Dallas Cowboys: A win for Maurice Canady is a win for analytics

Maurice Canady is going to make the Dallas Cowboys roster this year. Just one month ago such a statement would seem somewhat surprising given the pedigree and shear number of cornerbacks competing for a roster spot this summer.

But after a stellar training camp where Canady showed proficiency both inside and outside, there’s no logical way he COULDN’T make the 2021 Dallas Cowboys.

Based on analytic recommendations the Dallas Cowboys signed Maurice Canady, and the rest is history

When Mike McCarthy was unceremoniously let go in Green Bay, he embarked on a harsh (but needed) self reflection period. During this time McCarthy challenged his priors and entertained thoughts and ideas he hadn’t previously paid much mind to.

In this rebirth period he took on the polarizing topic of analytics – not something many old school coaches from Pittsburgh would dare do. His studies brought him the offices of Pro Football Focus where he studied their thoughts, processes and overall methodology.

He said the educational process changed him, but fans like me were skeptical. People say a lot when they’re interviewing for a job. It’s when they’re on the clock that matters. That’s the real barometer of change.

Dallas still has a long ways to go until they can be considered analytically minded. But the first seed they planted seems to be growing, and with that, so hopefully has their trust.

One of those actions he took after getting the Dallas Cowboys gig was sign one of the highest value free agents on PFF’s free agent list. Maurice Canady was hardly a household name spring of 2020. The former Jets cornerback was a bit of rotational player and unless you were looking for him on film, you probably wouldn’t notice him.

But PFF noticed him. They study everyone. Analytics, the blend of film study and math (to put it simply), graded Canady as a top-25 CB that previous year. That season he only gave up an average of 6.9 yards/target, just allowed a passer rating of 79 when targeted, and didn’t give up a single touchdown.

In other words – he was a top performing player flying under the radar.

After opting out the 2020 season, none of us, including McCarthy and the Cowboys front office, got to see how this analytics bargain would pay off. It stands to reason, if he fell on his face, it would an “L” for analytics within the Dallas Cowboys organization. But a win could instill faith in the previously resistant bunch.

Based on contracts (re-signing a LB and a RB), game plans (limited in-snap motion), play-calling (too many early down runs and not enough play-action) the Dallas Cowboys still have a long way to go until they can be considered analytically minded. But the first seed they planted seems to be growing, and with that, so hopefully has their trust.

What kind of role Canady carves out remains to be seen. The Dallas Cowboys clearly want to incorporate their rookies as soon as possible. And their most stable veteran, Anthony Brown, seems to be a lock for a top-3 CB in Week 1. But Canady has been a beast inside, and while his 6-foot-1 frame doesn’t exactly fit the mold of a slot CB, his play on the field begs to differ.

For those of us who’ve been following along, cornerbacks don’t always offer the most stable of performances year to year. There was concern this wouldn’t pay off and Canady would just be Daryl Worley 2.0. But Canady has been strong in just about every opportunity he’s been given and looks like a clear top-4 CB (if not better) and is sure to see snaps early this season. That’s not bad for a 3-year veteran with only 728 snaps to his name.

Maurice Canady’s success is greater than just one man. Hopefully it builds trust in analytics within the organization and ushers in more facts-based thoughts and ideas.