score touchdowns:
Simply put, he’s the game’s top red-zone receiver—better than Megatron, better than Demaryius Thomas, better than everyone.
DE/DT Tyrone Crawford
The reason defensive lineman Tyrone Crawford is underrated is that we just don’t know very much about him right now. Crawford didn’t play in 2013 and received just 303 total snaps in his rookie year of 2012.
What we do know is that Crawford is big and long with 33.75-inch arms, according to NFL.com—long for his size. He was also productive at Boise State with 27 tackles-for-loss in two seasons. We normally wouldn’t weigh college stats so heavily for a third-year player, but it’s suitable in the case of Crawford since we haven’t seen him play much in the pros.
And in his rookie year, when we saw glimpses of his potential, Crawford was highly effective. He recorded a tackle on 6.3 percent of his snaps, according to Pro Football Focus. That same year, defensive tackle Jason Hatcher checked in at 4.6 percent and DeMarcus Ware at 3.3 percent.
TE James Hanna
We know that weight matters a lot for receivers. We know that speed is perhaps overrated for receivers, but still important.
So what if I told you the Cowboys could get a 6’4”, 252-pound receiver with 4.49 speed—one of the greatest weight/speed combination players ever? Gotta give him a shot, right? Well, they already have that player in James Hanna, who plays tight end, and they don’t use him.
Is there more that goes into being a tight end than being big and fast? Obviously. But we really don’t know if Hanna has what it takes to translate his athleticism into production because he doesn’t get the opportunity to do so.
You could argue that Hanna doesn’t play because he hasn’t “flashed” in practice, but I’d counter that NFL teams make humongous assessment errors all the time. That’s why we see a player like Tavon Austin drafted in the top 10; he looks awesome in practice and on film—better than, say, Alshon Jeffery, who appears sluggish due to his size—but who would you rather have on your team? It doesn’t seem like all that much of a stretch to assume that the Cowboys are underrating Hanna’s ability to play at a high level without, you know, ever giving him a chance to do it.
And then there’s the fact that he can’t block well. Well, let’s think of Hanna as a wide receiver who can be lined up in the slot or out wide instead of as an in-line tight end.
If our perception of his position changes his apparent worth, maybe it’s time to stop artificially limiting what he can do with a label.
DE George Selvie
I outlined all of the reasons I like defensive end George Selvie when I predicted him to break out before the 2013 season, with long arms and a history of elite production (albeit in college) chief among them.
Selvie’s stock has soared, but it seems like maybe some are still underestimating Selvie, writing off the 2013 season as a fluke. Don’t be one of them—Selvie is going to be the Cowboys’ best pass-rusher in 2014.
If you look at Selvie’s pressures—32, according to Pro Football Focus—you see that his seven sacks weren’t unusual. Actually, the most likely total given his pressure was eight sacks, so he got a bit unlucky.
We have a player who absolutely dominated in college, struggled a bit in his early NFL career (in limited snaps), then played as expected in his first full season of action. If we were betting on the probability of Selvie being a bust who overachieved in 2013 or a talented player who is still on the rise, the smart money would be on the latter.