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Checking in on Collins, Gregory and Jones

The Dallas Cowboys received quite the buzz earlier in the year when they landed three first round talents from the rookie draft class. Will they be worthy of such buzz once the season begins?

With pick 27 in the 1st round, Dallas nabbed an otherworldly athlete in Byron Jones, CB from Connecticut. Jones awed the sports world when he set an NFL combine record with a 12-foot, 3-inch broad jump. That jump was not only the longest in NFL Combine history, but broke the world record of 12-foot, 2-inches set in 1968.

Jones was quickly called a “Workout Warrior” by some. A term used to describe an NFL player as nothing more than an athlete who can perform in the gym, but not on the field.

In his senior year, Jones allowed just a 26.3 quarterback rating before his season ending shoulder injury. During his four seasons at Connecticut, Jones racked up 225 total tackles, 4 tackles for loss, 8 INTs, 77 INT return yards, 21 passes defensed and 1 FR with 1 FRTD in 43 games; all while playing against the likes of 1st-2nd round QBs such as Geno Smith, Blake Bortles and Teddy Bridgewater.

Not only did Jones produce at the Combine, he produced at Connecticut. To the point where the Cowboys felt confident enough in his abilities to be worthy of a first round pick.

You can teach football. You can’t teach athleticism. That brings me to the “3 Sigma Athlete.”

The phrase “3 Sigma Athlete” refers to:
“A rare NFL player who stands three standard deviations above the NFL standard pSPARQ at a given position…3 sigma athletes don’t show up very often. 3 standard deviations from the mean corresponds to the 99.87th percentile. It isn’t 1 in 1000, but it isn’t far off, either.”

SPARQ:
“A formula developed by Nike which measures player athleticism by outputting a single composite score.”

What does all of this have to do with Byron Jones? The 3 Sigma Athlete site ran analysis on the draft class, and discovered that their elite group of current 3 Sigma Athlete’s was about to expand. That small group consists of Calvin Johnson, JJ Watt, Evan Mathis and Lane Johnson. Pretty great talent, right?

“We do have a 3sigma athlete in 2015: Byron Jones, a cornerback from the University of Connecticut. I waited a few days to post in hopes that we’d reach a consensus on his pro day numbers, but given the reported range of 40 times, he’s almost certain to qualify. Even assuming a relatively conservative 40 of 4.4-flat, Jones managed to land a whopping 3.2 standard deviations from the positional cornerback average.” – 3 Sigma Athlete

Before exploding onto the Combine scene, “NFLN analyst Daniel Jeremiah was the only national analyst to put Byron in his top 50 prior to Indianapolis, and now the UConn corner is being discussed as a possible first-round prospect.”  – 3 Sigma Athlete

So, if it does turn out that Byron Jones is “just a Workout Warrior,” which I personally doubt, we can clearly see he has a transcendental athleticism that simply cannot be taught. Jones has the intelligence to be able to pick up the defense and play to a high level, which his college production shows signs of.

 

While the Cowboys created a media frenzy with their pick of the “Workout Warrior,” the best was yet to come.

 

On day two, the Cowboys stole the show as they selected DE Randy Gregory, who fell in the draft due to “red flags” when Gregory tested positive for marijuana during the Combine drug test.

Once ranked as a top five pick in the draft, Gregory had now fallen to pick 28 of the second round. Gregory took full responsibility for the issue, and even reached out to ask for help. During his draft selection phone call, he is heard asking Defensive Coordinator Rod Marinelli to be as hard as he can on him.

 

 

Gregory tallied 119 total tackles, 26.5 tackles for loss, 16.5 sacks, 2 INTs, 33 INT YDs, 4 passes defensed, 2 forced fumbles and 1 fumble recovery in 23 games at Nebraska. So far, the rookie has been outstanding, not only in camp, but off the field. He comes off as highly intelligent and highly motivated. The sky is the limit for Gregory.

 

The next shocker came when La’el Collins, who was once a first round pick, visited – and eventually signed with – the Dallas Cowboys. Most predicted him to go to a team who had major needs on their OLs. Dallas’ line was one of the best in the league last year, and their spots are likely cemented. No one saw it coming. Except for a few Cowboys fans.

Collins’ unfortunate tumble out of the draft came due to the fact that he was being questioned by police for the murder of an ex-girlfriend, though police were adamant the entire time that Collins was not a suspect.

Collins played 334 passing snaps LSU last year, allowing no sacks, no hits and just four hurries. Collins aspired to be a tackle in the NFL, however the Cowboys think he is a better fit at guard. Collins must have been okay with that assessment, as this was his first and last stop before signing.

It will be difficult to truly evaluate the play of these rookies after one season. Often the best analysis comes after their third year in the pros, but that won’t stop us from taking a look at their preseason performances thus far. The excitement is going to be hard to contain.

Byron Jones
Jones has played 77 snaps at cornerback and safety so far this preseason, and has registered 8 tackles, 0 missed tackles and 5 stops. Jones has allowed 4 rec on 4 targets for 33 YDs + 5 YAC. While Byron has allowed the catch, he makes the tackle without allowing big gains. The 5 YAC, the 0 missed tackles and his versatility are the most impressive of performance thus far.

Randy Gregory
So far this preseason, Gregory has 3 sacks, 2 hits, 2 hurries, 2 tackles and 4 stops on 77 snaps. Gregory ranks 4th in pass rushing productivity, per PFF, based on those who’ve played 25% of snaps. He is also T-1st in sacks (3) with four other players so far this preseason. Gregory has also forced two holding penalties, and had a fourth sack negated by a penalty in the secondary. Gregory looks as good as advertised so far.

La’el Collins
Perhaps getting the most extensive amount of work due to injuries on the offensive line, Collins is the #1 rated offensive player for Dallas so far, according to grading by PFF. Collins has allowed just 1 sack and 3 hurries on 115 snaps. He’s at his best during run blocking.

Though these are small sample sizes, if these numbers are any indication as to what we can expect to see this season, the Cowboys’ first round talents should be just fine.

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    When the coach is correcting another player in the group – that’s your mistake too. Pay attention – make the mental reps count so you are prepared in what may be your only opportunity to show what you’ve got.

    — Jason Garrett