2017 Dallas Cowboys Fantasy Football Primer ⋆
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2017 Dallas Cowboys Fantasy Football Primer

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2017 Dallas Cowboys Fantasy Football Primer

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2017 Dallas Cowboys Fantasy Football Primer

The Dallas Cowboys were one of the more surprising teams in 2016. Both on the real side of the game and the fantasy football side as well. Armed with a top-notch offensive line and a shiny new running back in Ezekiel Elliott, fantasy footballers and fans alike saw big things from the Dallas Cowboys offense.

That is until Tony Romo was injured in the third preseason game, against the Seattle Seahawks.

With only his preseason work to go off of, which was Tom Brady-esque, we saw a glimpse of what Dak Prescott could do leading the way for the Dallas Cowboys.

Little did we know, Prescott would end up in MVP conversations with Mr. Brady.

Heading into 2017, expectations for Prescott & Co. have sky rocketed. From a team perspective as well as a fantasy football perspective.

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Dallas Cowboys Quarterback Dak Prescott #4 (Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports)

Quarterback

Dak Prescott heads into his second season in the NFL with a lot of exposure as the quarterback for “America’s Team.”

With little-to-no expectations for his rookie season, Prescott came out and provided plenty of QB1 finishes on the season. In total scoring, Prescott finished 6th at the quarterback position in fantasy football. At 18.4 points per game, he ranked 11th. That also includes his one series against the Eagles.

The Dak Knight finished in front of fantasy football stalwarts Cam Newton, Philip Rivers, Russell Wilson, and 2017 hype-man Jameis Winston.

Prescott was quite good and is a safe bet to repeat his QB1 numbers in 2017.

Currently ranked 13th in FantasyPros.com’s consensus quarterback rankings, that is an excellent price to pay for someone who was a solid contributor to fantasy teams a year ago.

Not much has changed for Prescott. In fact, his offense may have gotten better. They will be younger on the offensive line and have a potential upgrade at right tackle. His receiver core is exactly the same as it was a year ago and they made an addition during the draft by adding Ryan Switzer out of North Carolina — more on him later.

I would be willing to take Dak Prescott as high as the 7th quarterback drafted in fantasy football drafts.

My Top 20 Quarterbacks for Redraft leagues:

  1. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers
  2. Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints
  3. Tom Brady, New England Patriots
  4. Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts
  5. Kirk Cousins, Washington Redskins
  6. Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons
  7. Dak Prescott, Dallas Cowboys
  8. Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers
  9. Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks
  10. Jameis Winston, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
  11. Marcus Mariota, Tennessee Titans
  12. Derek Carr, Oakland Raiders
  13. Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers
  14. Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions
  15. Philip Rivers, San Diego Chargers
  16. Blake Bortles, Jacksonville Jaguars
  17. Tyrod Taylor, Buffalo Bills
  18. Eli Manning, New York Giants
  19. Andy Dalton, Cincinnati Bengals
  20. Carson Palmer, Arizona Cardinals
Dallas Cowboys 2017-18 Schedule: Game Predictions For Entire Season 4

Dallas Cowboys Running Back Ezekiel Elliott #21 (Mike De Sisti/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel via USA TODAY Sports)

Running Back

The running back position for the Dallas Cowboys is pretty much set in stone. Ezekiel Elliott is the man.

Currently the third ranked running back in FantasyPros.com’s consensus rankings, Elliott finished as the RB2 in total points and third in points per game. Elliott is my number one overall player in standard league scoring and PPR formats.

As I argued earlier in the offseason, Elliott is the only one of the top three 2016 FFB running backs to see a potential increase in workload in 2017. Elliott is the only running back in the NFL to have over 300 carries in 2016 and he remains the focal point of one of the top offenses in the NFL.

Le’Veon Bell’s near 450-touch pace last year would be very difficult to replicate, especially for a player who has only played 16 games once in his four-year career. Though Bell is going to get at minimum 20 touches a game, I think it’s unlikely he matches the 28-touch per game average he played in 2016. With the addition of James Conner in the 3rd round, Bell will cede some carries. With Martavis Bryant returning and the drafting of Juju Smith-Schuster, Bell isn’t going to be counted on as much in the passing game.

On David Johnson. Yes, he led the league in touchdowns and yards from scrimmage. But he needed an extra game and 19 more touches than Zeke to do so. If we talk about carries+targets, Johnson had 52 more total opportunities to have the ball in his hands than Ezekiel Elliott.

Johnson scored only four more touchdowns and had only 124 more yards from scrimmage than Elliott. Remember, Elliott sat out week 17. If Elliott played all 16 games like Johnson, Elliott would have led the league in yards from scrimmage.

Johnson is unlikely to see 25-touch opportunities per game (Carries+Targets) in 2017 with John Brown back and healthy. And with Andre Ellington moving to wide receiver, they won’t be leaning on Johnson near as much in the short passing game.

The Dallas Cowboys coaches have already expressed interest in getting Ezekiel Elliott more involved in the passing game. As he should be. Go back and watch the highlights from the Pittsburgh game and see his ability in the screen game.

Ezekiel Elliott is flat-out dangerous anytime he has the ball in his hands.

After Elliott, the running back to own is former thousand-yard rusher, Darren McFadden. You might see a lot of people giving you Alfred Morris as the back up to own; don’t fall for it.

Yes Morris is younger than McFadden. The team, however, showed the world what they thought of the former Redskin in the second half of 2016 after McFadden returned from the Non-Football Injury list.

From weeks 10 to week 16, Morris saw a grand total of… four touches. His most extensive work in the second half of the season was week nine — where he received four carries — and week 17. With everyone resting against the Eagles, Morris was only given eight carries.

McFadden, on the other hand, received 27 touches from weeks 14-16, including 14 in a pivotal game against the Detroit Lions.

Morris is as far down on the depth chart as one can be and it’s likely he doesn’t make the 53-man roster out of training camp. A potential suspension to Elliott will be a factor in that decision, however.

McFadden is a better backup because he can play all three downs and even return kicks, if needed. He’s a good pass blocker and showed just two years ago he can carry the load for a team if needed.

My Top 30 Running Backs:

  1. Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Cowboys
  2. Le’Veon Bell, Pittsburgh Steelers
  3. David Johnson, Arizona Cardinals
  4. LeSean McCoy, Buffalo Bills
  5. Melvin Gordon, Los Angeles Chargers
  6. Devonta Freeman, Atlanta Falcons
  7. Jordan Howard, Chicago Bears
  8. DeMarco Murray, Tennessee Titans
  9. Jay Ajayi, Miami Dolphins
  10. Joe Mixon, Cincinnati Bengals
  11. Todd Gurley, Los Angeles Rams
  12. Isaiah Crowell, Cleveland Browns
  13. Lamar Miller, Houston Texans
  14. Leonard Fournette, Jacksonville Jaguars
  15. C.J. Anderson, Denver Broncos
  16. Marshawn Lynch, Oakland Raiders
  17. Carlos Hyde, San Francisco 49ers
  18. Spencer Ware, Kansas City Chiefs
  19. Ty Montgomery, Green Bay Packers
  20. Mark Ingram, New Orleans Saints
  21. Eddie Lacy, Seattle Seahawks
  22. Dalvin Cook, Minnesota Vikings
  23. Paul Perkins, New York Giants
  24. Christian McCaffrey, Carolina Panthers
  25. Tevin Coleman, Atlanta Falcons
  26. Frank Gore, Indianapolis Colts
  27. Ameer Abdullah, Detroit Lions
  28. Doug Martin, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
  29. Mike Gillislee, New England Patriots
  30. LaGarrette Blount, Philadelphia Eagles
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Dallas Cowboys Wide Receiver Dez Bryant #88 (Leon Halip/Getty Images))

Wide Receivers

The wide receiver position for the Dallas Cowboys saw a bit of turnover in 2016. Not in personnel, but in production. Dez Bryant, who had been a sure-fire WR1 finisher from 2012-2014 was hindered by injuries in 2015 and then again at the beginning of 2016.

Bryant missed three games — from week four to week six — which kept Dez from a 1,000-yard season for the second year in a row.

After a slow start prior to the injury — only one game with more than 70 yards — Bryant had an excellent second half recording only two games under 70 yards receiving.

If you take away the Philadelphia game at the end of the season (where he played one series) and project his total over 16 games, Dez was on pace for 67 catches on 128 targets for 1,061 yards and 11 touchdowns.

If you look at the second half, after he came back from injury, it seemed he and Prescott began to really hit their stride, the numbers are quite staggering. If we look at his numbers from week seven through the playoff game and taking away week 17, we get a better appreciation for Bryant’s ability.

Here are his numbers for those 10 games: 48 receptions on 84 targets for 778 yards and nine touchdowns. If you take those 10 games and project them over 16 games Dez looks like a monster; 76.8 receptions on 134.4 targets for 1,244.8, and 14.4 touchdowns!!!

Those numbers look a lot like the Dez Bryant who had three straight double-digit touchdown seasons from 2012-2014.

While many in your fantasy league will sleep on Bryant as a top-24 overall selection — unless they are Cowboys fans — don’t let the injury issues fool you. Dez is easily a top-12 fantasy wide receiver with a top-24 floor. He’s a safe bet for 1,000 yards and close to double-digit touchdowns.

Don’t overthink it. Bryant is the WR9 in FantasyPros.com’s consensus wide receiver rankings. That’s about right.

You’ll find a lot of people who’d rather have Amari Cooper instead, but not me. I would actually be more likely to draft Dez ahead of the 7th and 8th-ranked wide receivers on their list, T.Y. Hilton of the Indianapolis Colts and Michael Thomas of the New Orleans Saints.

While Dez and Prescott seemed to struggle to get on the same page at the beginning of the season, the rookie quarterback had no such struggle with Cole Beasley.

Beasley in his 5th season in the NFL with the Dallas Cowboys posted career highs in nearly every statistical category including targets, yards, receptions, catch percentage, and tied his career high with five touchdowns.

While the man who provides “The Sauce” benefited from extra targets during Bryant’s absence, his statistical output wasn’t much different when Dez was out of the lineup.

Beasley is going to be a late round addition for your team and is going to be hindered a bit by the run-first mentality of the Cowboys. As someone who will be a bye week fill-in, however, you could do worse in PPR leagues.

His consensus ranking as the WR73 is waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay too low. To me he’s more in the 50-55 range with the likes of Rishard Matthews and Sterling Shepard.

Bease may not repeat his 2016 output, but he will have some big games. Week one versus the Giants is a game I could foresee him leading the team in targets, catches, and yards with Bryant’s difficulties with them last year.

Terrance Williams and Brice Butler aren’t really worth your consideration unless you are in 14 team leagues or deep bench best-ball leagues. Their values would increase if there is an injury — God forbid — to Dez Bryant or Cole Beasley.

In leagues that offer return yards, Ryan Switzer could be worth a late round flier as a flex play. It’s likely he will beat out Lucky Whitehead as the punt returner and 5th wide receiver for the team. He will get some opportunities in the pass game as Dallas began using more empty backfield sets in 2016.

If Scott Linehan’s been reading my Twitter timeline, Switzer may even see some time as a Danny Woodhead-type of running back, where he dominated in high school.

My Top 30 Wide Receivers (Standard Scoring):

  1. Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh Steelers
  2. Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons
  3. Odell Beckham Jr., New York Giants
  4. A.J. Green, Cincinnati Bengals
  5. Mike Evans, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
  6. Jordy Nelson, Green Bay Packers
  7. Dez Bryant, Dallas Cowboys
  8. T.Y. Hilton, Indianapolis Colts
  9. Michael Thomas, New Orleans Saints
  10. Doug Baldwin, Seattle Seahawks
  11. Amari Cooper, Oakland Raiders
  12. Brandin Cooks, New England Patriots
  13. DeAndre Hopkins, Houston Texans
  14. Allen Robinson, Jacksonville Jaguars
  15. Demaryius Thomas, Denver Broncos
  16. Alshon Jeffrey, Philadelphia Eagles
  17. Davante Adams, Green Bay Packers
  18. Terrelle Pryor, Washington Redskins
  19. Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona Cardinals
  20. Michael Crabtree, Oakland Raiders
  21. Keenan Allen, Los Angeles Chargers
  22. Sammy Watkins, Buffalo Bills
  23. Emmanuel Sanders, Denver Broncos
  24. Jarvis Landry, Miami Dolphins
  25. Golden Tate, Detroit Lions
  26. Cameron Meredith, Chicago Bears
  27. Willie Snead, New Orleans Saints
  28. Julian Edelman, New England Patriots
  29. Tyreek Hill, Kansas City Chiefs
  30. Martavis Bryant, Pittsburgh Steelers
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Dallas Cowboys Tight End Jason Witten #82 (Scott R. Galvin-USA TODAY Sports)

Tight End

It’s the Jason Witten show once again for the Dallas Cowboys.

Despite the change at quarterback from best friend and passing game soul mate Tony Romo, to hot young thing Dak Prescott, Jason Witten still maintained relevance in fantasy football.

Yes, he saw a decline in receptions and yards and hasn’t had a thousand-yard season since 2012, but Witten still had the 14th most fantasy points at the position. The future Hall of Famer’s 5.6 points per game put him right there as a high-end TE2.

Still playing every game and never coming off the field, you could do worse than Witten.

Now entering his 15th season, Witten hasn’t missed a game since his rookie season and has started every game since his second season. That’s incredible durability for a tight end who made his living over the middle of the field.

Witten may cede some snaps in four and five receiver sets to rookie fourth round pick Ryan Switzer, but it’s likely that Witten will still be on the field for 90% or more of the team’s offensive plays.

He’s a reliable player and knows his job, even if he’s not performing at the same level.

Witten is the 16th ranked TE on FantasyPros.com’s consensus tight end rankings. That seems about right. The guys in front of Witten have more potential and scoring upside while Witten is on the downside of his career.

Behind Witten are question marks.

James Hanna and Geoff Swaim are returning from injuries. Rico Gathers is still trying to re-acclimate to football, though reports are he is getting better and more comfortable.

Beyond Witten, you aren’t going to roster a Cowboys tight end unless it’s Gathers in a dynasty league.

My Top 16 Tight Ends:

  1. Travis Kelce, Kansas City Chiefs
  2. Rob Gronkowski, New England Patriots
  3. Greg Olsen, Carolina Panthers
  4. Jordan Reed, Washington Redskins
  5. Tyler Eifert, Cincinnati Bengals
  6. Jimmy Graham, Seattle Seahawks
  7. Kyle Rudolph, Minnesota Vikings
  8. Zach Ertz, Philadelphia Eagles
  9. Martellus Bennett, Green Bay Packers
  10. Delanie Walker, Tennessee Titans
  11. Eric Ebron, Detroit Lions
  12. Jack Doyle, Indianapolis Colts
  13. Hunter Henry, Los Angeles Chargers
  14. Cameron Brate, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
  15. Coby Fleener, New Orleans Saints
  16. Jason Witten, Dallas Cowboys
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Dallas Cowboys Linebacker Sean Lee #50 (Josie Lepe/Bay Area News Group)

Team Defense and IDP

Sean Lee is the IDP to own from the Dallas Cowboys. Coming off his first NFL All-Pro selection after recording 145 combined tackles, Lee is at home as the weak side linebacker.

Jaylon Smith may be a consideration, depending on what he looks like when/if he plays. If he can rediscover the form that would have led him to be a top-five draft choice in 2016, he will be a dominant force.

As a team defense, the Dallas Cowboys made a lot of moves in the offseason trying to upgrade their defense.

Nolan Carroll was a veteran addition and had two interceptions last season.

Ball-hawking defensive backs Chidobe Awuzie, Jourdan Lewis, Xavier Woods, and Marquez White were drafted to add some play-making ability to the defensive backfield. They’ll compete with Anthony Brown, Jeff Heath, Orlando Scandrick and others for snaps.

The defensive line is in need of taking the next step. There are some players with potential here, but they need to realize it.

As a team the defense shouldn’t be high on your list when drafting the position. There are plenty of options, but Dallas does offer some potential sleeper opportunity later in your drafts or even off the waiver wire.

My Top 15 Defenses:

  1. Denver Broncos
  2. Houston Texans
  3. Kansas City Chiefs
  4. New England Patriots
  5. Seattle Seahawks
  6. Arizona Cardinals
  7. Minnesota Vikings
  8. Carolina Panthers
  9. New York Giants
  10. Philadelphia Eagles
  11. Los Angeles Rams
  12. Baltimore Ravens
  13. Pittsburgh Steelers
  14. Oakland Raiders
  15. Jacksonville Jaguars
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Dallas Cowboys Kicker Dan Bailey #5 (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Kicker

If your league still does kickers, which most still do, draft Dan Bailey. If he isn’t taken in the first five kickers, your league is doing it wrong and you should disband. He’s number two all-time in field goal accuracy and is a lock to finish in the top five at the position each year.

My only other advice on kickers is don’t draft them before the last round of your drafts and don’t draft more than one.


Who are you looking at in your fantasy football drafts?

Who are some of your sleepers?

Have a fantasy football question, leave it in the comment section. 

John Williams

Fantasy Football analyst for Inside The Star. You can follow me on Twitter @john9williams Send me your fantasy football draft, sit/start and add/drops questions.

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