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Dallas Cowboys Defensive Player Value Comparisons

NEW ORLEANS - DECEMBER 19:  Linebacker DeMarcus Ware #94 of the Dallas Cowboys sacks quarterback Drew Brees #9 of the New Orleans Saints at the Louisiana Superdome on December 19, 2009 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
Scott Halleran/Getty Images
Jonathan BalesAnalyst IJuly 13, 2010

Last week, I published a comparison of Dallas Cowboys offensive player efficiency rankings .  This comparison listed our own grades and those of a few well-regarded football statistics companies.

The point of this was to make an attempt to “normalize” playing conditions (teammates, situations, and so on) to determine a particular player’s true value.

In that article, I wrote:

There have been some attempts to “normalize” outside factors and assign an objective value to players.  In fact, we are in the process of making such an attempt right now.  Until then, we wanted to take a look at the values of Cowboys players gathered by some other leading football statistics gurus (and compare them to our own 2009 Player Rankings ).

One source of efficiency-based value rankings is Advanced NFL Stats–a site we refer you to a lot. Advanced NFL Stats implements a statistic called Expected Points Added. We’ve spoken about ‘expected points’ in the past, and ANS talks about it here .

In short, EP (expected points) is the value of a certain situation in football. EPA (expected points added) is the difference between one situation and another. If the Cowboys have a 1st and 10 at their own 30-yard line, for example, the EP of that situation is +1.0 point, i.e. on average, they can expect one point from that drive. If Miles Austin catches a pass for 50 yards, the Cowboys’ EP shoots up to +4.0 (the expected points of a 1st and 10 at the opponent’s 20-yard line). Thus, the EPA for that play is +3.0.

We are concerned with EPA/play–the amount of expected points a player adds to his team’s point total per play.

Another source for efficiency-based values is Pro Football Focus. PFF is different from ANS in that they do not necessary use the outcomes of plays to formulate rankings. Instead, they break down each play and assign values based on their interpretation of how well each player performed his job on that play. You can read more about their methodology here .

Today, I will be comparing the Cowboys defensive player values from ANS and PFF with our own.

NR=Not Rated


  • Neither ANS or PFF rated Jay Ratliff any higher than the 12th best defensive tackle in the NFL.

I was slightly down on Ratliff as well, giving him an overall grade of 87.0 , but to nowhere near the degree of ANS or PFF.  A reader recently pointed out that Ratliff also played injured all season (and played too many snaps at that).  His efficiency will increase in 2010.

  • PFF rated defensive ends Igor Olshansky, Stephen Bowen, and Jason Hatcher as nearly identical.  Marcus Spears was not far behind.

This fits very well with my defensive end grades .  While I had Olshansky rated a bit higher than the others, the interchangeability of all four defensive ends allows them to stay fresh.

  • ANS was extremely down on DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer, rating them as the 18th and 20th most efficient linebackers in the NFL.

There is a caveat here.  ANS ranks all linebackers together and their methodologies reward inside linebackers (who acquire more tackles) more than outside linebackers.  Nonetheless, they still had Ware and Spencer rated as just the sixth and seventh most efficient 3-4 outside linebackers, behind James Harrison, Clay Matthews, Aaron Kampman, Terrell Suggs, and Manny Lawson.  You can see my grades of Ware and Spencer here. I personally recently rated them as the first and third-best 3-4 OLBs in the NFL.

  • The opinions on Keith Brooking varied from the 11th best linebacker in the league to the 50th.

I would probably say he is somewhere in between, although his 2009 game film stood out enough to me for me to provide him a rather high 87.6 percent overall grade –the fifth highest of any Cowboys defensive player .

  • We are unanimous in noticing that Bobby Carpenter is bad.

Very, very bad.

  • Cornerbacks Terence Newman and Mike Jenkins had very comparable 2009 seasons.

ANS rated Newman slightly higher, while PFF gave Jenkins the nod.  I had Jenkins edging out Newman by a hair in my 2009 cornerback grades , due solely to his three extra interceptions.

  • By everyone’s observations, Orlando Scandrick had a down year.

He was targeted more than just about any cornerback in the NFL last season, but I am expecting a breakout year for him in 2010.  Here are nine other Cowboys players who will break out in 2010.

  • Both ANS and PFF rated safety Gerald Sensabaugh ahead of fellow starter Ken Hamlin, although neither were particularly outstanding.

I gave Hamlin the superior grade because his primary job in Dallas was generally to make sure the defense didn’t allow big plays–a job he performed quite well, even last season.  He was also an underrated tackler, missing tackles at half the rate of Sensabaugh (8.0 percent compared to 15.6 percent), despite playing a position–free safety–which is perhaps the most difficult on the field from which to secure a tackle.

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