The Cowboys have some major decisions to make along their offensive line, the most pressing of which might be who starts at right tackle. Much to my surprise, Doug Free is back in Dallas, and he’ll compete with Jermey Parnell for starting duties. Parnell, who played four years of college basketball and one year of football at the University of Mississippi, is an outstanding athlete without much experience playing the sport.
A few months ago, I wrote why Parnell should start over Free. The primary reason has nothing to do with Parnell possessing a higher ceiling, but rather that Parnell was already better than Free in 2012. Last year, Free allowed pressure on 6.2 percent of his snaps in pass protection. Parnell, although he allowed five sacks, allowed pressure at a 4.2 percent clip. He actually allowed sacks at twice the rate as Free, even when you consider their pressure rates. That might sound bad, but sacks are inherently volatile; once a lineman gets beat, it’s really a guessing game as to whether a sack will occur. I’ve found that sacks tend to add up to around one-quarter of all pressures. Parnell gave up five sacks but only eight pressures. Based on how much pressure Parnell actually allowed, the most likely sack total was just two, i.e. he got very unlucky.
On top of that, Parnell is superior to Free in the running game. The 6-6, 311-pound tackle looked good in limited action last year and is stronger than Free by leaps and bounds. Cowboys running backs averaged 5.06 YPC when Parnell was at the point-of-attack in 2012—the highest average behind any lineman. Meanwhile, backs totaled 2.58 YPC with Free at the point. One of those runs was a fluky 48-yard scamper by DeMarco Murray in Week 1—a play on which Free didn’t do much of anything. If you take that out of the sample, running backs averaged 1.99 YPC on 77 runs behind Free in 2012!
It’s important to note that Parnell isn’t as young as people think. He’ll be 27 years old in a couple days—not “old” for an offensive lineman by any means, but not Tyron Smith territory either. However, Free is already 29 and his career outlook has been trending downward for a few years. If Parnell—a player with very limited experience playing on the offensive line—is already superior to Free, the choice of who to start should be an easy one.