The NFL Draft is today and Dallas Cowboys are fans are entrenched in debate. What’s the biggest need? Who are the primary targets? What positions can wait and what should take priority? Not so surprisingly, positional value has worked its way into the conversation again this year.
Positional value is the idea that some positions are simply more valuable than others. Whether that’s in the form of annual compensation (seen in surplus value), wins above replacement (WAR), demand around the league, or all of the above, it’s a factor that’s being considered more and more in the NFL.
Ever wonder why even the mediocre quarterbacks always go so darn early? Even in a weak class like this one, QBs are projected to go far above their overall ranking simply because of the importance of the position. In the same (but opposite) way, box safeties, tight ends, running backs, and 1-tech tackles always seem to slip.
Some positions can be found in later rounds or even as street free agents. Their WAR is low and as such aren’t highly sought after early in the draft. Center, tight end, and running back are all amongst the lowest paid position groups in the NFL. They aren’t highly valued in the NFL (partially due to impact and partially to replaceablity).
Last year this same debate waged. Should the Dallas Cowboys draft Micah Parsons or should they draft Patrick Surtain or Rashawn Slater instead? Positional value told us cornerback and offensive tackle were far FAR more valuable than off-ball linebacker.
Admittedly, I was wholeheartedly against the idea of drafting Parsons for that reason. Where I was most tragically (yet happily) wrong was not in his ability to play football but rather where Micah Parsons would be playing in the NFL.
As luck would have it (luck?), injuries befell the DE position and Parsons would be forced to start a handful of games at EDGE. He immediately established himself as one of the best edge players in the NFL and even after moving back to off-ball later in the season, the Cowboys used Parsons as a pass-rusher often, keeping his value higher than that of normal off-ball LB.
This changed everything. EDGE players are the second most valuable position in the NFL and since Parsons was playing nearly half of his snaps at edge (and when he wasn’t he was still rushing the passer) he was essentially as valuable as an EDGE.
If Stephen Jones wants to get the most bang for his buck, there are certain positions he should target.
So while we should all still hate the idea of drafting an off-ball linebacker with a top-15 pick, if he’s projected to be an elite pass-rusher and the Dallas Cowboys plan to frequently use him at EDGE, it changes everything.
Because…it’s all about positional value.
Looking towards this year we can see the Dallas Cowboys are in the market for a few positions: IOL and WR headline the list but LB, DL, TE, and OT are legitimate needs as well.
In the contract value chart above we see DE, WR and OT are all among the most valuable, LB and OG are in the middle ranks, while TE and C are the least valuable. For a team like the Dallas Cowboys who are always pinching pennies and cutting coupons, this should be factored in the decision making process.
That’s because the Dallas Cowboys unofficial day-to-day GM, Stephen Jones, is always looking for financial corners to cut. Pro Football Focus, the authors of the surplus value study, shows us DE, DI, OT, and WR offer the most surplus value when playing on rookie deals.
If Stephen wants to get the most bang for his buck, those are the positions he should target. That doesn’t mean skipping over a great player at another position and reaching on a player just to win the surplus value game either. We discussed this all more thoroughly in the article linked below:
Chances are significant the Dallas Cowboys will select a guard with their top pick today. While this addresses the most important need it’s a relatively low value position with limited surplus value. Keep in mind most starting NFL guards WERE NOT drafted in the first round (or even second). Good guards are easier to find than say, good defensive ends or good offensive tackles.
Which is why there’s some logic behind not addressing the biggest need in Round 1 (left guard) and hitting high-value positions like DE and WR first. There is even a case to made OT is the better move since they can be used inside now to fill the need, and moved out later to capitalize on the positional/surplus value OT offers.
If the Dallas Cowboys do deviate from the guard position just know that there may be some next-level logic to it and it’s not because they don’t take LG seriously. It’s also worth remembering the lesson last year taught us – just because the Cowboys pick a player at a low value position does not mean he’ll play that low value position in Dallas.
Be prepared for anything this draft has the potential to for chaos.