I believe that to properly analyze the 2017 IDPs you need to have an idea of how they’ll ALL perform so you can benchmark and compare them effectively. So I built a model using past performance, efficiency, scheme information and coaching tendencies to predict what will happen in 2017. I’ve applied that to my best estimates for how teams will use players this year which gives a projection and ranking for all IDPs. You can read more about what I did and how here.
I hesitated to write this article. I’m pretty sure it will be the highest in the series in terms of “Shut up! You know nothing about the Cowboys!” comments. It would be that way whatever I said, but I’m firmly in the camp of believing the Cowboys will regress as a team. Last year everything went pretty perfectly, but in today’s NFL letting three of your starting secondary walk is rarely a good thing.
In terms of stat crew, Dallas is slightly odd. Essentially they’re fairly low on solo tackles but fairly high on assists. So it’s not an automatic advantage for Cowboys players, but in the right scoring systems inside linebackers and strong safeties in particular can still be very productive. It’s also useful in leagues where defensive linemen have assists scored as heavily as solo tackles.
None I’m afraid. I do not believe that any Cowboys will be top-end elite IDP options. Of course several have the potential to do so – I just currently have others modelled above them for 2017.
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Maliek Collins, DT
I’m pretty down on the whole of the interior D line in Dallas this year but I like Collins’ opportunity given his pass-rushing ability. He’s clearly not a natural run-stopper, but if he can seize the top interior pass-rusher role he could finish as high as the #11 tackle.
Key stats: 681 snaps, 27 solo tackles, 19 assists, seven sacks, three passes defended.
Taco Charlton, DE
I’m not normally that high on rookie pass rushers but I like Taco a lot – and not just because of the cool name. However much people like to deny it, the Jones family still make the big decisions in Dallas and part of that is that they like to have marquee players in key positions. They haven’t had a prime defensive end they can be proud of since Demarcus Ware left and I believe Taco will be given every opportunity to shine. I don’t expect him to play anywhere near the amount the top ends do and that limits his production but he can certainly put up similar numbers to Takk McKinlay. I expect Taco to finish as the #24 end in 2017.
Key stats: 659 snaps, 28 solo tackles, 16 assists, three sacks, three passes defended, one INT.
Sean Lee, LB
What a season he had last year. I thought there were very few players who played as well as Lee did in 2016. Having said that, he did show a few times that the injuries and age has robbed him a bit and I expect that decline to continue. He’ll still be a fine player but he’s also clearly going to be a step down from the elite options. In IDP terms I have him projected as the#18 linebacker.
Key stats: 807 snaps, 77 solo tackles, 40 assists, two sacks, six passes defended, three INTs.
Anthony Brown, CB
Brown is not a household name and is unlikely to be a star but he does have a chance to be productive. He actually played over 700 snaps last season and with rookies for competition he should play significant time again. It’s a good scheme for IDP corners – they play in a dome and the team will be competitive enough for game scripts that target him. I like him as my #16 corner for the year.
Key stats: 1,046 snaps, 57 solo tackles, 11 assists, nine passes defended, one INT.
Jeff Heath / Xavier Woods, S
This is a really interesting spot. Obviously over the past few years Barry Church has been fantastic, but with him gone there is no obvious layer to own the spot. Jeff Heath played 235 snaps last season. Of those not a single one was within eight yards of the line of scrimmage. All of the metrics about his production scream deep safety and that’s how he was used. Similarly Woods is undersized to be a true box safety and of course was only a fifth round pick.
It seems like a problem position to me. Having said that, someone is getting the job and whoever does has a prime path to production given the stat crew’s predilection for awarding assists to players in the middle of the defense. In fact I have the inner of the job finishing as the #10 safety in 2017. If you have roster space to add one of these prior to camp it’s not a bad plan.
Key stats: 861 snaps, 83 solo tackles, 28 assists, four passes defended, one INT.
I’ve said many times I think there’s only room for one premier end in the Cowboy’s scheme, and Demarcus Lawrence is not the man to win it. Assuming he’s second in the rotation I see him as the #41 end in 2017. That’s relevant and startable some weeks, but not a good option except in very large leagues.
Key stats: 549 snaps, 23 solo tackles, 12 assists, six sacks, one pass defended.
Jaylon Smith, LB
This is another intriguing spot. Depending on his fitness (we obviously won’t really know for a while if he can play at NFL speed) he could be a fantastic player in his first real season or simply a depth piece. I’m erring towards it being the latter for 2017 at #53 linebacker; but with every chance of becoming the top guy in 2018 and beyond.
Key stats: 613 snaps, 56 solo tackles, 28 assists, two sacks, three passes defended, one INT.
The Cowboys scheme is slightly odd because the slot corner is such a productive one. The added assists is a prime reason for that. Assuming Scandrick mans that spot he’s my #31 corner. Not too shabby in deeper leagues.
Key stats: 636 snaps, 50 solo tackles, nine assists, one sack, nine passes defended, one INT.
Chidobe Awuzie / Jourdan Lewis, CB
The Cowboys picked two corners in the top three rounds of the draft. They’re unlikely to be relevant quite frankly, but I really like both players and they should be on your radar. Awuzie is an outside, physical corner and should get decent volume. I have him at #81. Lewis is likely to play in the slot in the NFL. He’s my #127 in 2017. Both have great instincts and I expect them to get their hands to the ball more than average.
Awuzie key stats: 885 snaps, 33 solo tackles, nine assists, nine passes defended, one INT
Lewis key stats: 356 snaps, 17 solo tackles, two assists, six passes defended.
Byron Jones, S
Yes he’s a free safety, but because of his athletic gifts Jones is used in a fairly unusual way and is an interesting IDP option. He plays deep most of the time but is also tasked with covering tight ends and bigger slot receivers so he’s more productive than most free safeties. He’s my #44 safety but look out for matchups. He’ll be a decent start in weeks against teams with a featured tight ends or big slot.
Key stats: 844 snaps, 54 solo tackles, 15 assists, five passes defended, two INTs.
So no elite options jump off the page but there are two really nice positions to monitor. The use of Sean Lee and Jaylon Smith is key. I’d be shocked if Smith wasn’t the name to own in a year from now. On top of that, seeing how they solve the problem at strong safety is a key situation to watch. I’ll be paying attention to news coming from beat reporters here.
Those are my predictions as of right now. Obviously things will change as we get a better idea of who will play and how going towards the season. If you disagree with any assertions here feel free to leave a comment or contact me on Twitter (@TomDegenerate) and I’ll be happy to discuss.
Thanks for reading.
If Jaylon Smith can’t go, who do you feel steps into that role?
I’d guess Anthony Hitchens. he played 580-odd snaps last year. 300 more than Damien Wilson
Tom, I follow you religiously. Please never leave DLF. However, Re: Taco v. Demarcus. I think your 27 (Taco) to 41 (Lawrence) is too far apart. If you would reverse that I would believe it. Demarcus will outscore Taco this season. I like Taco too, but not enough for giving him a #27 grade this season. Maybe as an ADP but not as performance.
Dallas drafts DEF well. Demarcus was #34 pick in 2014. It should be his time now.
J Henry. Don’t waste a roster spot on Hitchens. Regardless of the snap count, his production stinks.
You’re correct on Hitchens, he had chances last year. Nothing there.
Are your projections posted anywhere?
Enjoying the articles, nice work.
oops . 24 for Taco not 27. Point still the same.
Thanks very much Leo. For reading and also the input. I’m bullish about Taco partially because I like the talent and partially because I think the Jones’ pile on pressure to highlight the new shiny toy in Dallas.
But as always I expect to get a lot of things wrong. In no way do I think any of this is gospel – it’s just the best guess I can make. Frankly if someone finishes 24th or 41st I don’t really want to rely on them either way. I’ll use them in weeks against certain opposition but they’re not someone I want to roll out week in week out.
What about David Irving? He’s getting some love after finishing with a bang. Not a believer?
Yuk. If you look at a couple of weeks it looks good. But he had 4.0 sacks in 486 defensive snaps in 2016. 33 other DEs had more sacks/snap than he did.
I’m not excited at all