Fantasy Football 32: Dallas Cowboys
The Dallas Cowboys have been given high expectations for years, and yet, year after year, an underwhelming 8-8 finish leaves a bad taste in their mouth. I mean, you’d be hard-pressed to find three more explosive offenses in the league today, but their absolutely atrocious defensive unit had them playing catch-up. Last year, Dallas surrendered 27 points per game (7th-most), 3.2 touchdowns per game (6th-most) and allowed 3.9 red zone scoring attempts per game (2nd-most). They were one of the most fantasy friendly defensive units in football, and they aren’t showing any signs of getting better. Especially with the heart and soul of their defense, Sean Lee, out for the year.
Due to recent events, I know the feeling all too well.
Anyway, Dallas offers some of the most fantasy pieces in the league, and with a new coordinator, big things could be on the horizon for this offense.
It’s an ongoing theme. Whenever something bad happens to the Cowboys, it’s his fault. Whenever he attends a sporting event and that team loses, it’s his fault. Whenever global warming goes down, it’s his fault. I get it. People hate the Cowboys, people hate Romo. It’s cool, whatever.
Just don’t bring that judgment into fantasy land, okay?
In each of the last three seasons, Tony Romo has finished as a top-10 fantasy signal caller. And he’s also among the league leaders in career completion rate, yards per attempt and TD rate. In 2013, Romo finished 9th in fantasy points per game and the entire supporting cast from his 31-touchdown, 3,826-yard season returns, as well as a fantasy friendly face.
From 2002-2004, no quarterback in the NFL had more fantasy points than … Daunte Culpepper. And from 2011-2013, only four quarterbacks had more total fantasy points than one Matthew Stafford. There’s a theme here, folks.
Offensive coordinator Scott Linehan loves to throw the football. Fantasy owners love their quarterbacks to throw the ball. Match made in heaven? I think so. Linehan will now be calling plays for Romo in Dallas, and he’s had quite the track record of slinging the football around a ton, and his passers have reaped the benefits.
As you see, there has been just one season in the past eight years where a Linehan offense didn’t rank inside the top-10 in pass attempts. And when you consider that Romo has already averaged about 472 pass attempts per season throughout his career, the sky could be the limit for a guy who has thrown for at least 4,000 yards and 31 scores in two of the last three years.
Linehan helped lesser talents like Culpepper and Marc Bulger finish inside the top-three among fantasy passers, so there’s no reason why he can’t do the same with Romo. Not only will this team pass a lot, but they’ll need to pass a lot. Last year, Dallas’ defense was among the league’s worst, and as a result, the Cowboys averaged 7.8 points per game in the 4th quarter alone. They had to throw to stay in games, and that should stay true this year.
Let’s just hope their defense can just give up the big play and get off the field, as the Cowboys offense ranked dead last in offensive plays per game last year (59.8).
I like to consider DeMarco Murray as a very poor man’s Adrian Peterson. You know, I’m talking, side of the road, begging for change, smelly hobo-type poor. The guy runs just like him, with incredible violence and power, but also his speed and elusiveness. And after teasing fantasy owners with a handful of good games and then going down with injury, Murray put it all together in 2013.
Only two qualified backs had a better YPC than Murray’s 5.2 last year, and only seven running backs had more fantasy points than the Dallas back. He rushed for over 1,000 yards, scored nine touchdowns, and most importantly, caught 53 passes– without Linehan. Keep in mind that Murray still posted these strong numbers while Dallas tended to under-utilize him, as the team ran the football just 36 percent of the time, which was among the bottom-five in football. However, they figured it out during the second half, as Murray averaged 21.3 offensive touches per game from Week 10 on, which is very exciting.
RB Receptions Under Linehan
Murray should be in line for an easy RB1 season, and I currently have him inside my top-seven among running backs. 60-70 receptions will make up for weeks where Dallas abandons the run, which they will.
Good luck finding many receivers with the pure physical gifts that Dez Bryant brings to the table. He may be the best short-yardage wideout in the game today, and if you are near the end zone, here’s a free piece of advice.
Throw it up.
According to ESPN, last year Bryant scored 111 fantasy points on short throws, making him one of only two wide receivers to reach the 100 mark in that category. Unfortunately, he was just 19th among receivers in fantasy points on vertical throws, but with Linehan calling the shots, that could change in a big way. Bryant ended up as fantasy’s number six receiver, but it could have been even better.
Via Matthew Berry, Bryant was tackled inside an opponent’s five-yard line seven times, the most among any receiver in football. If he converted a few of those chances into touchdowns, Bryant would have easily been a top-five guy, but when someone is as good as Dez, you’re nit-picking a bit. He’s a top-five fantasy wideout on a pass-happy team with a good quarterback.
Have a ball.
I also really like Terrance Williams, who showed flashes as a rookie, catching 44 balls for 736 yards and five scores. He can stretch the field, has Dez and other weapons drawing attention, and, again, Dallas is going to throw the ball a ton. And, via ESPN, second-year wideouts see a 65 percent increase in fantasy points from their rookie year. I like him for a breakout campaign.
Each year, fantasy owners draft Jason Witten with no excitement whatsoever, probably because he’s so safe and does it every year. Sure, he doesn’t score a lot of touchdowns, finding the end zone just eight times over the last two seasons, but he’s been a stud in PPR formats, hauling in 189 passes during that same span. Romo loves targeting his security blanket, and while it may not be exciting to draft him, at the end of the year, Witten will be among the best tight ends in fantasy.