2014 Fantasy Outlooks: Dallas Cowboys
There's already an ominous feel for the Cowboys this year based on what's happened this offseason. An already bad defense seemingly got worse.
The Cowboys lost top pass rushers in DeMarcus Ware and Jason Hatcher as free agents. And standout middle linebacker Sean Lee suffered a torn ACL in May. Those players cannot be replaced.
One of the byproducts of those injuries is that the bad defense leads to good offense. And there is plenty of firepower for the Cowboys to put up plenty of points, especially with Scott Linehan now calling plays.
Dallas has the No. 8 Fantasy quarterback from 2013 in Tony Romo , the No. 7 running back in DeMarco Murray , the No. 6 receiver in Dez Bryant and the No. 5 tight end in Jason Witten . Add in a potential breakout receiver in Terrance Williams , and the Cowboys can attack opposing defenses in a variety of ways.
That's good news for Fantasy owners, and this is an offense you should gravitate to on Draft Day. The defense might not be good, but there is the potential for a lot of shootouts, which leads to happy owners at the end of the season.
First-round talent ... DeMarco Murray
Even though Murray had a career year in 2013 and finished No. 7 in Fantasy points at his position, owners are skeptical he can do it again. He's considered injury prone, and rightfully so. Murray missed nine games in his first two seasons, and he even was out for two games last year with a knee injury.
But in 14 games, Murray set career highs in carries (217), rushing yards (1,121), rushing touchdowns (nine), receptions (53), receiving yards (350) and receiving touchdowns (one). And he should improve this season with Linehan.
Linehan, who was the offensive coordinator in Detroit, got Reggie Bush and Joique Bell to finish Top 20 in Fantasy points last year, with the duo combining for more than 100 catches. The Cowboys are saying Murray isn't expected to come off the field much, and that should lead to another Top 10 finish in Fantasy points at his position, if not higher.
Murray will probably fall to Round 2 in the majority of leagues, which is great value. But don't hesitate to draft him toward the end of Round 1 if you're not sold on Montee Ball or don't want to draft Calvin Johnson , Jimmy Graham or Peyton Manning . He proved himself last season and should be great again.
QB worth waiting for ... Tony Romo
No one really wants Romo as their Fantasy quarterback. He's not someone you covet on Draft Day. And that's a mistake. Is he Manning, Drew Brees or Aaron Rodgers ? Not exactly. But his track record speaks for itself.
Romo has been a Top 10 Fantasy quarterback in four of the past five years, including three in a row. He was No. 8 in Fantasy points last year in a standard league with 3,828 passing yards, 31 touchdowns and 10 interceptions on 64 percent completions. And he should improve this year.
With Linehan calling plays, and a defense that could be record-breaking bad, Romo could be asked to do a lot of heavy lifting. If his back is OK after surgery in December -- all reports are positive -- he should play at a high level.
My draft strategy is to always wait on a quarterback. I'll let someone else reach for a quarterback in the first three rounds, and I'll hold off as long as possible to get a quarterback as late as possible.
Ideally, I'll end up with Matthew Stafford , Colin Kaepernick or Matt Ryan this season. If I miss on that trio, Romo headlines the next tier because Andrew Luck is typically gone. And I'm happy to get Romo if he falls in my lap, likely in Round 7 or later.
Everyone has their different feeling on drafting a quarterback -- I've said for years it's the most personal decision you'll make -- but I prefer to stockpile running backs and receivers early and take a quarterback late. And Romo, more often than not, produces great results.
Poised for a breakout ... Terrance Williams
|DeMarco Murray||270 (217 car., 53 rec.)||38.0%|
|Dez Bryant||94 (1 car., 93 rec.)||13.2%|
|Jason Witten||73 rec.||10.3%|
|Joseph Randle||62 (54 car., 8 rec.)||8.7%|
|Terrance Williams||47 (3 car., 44 rec.)||6.6%|
Williams hits a lot of the checkmarks you look for in a receiver with upside. Talent? Check. Pass-heavy offense? Check. Single coverage all game? Check. Good quarterback? Check.
Williams should be considered a No. 3 Fantasy receiver on Draft Day with the chance to be a weekly starter. With Romo calling plays in Linehan's offense -- and playing opposite Bryant and Witten -- Williams could have plenty of big weeks. And he showed that last season.
With Miles Austin out with hamstring problems, Williams had a four-game scoring streak from Weeks 5-8. For the season, Williams had 44 catches for 736 yards and five touchdowns, but he could be 60 catches, 1,000 yards and eight touchdowns.
You'd rather draft Williams as a No. 4 Fantasy receiver, but either way target him with a mid-round pick. He has the chance for a big year, and he's a potential difference maker in your Fantasy league in 2014.
We're going to find out early on if the passing game in Dallas is for real with some tough matchups for Romo and Co. The Cowboys play five of their first six games against teams that were Top 8 in Fantasy points allowed to opposing quarterbacks (San Francisco, Tennessee, St. Louis, New Orleans and Seattle). Only Houston in Week 5 was outside of the Top 8 of that group, but the Texans shouldn't be easy with the addition of Jadeveon Clowney . The Seahawks game is also on the road, so this could be a rough start. Still, the Cowboys are a tough test offensively for their opponents as well, so it'll be interesting to see how it unfolds.
Training camp battles
Who's the No. 2 running back? There really aren't any position battles for the Cowboys. Barring Kyle Orton deciding not to retire, Brandon Weeden is the No. 2 quarterback, Cole Beasley is the No. 3 receiver behind Bryant and Williams, and Gavin Escobar is the No. 2 tight end. Lance Dunbar should be the No. 2 running back, but Joseph Randle held the role last season. The Cowboys also took a flier on Ryan Williams , but Dunbar is the one to handcuff to Murray. And in deep leagues, he could be worth a look on his own given Murray's injury history.
Romo's best season was 2007 when he passed for 4,211 yards, 36 touchdowns and 19 interceptions, and he added two rushing touchdowns. He was No. 2 in Fantasy points that year, but we're expecting another career campaign in 2014.
With Linehan and this defense, Romo is going to be asked to throw so much he should post monster stats. Just look at Matthew Stafford the past three seasons and how much he threw the ball -- with Linehan calling plays and a bad defense.
Stafford was fourth, first and first in pass attempts the past three years. He was No. 7 in Fantasy points last season, No. 11 in 2012 and No. 4 in 2011. Romo is going to challenge for the pass-attempts lead, and that should lead to a career year if Bryant, Witten and Williams stay healthy.
Tony Romo (back), probable for start of training camp. ... Sean Lee (ACL), out for season