Over the past few weeks, I’ve projected the majority of the Cowboys’ offensive and defensive starters, predicting stats like yards, touchdowns, tackles, interceptions, and so on. Now it’s time to turn to the offensive line. But how in the world can you project a position that doesn’t accumulate “stats” as we typically think about them?
Well, offensive linemen do have “stats,” but theirs differ from other positions in that they don’t want them; lower is better when it comes to allowing pressure and sacks. I’ll say right off of the bat that predicting sacks allowed is an incredibly difficult thing to do because there’s not too much of a correlation from year to year. Sacks are volatile.
Tyron Smith is a perfect example of why we can’t trust sack numbers. Last year, he gave up only three sacks all season, suggesting he was outstanding in pass protection. However, Smith also allowed pressure on 6.0 percent of his snaps in pass protection—around the same rate as Doug Free. Based on how he played, Smith’s most likely sack total was actually nine, meaning he got really lucky to allow just three sacks.
I know that because I’ve studied how pressures compare to sacks, and historically a lineman’s sacks allowed add up to around one-quarter of his total pressures. So Smith could perform much better in pass protection in 2013—which I think he will—and he’ll still be very likely to allow more than three sacks.
The main number we need to consider when projecting Smith is 22 -- his age. Smith won’t turn 23 until the very end of the season, so he’s entering his third year at an age when many players are rookies. Last year was his first at left tackle, so there’s really good reason to anticipate significant improvements.
Plus, Smith was already pretty good as a run blocker last year. When he was at the point-of-attack, I tracked Cowboys running backs as gaining 4.47 YPC—over a full yard more than their average behind the other linemen.
The key to hitting on Smith’s total of sacks allowed is accurately predicting his pressures. Chances are Smith’s 2013 sack total will more appropriately reflect his play. So even if Smith’s pressure rate drops to around 3.5 percent, which I think it will given his age, skill set, and experience, he’d still allow six sacks in the average season based on the expected number of passes for Dallas.
Final 2013 Projection: 3.5 percent pressure rate, six sacks allowed, 4.80 YPC at the point
Jonathan Bales is the founder of The DC Times. He writes for DallasCowboys.com and the New York Times. He's also the author of Fantasy Football for Smart People: How to Dominate Your Draft.