The news out of the Dallas Cowboys’ training camp is that rookie DE Demarcus Lawrence suffered a broken foot on Tuesday and will be out for at least eight weeks. This is another devastating blow to the Cowboys, whose defensive unit is already marred by injuries. While the news is unfortunate, this further elevates the draft stock of both Tony Romo and Dez Bryant.
There have already been countless articles about why Romo is a sneaky good pick in fantasy football this year, and Bryant’s talent is self-explanatory. However, let me explain why I have Bryant ranked as the No. 2 WR behind Calvin Johnson and why once we see more of how Romo’s back is recovering, he may move into my top 10 QBs.
In 2013, the Cowboys’ defense was dead last in the league in yards allowed to opposing offenses. Dallas allowed opposing teams 415 yards per game, a healthy step above the Minnesota Vikings, who had the second-worst defense and allowed 398 yards per game. The Cowboys were also the seventh-worst NFL team in points allowed at 27 points per game.
To be fair, the Cowboys were in a bind this offseason with their salary cap situation and did their best to somewhat improve their horrendous defense. However, the recent string of injuries has devastated an already poor defense. I didn’t think it was possible, but the Cowboys’ 2014 defense might be even worse than the 2013 defense.
Since the beginning of the offseason, here are the players that Dallas has lost on the defensive side of the ball. Star DE DeMarcus Ware was released and subsequently signed with the Denver Broncos. Middle LB Sean Lee tore his ACL for the third time in late May and will miss the entire 2014 season.
Additionally, though it was hoped that both players would return by the start of training camp, neither DE Anthony Spencer nor DT Amobi Okoye are ready to go yet. Spencer underwent microfracture surgery last October, and Okoye is still recovering from a personal medical issue that kept him out for the entire 2013 season.
Last week, Spencer was placed on the PUP list and Okoye was placed on the NFI list. Add in Lawrence’s broken foot, and Dallas may have the worst defensive line in the league this year. The Cowboys will be playing catch up in a lot of games, which means throw, throw and more throw. Romo will be slinging it, and Bryant will be his primary target.
The Cowboys were the fourth-most pass-heavy offense in the league last year, throwing the ball on 64.89 percent of plays. And just in case you forgot, Scott Linehan is the new passing game coordinator in Dallas. While he was the offensive coordinator for the Detroit Lions, Detroit passed on an insane 67.06 percent of plays in 2011 and 66.29 percent of plays in 2012. The sky’s the limit for Romo and Bryant in 2014.
Of course, neither Romo nor Bryant is without risk going into the 2014 season. It’s important to note that Romo underwent his second back surgery in less than in year back in December. Romo has been limited during training camp practices, though he is expected to be ready to go for Week 1 of the regular season.
Romo’s health and availability will make him a riskier pick at QB for 2014. Bryant’s fantasy value, however, isn’t as dependent upon Romo’s health as most people might think, even with Brandon Weeden as the Cowboys’ backup QB.
In the five games Josh Gordon played last year with Weeden playing the majority of snaps under center, Gordon averaged 7.4 receptions on 10.6 targets for 146.2 yards and 0.8 TDs per game. In fact, Gordon’s two back-to-back 200-yard games were with Weeden. If Weeden were forced to start in Romo’s absence, he clearly relies on targeting his No. 1 WR. Bryant should be just fine regardless of whether it’s Romo or Weeden passing to him.
The Cowboys’ terrible defense and the team’s tendency to throw the ball combine for a perfect formula for fantasy success. Romo and Bryant will both be worth their weight in gold this season. Romo is currently being drafted at 92nd overall and Bryant at 11th overall. I would reach for Romo a round earlier, and I have Bryant ranked as my eighth-overall pick. Both players are undervalued at their current ADPs and will be pivotal pieces toward a fantasy championship run in 2014.