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.
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:
- Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers
- Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints
- Tom Brady, New England Patriots
- Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts
- Kirk Cousins, Washington Redskins
- Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons
- Dak Prescott, Dallas Cowboys
- Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers
- Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks
- Jameis Winston, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
- Marcus Mariota, Tennessee Titans
- Derek Carr, Oakland Raiders
- Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers
- Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions
- Philip Rivers, San Diego Chargers
- Blake Bortles, Jacksonville Jaguars
- Tyrod Taylor, Buffalo Bills
- Eli Manning, New York Giants
- Andy Dalton, Cincinnati Bengals
- Carson Palmer, Arizona Cardinals
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:
- Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Cowboys
- Le'Veon Bell, Pittsburgh Steelers
- David Johnson, Arizona Cardinals
- LeSean McCoy, Buffalo Bills
- Melvin Gordon, Los Angeles Chargers
- Devonta Freeman, Atlanta Falcons
- Jordan Howard, Chicago Bears
- DeMarco Murray, Tennessee Titans
- Jay Ajayi, Miami Dolphins
- Joe Mixon, Cincinnati Bengals
- Todd Gurley, Los Angeles Rams
- Isaiah Crowell, Cleveland Browns
- Lamar Miller, Houston Texans
- Leonard Fournette, Jacksonville Jaguars
- C.J. Anderson, Denver Broncos
- Marshawn Lynch, Oakland Raiders
- Carlos Hyde, San Francisco 49ers
- Spencer Ware, Kansas City Chiefs
- Ty Montgomery, Green Bay Packers
- Mark Ingram, New Orleans Saints
- Eddie Lacy, Seattle Seahawks
- Dalvin Cook, Minnesota Vikings
- Paul Perkins, New York Giants
- Christian McCaffrey, Carolina Panthers
- Tevin Coleman, Atlanta Falcons
- Frank Gore, Indianapolis Colts
- Ameer Abdullah, Detroit Lions
- Doug Martin, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
- Mike Gillislee, New England Patriots
- LaGarrette Blount, Philadelphia Eagles
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):
- Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh Steelers
- Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons
- Odell Beckham Jr., New York Giants
- A.J. Green, Cincinnati Bengals
- Mike Evans, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
- Jordy Nelson, Green Bay Packers
- Dez Bryant, Dallas Cowboys
- T.Y. Hilton, Indianapolis Colts
- Michael Thomas, New Orleans Saints
- Doug Baldwin, Seattle Seahawks
- Amari Cooper, Oakland Raiders
- Brandin Cooks, New England Patriots
- DeAndre Hopkins, Houston Texans
- Allen Robinson, Jacksonville Jaguars
- Demaryius Thomas, Denver Broncos
- Alshon Jeffrey, Philadelphia Eagles
- Davante Adams, Green Bay Packers
- Terrelle Pryor, Washington Redskins
- Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona Cardinals
- Michael Crabtree, Oakland Raiders
- Keenan Allen, Los Angeles Chargers
- Sammy Watkins, Buffalo Bills
- Emmanuel Sanders, Denver Broncos
- Jarvis Landry, Miami Dolphins
- Golden Tate, Detroit Lions
- Cameron Meredith, Chicago Bears
- Willie Snead, New Orleans Saints
- Julian Edelman, New England Patriots
- Tyreek Hill, Kansas City Chiefs
- Martavis Bryant, Pittsburgh Steelers
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:
- Travis Kelce, Kansas City Chiefs
- Rob Gronkowski, New England Patriots
- Greg Olsen, Carolina Panthers
- Jordan Reed, Washington Redskins
- Tyler Eifert, Cincinnati Bengals
- Jimmy Graham, Seattle Seahawks
- Kyle Rudolph, Minnesota Vikings
- Zach Ertz, Philadelphia Eagles
- Martellus Bennett, Green Bay Packers
- Delanie Walker, Tennessee Titans
- Eric Ebron, Detroit Lions
- Jack Doyle, Indianapolis Colts
- Hunter Henry, Los Angeles Chargers
- Cameron Brate, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
- Coby Fleener, New Orleans Saints
- Jason Witten, Dallas Cowboys
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:
- Denver Broncos
- Houston Texans
- Kansas City Chiefs
- New England Patriots
- Seattle Seahawks
- Arizona Cardinals
- Minnesota Vikings
- Carolina Panthers
- New York Giants
- Philadelphia Eagles
- Los Angeles Rams
- Baltimore Ravens
- Pittsburgh Steelers
- Oakland Raiders
- Jacksonville Jaguars
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.
Dallas Cowboys 2018 Fantasy Football Outlook
The Dallas Cowboys have had a ton of player movement on both sides of the football this offseason. Wide receiver overhauls, retirements, releases, and new acquisitions have changed the face of the Dallas Cowboys on the offensive side of the football. No longer are Dez Bryant and Jason Witten the names of note at wide receiver and tight end for the Dallas Cowboys, and all eyes turn to Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, and the offensive line to lead the team into 2018.
For fantasy footballers everywhere, there are a ton of questions that surround the Dallas Cowboys, so here I am to answer them. This will be a position by position breakdown of the team's fantasy football prospects and how you can take advantage.
As I outlined not long ago in my 2018 projection of Dak Prescott, I believe he is a good quarterback on the rise to elite levels. Only one player since the early 2000s has had double-digit rushing touchdowns in a season, Cam Newton, and he's done it twice since entering the league.
Dak Prescott has averaged six rushing touchdowns over his first two seasons and when he ran in 2017, he was much more effective than in 2016 to the tune of a 1.5 yards per carry year-to-year increase.
Here is what Dak Prescott's 2017 stat line would have looked like at his first eight games of the season pace:
- 326 completions on 518 attempts for a completion percentage of 63%
- 3,636 passing yards
- 32 touchdown passes to 8 interceptions
- 390 rushing yards on 50 attempts for 8 rushing touchdowns
Note. I've previously stated that Dak was on pace for 12 rushing touchdowns through the first half of 2017, upon further review, I made a mistake. He was on pace for eight rushing touchdowns. My apologies.
On the fantasy football side of things, Dak has been a very good option since his rookie campaign in the NFL. In 2016, Dak Prescott provided 12 games in which he scored more than 15 standard fantasy football points. In 2017, he was on pace for 14 such games after having seven in the first half of the season, but had only two more over the second half.
He's been a safe floor for fantasy football teams over the course of his two-year career, but has also exceed 20 points in standard quarterback scoring 12 times in 32 games.
Currently, he's being drafted on average as the 17th quarterback in fantasy football despite finishing inside the quarterback top 12 in 2016 and as the QB13 in points per game in 2017.
In total quarterback scoring, Dak was QB10 on the season in 2017.
The Dallas Cowboys have upgraded their offensive line's starting five as well as the depth behind the starters in the event there is an injury this season, and so I feel much better about Dak and the offense going into 2018 than others might.
In addition to offensive line depth, there isn't the lingering suspension of best friend and running buddy Ezekiel Elliott hanging over the offense's head.
When Zeke plays, Dak is better. Without Zeke in the offense, Dak averaged only 12.84 fantasy points per game. When Dak was without Tyron Smith and Ezekiel Elliott for two games, Dak averaged 7.52 points per game against the Atlanta Falcons and the Philadelphia Eagles.
If you aren't playing with other Cowboys fans, you are likely able to get a great value at quarterback if you wait on Dak Prescott in your leagues. If you don't believe me, check out Spoony's thread.
This is an excellent analytical discussion on Dak's value at the moment, relative to what Dak has been as a fantasy football option:
Dak Prescott is undervalued at his QB19-20 and his QB15 according to DLF's 2QB ADP price tag when he's finished as the QB6 and QB10 respectively the past two years. https://t.co/D8YRFYEAWF
Let me start by saying, Ezekiel Elliott is my number one player in all of fantasy football. You may call me a homer, and that's fine. I'll admit, I'm a Dallas Cowboys fan through and through, but I'm also going to throw a bunch of statistics at you as well.
Since the 1970 AFL/NFL merger, only two running backs have averaged more yards per game in their first two seasons than Ezekiel Elliott's 104.6 rushing yards per game: Eric Dickerson and Clinton Portis.
As a rookie, Ezekiel Elliott led the league in rushing and accumulated 1,994 total yards while sitting out the week 17 contest against the Philadelphia Eagles. In 2017, even though he sat out six games in the middle of the season and had a game against the Denver Broncos where he rushed for eight yards on nine carries, Elliott nearly had 1,000 yards rushing.
Elliott's two-year total yard average is 129.9 yards per game. In year two, he saw an increase in targets and is an amazingly effective pass catcher.
Over two seasons and 58 receptions, Ezekiel Elliott has a 10.9 yards per reception average. As we've seen in games against the Pittsburgh Steelers, San Francisco 49ers, and the Washington Redskins, Elliott is excellent on screen passes. Although he's only averaged 2.3 receptions per game, he's been really good with those receptions.
Over his 25 game career he's scored 25 touchdowns. You can do the math there. When a player is as consistent as Elliott has been in scoring touchdowns, it's hard not to love him in fantasy football.
So, if you look at his career averages at this point, you're looking at 18.9 standard fantasy points per game over the first two seasons of his career. In his two years he's only had one game where he didn't reach 10 fantasy points, the week two game vs Denver in 2017.
That's an amazingly consistent floor.
In his 25 games, he's had 15 games go over 15 fantasy points and 10 games go over 20 fantasy points.
In the last two seasons, no running back who's rushed for at least 1,800 yards has more rushing yards, rushing touchdowns, or a better yards per carry than Elliott. And while we like our running backs to be able to catch the football, the most important thing is what they do with it when it's handed to them.
You may like Todd Gurley or Le'Veon Bell or David Johnson more, but to me there isn't a player who's as safe as Ezekiel Elliott in the top five of your fantasy football drafts. Gurley has had an up and down career, though he was incredible in 2017, Bell is in the midst of a hold out, and Johnson is coming off of an injury.
Take who you like most of those four, but for me it's Elliott all the way.
For more statistical analysis on Ezekiel Elliott, you can read my in-depth 2018 projection for him here at Inside The Star.
Rod Smith is the primary handcuff for Ezekiel Elliott, but you shouldn't necessarily be in a rush to own him. He was ok in 2017 as a reserve rusher while Elliott was suspended. Smith - in a time share with Alfred Morris - only eclipsed 100 total yards one time, week 13 vs the New York Giants when he caught five passes for 113 yards to go with his six carries for 47 yards.
In the six games that Elliott sat out, Smith averaged 3.56 yards per carry on 43 carries. Morris got the majority of the workload with 99 carries and was far better with 4.34 yards per carry. Smith did score five touchdowns to Morris' one, but it's hard to say just how reliable Smith will be as a backup runner if called into full-time duty.
There is a bit of competition for secondary touches in the backfield now with the return of the Dallas Cowboys' 2016 sixth round pick Darius Jackson, the addition of Tavon Austin via trade, and the selection of rookie Bo Scarbrough in the seventh round of the 2018 NFL Draft.
In 2016 when Ezekiel Elliott played a full season, the Dallas Cowboys ran the ball 499 times. If you take away his 322 carries and Quarterback Dak Prescott's 57, that leaves only 120 carries for the rest of the running back group. That's 7.5 carries per game remaining. With Tavon Austin in the fold, I'd imagine he gets a carry or two per game, which leaves 5-6 carries available for the rest of the running back group.
Even if Smith is the primary backup, there isn't enough work for him to be a viable fantasy football running back for you. So you have to ask yourself, is he worth a roster spot if he's only getting five carries a game?
Smith may be the front-runner to back up Ezekiel Elliott but I don't think his job is necessarily secure. If Jackson or Scarbrough can have a big camp, it might push Smith.
At the moment, in deep leagues, you can draft Smith with one of your late picks, but I wouldn't sweat it if you have needs elsewhere. Elliott has shown to be a durable player over the years.
Bo Scarbrough and Darius Jackson
At the moment, I wouldn't draft either of these guys in any redraft or short-bench formats. There is just too much uncertainty as to who will make the roster.
Scarbrough has the advantage of being the recent draft pick, but Darius Jackson has a slight experience edge and is probably better prepared to play special teams at the moment. If you're in a dynasty league, Bo is probably the one you should own, but he'd be no more than an end-of-the-roster stash.
The Dallas Cowboys don't give their secondary running backs a lot of work and it's extremely unlikely that a third running back gets much work.
I'll go on record and say that some of this is guess-work based on what we know at the moment from OTAs and minicamp. How I rank them is based on the confidence I have that they'll have a role in 2018.
The difficulty in predicting how the wide receivers will be deployed and who will be the lead guy is in understanding the Dallas Cowboys' offense.
Dak Prescott's game is predicated on working through his progressions to find the wide receiver that's open. Sometimes that will be his first look and sometimes it will be the fourth option in the play. As we've seen with Dak and former Cowboys Wide Receiver Dez Bryant, Dak never really looked comfortable forcing the ball Dez's way and their chemistry never really worked.
Dak is at his best when he can allow the play to develop and get the ball to the open guy. The Dallas Cowboys have done a good job of collecting a group of receivers who don't need to be "thrown open," but will utilize their route running and quickness to create good throwing windows for Dak.
The other aspect is understanding that the Dallas Cowboys are a running team.
I mentioned it last week when reviewing the Dallas Cowboys' 2017 offense that they ran the ball the third most of any team in the NFL at a rate of 47.9% of their plays.
Any thoughts we have about the wide receiver group should have tempered expectations because who emerges week to week should look different depending on the matchups. The fact that Ezekiel Elliott and the run game are going to eat up so much of the play calling will limit the ceiling of the wide receiver group.
Through two seasons, Dak Prescott has only averaged 474.5 passing attempts per season. In 2016, his best season to date, he only attempted 459 passes.
In that 2016 season, when Dak Prescott was so successful, he fairly evenly dispersed his targets among his top three wide receivers Cole Beasley (98), Dez Bryant (96), and Jason Witten (95), with Terrance Williams coming in fourth (61).
Dez Bryant missed three games to injury, but if we prorate his target number he's looking at 118 targets over the course of a 16-game season. That comes out to a one target per game difference between Dez and Cole Beasley.
If everything goes according to plan, the Dallas Cowboys should see this kind of target dispersal amongst their top four targets.
One thing to note is that none of the Dallas Cowboys receivers are going to cost you in drafts. They'll be available after the 12th round of drafts in pretty much any format, so you can gamble on them and not feel like you took a risk if they didn't pay off.
Not like drafting Odell Beckham Jr. in 2017 with the 1.01 and then having him break his ankle the first game of the season, like I did.
With all that said, let's try to figure out this wide receiver group a little bit.
At the moment, Allen Hurns is the wide receiver I want to own in the Dallas Cowboys passing game. His ability to fill a lot of what Dez Bryant could do, while also mixing in a strong ability to run routes to the middle of the field makes him a strong candidate to be the top wide receiver on the roster in 2018.
Slowed by injuries for much of 2016 and 2017, Hurns went over 1,000 yards receiving in 2015 while playing in only 15 games.
If we were to adjust Hurns' yardage pace over the course of his career to a complete 16 game season, he'd have averaged 821 yards per season. That's not a great number, but it's serviceable for someone you are going to use for a bye week or two.
For his career he's averaged 14.1 yards per reception and has scored 21 touchdowns. That touchdown number is inflated by the 10 he caught in 2015. Let's just say that anyone who can go for 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns with Blake Bortles as their quarterback should be taken fairly seriously as a wide receiver threat.
To begin the season, I like Hurns the most out of this group of players.
The veteran has the ability to play all over the formation and uses good route running, strong hands, and toughness to be a factor where Dak wants to get his guys the ball, the short to intermediate part of the field.
Cole Beasley has the most experience of any of the Dallas Cowboys wide receivers and has a role already locked in.
There was some thought before the Ryan Switzer trade with Oakland that Beasley may have some competition in Switzer, but that was quickly erased. We already knew Bease would be the slot guy. Then reports came out of offseason practices that the team has been moving Cole Beasley around the formation as opposed to only lining him up in the slot.
This seems to support the narrative that the Cowboys are trying to find a group of wide receivers they can line up in a variety of ways to take advantage of their varied skill sets.
The Dallas Cowboys love Cole Beasley. Dak Prescott loves Cole Beasley. What that means for his fantasy outlook is anyone's guess.
After seeing 98 targets in 2016, Cole Beasley caught 75 passes for 833 yards and five touchdowns, Beasley had a bit of a fall back to Earth in 2017. Mostly related to teams beginning to take him away as Dak's safety valve in 2017, Bease wasn't nearly as productive as he was the previous year. On many plays, Cole was getting extra attention from a linebacker in his underneath routes making it more difficult for Dak to utilize his slot receiver.
The Dallas Cowboys' offensive staff is making adjustments to hopefully get Beasley open a bit easier, but time will tell how it will turn out on the stat sheet.
In PPR formats I like Cole Beasley as a fifth or sixth wide receiver on your roster 'cause he has some upside play. He's by far Dak's go to guy on the roster.
Reports are that Michael Gallup was the most consistent wide receiver in OTAs and minicamp.
We know that rookie wide receivers have a difficult time transitioning to the NFL game and after the first round, that transition is a bit more difficult. However, I'd argue that Gallup might be the most underrated player from this draft class as he combines good size, speed, route running, and catching ability to be an impact player in year one.
Jeff Cavanaugh from 105.3 The Fan in Dallas/Fort Worth had Michael Gallup as his number one wide receiver in the 2018 NFL Draft.
That's a minority opinion, but Jeff knows his stuff. Given the depth of this draft, getting him at 81 was impressive. Had it been a more shallow draft at WR, he probably comes off the board in the second round at the latest.
Despite having all the tools to be an impact player as a rookie, he'll still have a bit of a depth chart hill to climb. The wide receiver room is pretty full at the moment, and if Terrance Williams is available as well, that clouds the picture for Gallup too.
In your fantasy drafts, I see Gallup as a late-round flier in standard and PPR leagues. How training camp unfolds and how he continues to build on his stellar offseason will determine how much he plays early in the preseason.
If he can show a consistent ability to beat press coverage, catch what's thrown his way, and be effective as a blocker in the running game, then he'll get a chance to prove himself early in the season.
He may get a RB or RB/WR designation in your fantasy leagues. No matter how he's designated, the team and Tavon Austin have described him as a wide receiver this offseason. And that's how he's been used.
From OTAs and minicamp, it was reported that Austin was running with the first team offense when it went to its three wide receiver sets and that he was being targeted on deep routes as well as in the red zone. They've got plans for the former first round pick, who they acquired from the Los Angeles Rams for a sixth round pick this year.
Like others in the wide receiver group, it's nearly impossible to predict the opportunities or targets that will come their way.
I've gone on record saying that Austin will likely get five offensive touches a game. A couple of carries and 3-5 targets or so. That's not enough to really get all that excited about, but if you're in a league that offers return yards, then you have a lot to get excited about as he'll probably be the team's primary kick returner.
Terrance Williams is the next most experienced wide receiver on the Cowboys depth chart behind Cole Beasley. He's been an effective and productive player. He's mixed in phenomenal play at times with some underwhelming play as well.
He's a great blocker in the running game, which is very important to this team, so if he's healthy, he's going to have a role in the offense. Getting snaps, though, doesn't mean he's worth drafting in fantasy football.
Despite playing 16 games in each of the last two seasons, Williams hasn't had more than 600-receiving yards. With the depth that Dallas has in this group, I find it very unlikely that he'll eclipse that number in 2018 either.
The most important things to watch are off the field with Williams.
He broke his foot during the offseason and has been recovering and rehabbing since. Then there was a middle of the night incident where he allegedly ran his Lamborghini into a light pole in Frisco, TX and was arrested.
The league could respond with a suspension for violating the league's Personal Conduct Policy. The Dallas Cowboys could opt to release Williams if a suspension occurs, to get out from his contract that runs through the 2020 season. It would cost them money to release him this year, but begin to get more cap relief after the 2018 season and even more after the 2019 season.
He could be a trade candidate if a team is willing to part with a sixth or seventh round pick.
Others to Watch
Noah Brown, Deonte Thompson, Lance Lenoir, and Cedric Wilson
The rest of the group will be on the roster bubble and could get pushed off the roster if the team feels they can't carry six or seven receivers to start 2018. That includes 2018 free agent signee Deonte Thompson who definitely has the experience edge, but depending on the play of Austin, could find his role redundant.
Noah Brown has the best chance to make the roster based on his abilities in the run game.
Lance Lenoir and Cedric Wilson are intriguing players, but will most likely end up on the team's practice squad as developmental depth.
My WR Rankings
- Allen Hurns
- Cole Beasley
- Michael Gallup
- Tavon Austin
- Terrance Williams
- Noah Brown
- Deonte Thompson
- Cedric Wilson
- Lance Lenoir
If wide receiver is hard to figure out, then tight end is impossible. The Dallas Cowboys' tight end group doesn't have the experience that the wide receiver group has with Beasley, Williams, Hurns, and Thompson, and therefore is a more difficult group to predict.
I wrote last week about the tight end group and how the Dallas Cowboys could use a committee approach to their tight end deployment.
Of the tight ends, at the moment, I think it's Geoff Swaim who gets the majority of the snaps with the first team since they do want to run the ball. He's their best blocking tight end on the team and the most likely to make an impact week one. He hasn't been used much in the passing game, but when Jason Witten is on the team, no tight end is going to be used much in the passing game.
Over the course of the season, however, I could see any of the remaining three tight ends -- Blake Jarwin, Dalton Schultz, or Rico Gathers -- working their way to the top of the depth chart.
If you pinned me down and asked me to pick one of the four to have the biggest impact in 2018, I'd choose Blake Jarwin.
The front office thought enough of him to prevent the Philadelphia Eagles from snatching him off of their practice squad by promoting him to the 53-man roster late in 2017, and he's already been getting some time with the first team offense. Along with rookie Michael Gallup, Jarwin has been a standout for the offense.
Rico Gathers has the size and athleticism to have a huge impact in the passing game and, depending on how his blocking looks during training camp and in the preseason, he's also got a shot to earn a role with the offense. He may not be the fastest, but his size allows him to box out defenders and he's athletic enough to get down the seam and challenge in the middle of the field.
The team loves Dalton Schultz, their second fourth round pick in 2018. He didn't get many opportunities to catch the ball at Stanford in their run-heavy offense, but he was effective when called upon. Because of his work in the run game, he'll get a chance to be on the field in two and three tight end packages, and with his quickness could be targeted in goal line situations.
This is one of the more intriguing training camp battles to watch as the Dallas Cowboys report in six days.
If your league still utilizes kickers, my philosophy is always wait till the last round to draft one.
Better yet, don't bother drafting one at all and instead wait until the preseason plays out to give you more information on the roster you have before adding your kicker.
Dan Bailey is still one of the better kickers in the league, though he struggled during the last half of 2017 to make kicks and had his worst field goal percentage of his career by more than 10 percentage points. He only played in 12 games and had the fewest attempts of his career.
2017 seems like an aberration for Bailey, who has been one of the most accurate kickers in NFL history, trading that title with the Baltimore Ravens Justin Tucker for the last couple of years.
If you're drafting with non-Dallas Cowboys fans -- first, find new friends -- you'll probably be able to snag Dan Bailey in the last part of the last round of your draft, since most will probably go another direction.
The thing about Bailey is that when he's on, he's one of the best kickers in the NFL.
The Dallas Cowboys' offense is really good at moving the ball, gaining on average 35 yards per drive in 2017. That means an average drive by the Dallas Cowboys gets them to the opposing 40 yard line, if an average drive started at the 25.
With better protection for Dak Prescott and better run blocking for Ezekiel Elliott, the Dallas Cowboys will get back to what they looked like on offense in 2016 and the first half of the 2017 season.
Yes, I'm going to talk about Punter Chris Jones briefly, since Fleaflicker.com has added punters as a roster option.
Chris Jones finished 2017 27th in yards per punt. He was second in the league at punts downed inside the 20 and first in the NFL with 51.5% of his punts downed inside the 20. His touchback percentage was tied for 23rd in the NFL at 7.6%, while his net punt was eighth in the NFL at 41.4 yards per punt.
Punting stats taken from FoxSports.com.
Dallas Cowboys Team Defense
The Dallas Cowboys finally received an elite pass rushing effort from DeMarcus Lawrence in 2017 to the tune of 14.5 sacks, but finished in the middle of the pack in total sacks. Some of that is due to David Irving missing the first four games of 2017 due to suspension and the last four due to concussion.
Irving will miss the first four games again in 2018, but hopefully the Dallas Cowboys have found a few more guys who can rush the passer and can add to their 38 sacks from 2017.
They've got a host of players with potential to help out on the right side of the defensive line after starter Tyrone Crawford. It's the interior that is a question mark, at least for the first four games. The Dallas Cowboys coaching staff is hoping that Jihad Ward and Datone Jones can fill the gap left by Irving's suspension.
The point is, they need help from someone on the line. DeMarcus Lawrence can't do it all.
The thing I'm looking for when it comes to this defense is an increase in interceptions with the hiring of Defensive Backs Coach and Passing Game Coordinator Kris Richard, who brings with him the aggressive mentality from the Seattle Seahawks' "Legion of Boom."
Richard's going to have his corners playing more press in coverage, which if they are as good as Cowboys Nation hopes they are, should put them in position to get their hands on more footballs.
2017 was the first time since 2010 that the Seattle Seahawks were outside the top 10 in yards allowed (11th) and points allowed (13th), despite having a ton of injuries to the defense. Four times between 2011 and 2017 did the Seattle Seahawks finish first in the NFL in points allowed. The other years in that seven season span they finished third, seventh, and 13th.
Twice during that same span did the Seahawks finish first in the NFL in yards allowed.
Now, we know that they don't have the players on that Seattle did during their elite years, but the defensive back group has a lot of potential. They play sticky in coverage and with an edge to their games.
With Kris Richard at the helm of the defensive backs group, there's no telling how high they can climb.
Individual Defensive Players (IDPs)
As far as Individual Defensive Players go, Sean Lee is the Dallas Cowboy to own. He's an elite linebacker when healthy and will give you plenty of tackles as well as plays on the ball in the passing game.
After Lee, Jaylon Smith is worth taking a shot on if you have a deep bench and can stash him. All signs point to him being much closer to 100% than he was a year ago. Even if he's >90% recovered from the devastating knee injury he suffered in the Fiesta Bowl in 2016, he'll be an elite middle linebacker for the Cowboys.
In the secondary, I'd target Xavier Woods. He has the most well-rounded game of any of the Dallas Cowboys defensive backs. He can tackle, play the run, defend in man-to-man, and play the deep middle of the field in zone coverage. He still has a lot to prove in only his second year, but the Cowboys defensive coaching staff seems very content to go into the season with Woods as the starter at free safety.
Along the defensive line, in addition to DeMarcus Lawrence, definitely keep David Irving on your radar. Not only did Irving finish with seven sacks in eight games, but he was fourth on the team in passes defended. If you project Irving's numbers over a 16-game season, he'd have had 14 sacks, 12 passes defended, 26 tackles and 18 assisted tackles.
You may not want Irving until his suspension comes up, but I'm holding onto him where I can, because he's a difference maker when he's in the game.
✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭
Well there you have it Cowboys Nation. The 2018 Dallas Cowboys fantasy football preview. There are a lot of questions still to answer about this team, and with training camp right around the corner, the answers are sure to come.
As always, if you have any fantasy football draft, trade, or sit/start questions, don't hesitate to ask me on Twitter @john9williams.
Is Dak Prescott a Player to Avoid in Fantasy Football in 2018?
For the Dallas Cowboys, the plan is to stick with Dak Prescott to hopefully turn him into a successful long-term franchise quarterback. Going into his third year in the league, this could be a season that defines his future on America's Team.
However, after the entire team struggled in 2017 while trying to overcome several key absences (including Ezekiel Elliott and Tyron Smith), Prescott's level of play has been questioned by plenty around the league. Fans, analysts and writers everywhere aren't as sure as they were in 2016 about the quarterback's future.
And now, according to NFL.com, Fantasy Football players should beware of drafting Dak Prescott once their "friendly" (we all know they're anything but friendly) seasons begin.
Earlier this week, NFL.com Fantasy Editor Marcas Grant published an article telling us ten players to avoid for the 2018 Fantasy Football season. Perhaps it may come as a surprise to some that Dak Prescott is in there among names like Ty Montgomery and Jack Doyle. You can read his full article here.
To be honest, I see his point here.
It's more than fair to say that it's not going to be an easy year for Dak. He's got to prove a lot in a year that could have a juicy extension at the end of it. After going through a sort of an expected sophomore slump, Prescott's third year in the NFL should be his best one yet.
There's a big but, though. Dez Bryant and Jason Witten are long gone, leaving Dak Prescott with a promising yet unproven set of pass catchers.
Will a dominant running game led by five great offensive linemen and Ezekiel Elliott be enough to help Dak and the rest of the offense? Probably. but how much will Prescott be able to accomplish?
Through a painful 9-7 season in which the Cowboys never seemed to be able to find a steady pace, #4's stats took a hit. Here are his numbers from his two years in the pros:
- 2016: 311 completions, 67.8% completion percentage, 3,667 yards, 23 TDs and 4 INTs.
- 2017: 308 completions, 62.9% completion percentage, 3,324 yards, 22 TDs and 13 INTs.
- He also ran for six touchdowns in each of his two seasons.
Per FantasyData.com, his fantasy points dropped from 286.88 in 2016 to 260.66 in 2017.
Despite his numbers dropping, Dak certainly took huge strides as a passer. From taking command of the offense as a captain to making throws he wouldn't make as a rookie, Prescott was able to demonstrate improvements during a rough sophomore slump.
Even with Dez gone, the receivers the front office brought in throughout the offseason are expected to be Dak-friendly. If the receiving corps actually make his strengths shine, the Cowboys' offense will take a huge step in 2018.
Maybe, as Jason Witten mentioned on Adam Schefter's Podcast, Dez is as good as anyone going up for the football. But that's not what will make Dak shine. This revamped WR room might be just what he needs, though.
At the end of the day, even though I truly believe he'll have a good career in the NFL and that he's the future of the Dallas Cowboys, I doubt he should be marked as an early target in the Fantasy Football world.
As of right now, from a Fantasy Football perspective, I would barely rank him as a Top 15 quarterback for many reasons.
First of all, the Cowboys' game will revolve around Ezekiel Elliott. Secondly, it doesn't matter how much faith we put into these pass catchers, they haven't proved anything yet.
Dak is not a bad player at all. But taking Prescott in the middle or even late rounds of a Fantasy Draft might be the safest way to go right now.
Lastly, I leave you with some "Fantasy Nuggets" from fellow Inside The Star writer and Fantasy Football Guru John Williams:
- Dak failed to score 10 standard format fantasy points only four times last season. He scored 15+ points nine times and 20+ six times in 2017.
- In 2017 - even with a down second half - he finished as the 13th best QB in points per game and as the tenth best in total QB scoring.
- In 2016, he was in the top 10 in both categories mentioned in the previous bullet point.
- His ability to run and score touchdowns on the ground easily make him one of the best 12 QB options for fantasy football.
Fantasy Football Implications of Ezekiel Elliott’s Suspension
Ezekiel Elliott has been suspended by the NFL for 6 games for violating the league's Personal Conduct Policy. This will leave a void in the backfield for the Dallas Cowboys and on many fantasy football rosters around the world. As it is with the real league, it's a next man up philosophy in the world of fantasy football as well.
At the moment, that next man up is Darren McFadden.
Just two years ago, with Dallas still clinging to playoff hopes in the wake of Tony Romo's injury, McFadden rushed for more than 1,000 yards. He finished fifth in the NFL that season despite not seeing more than 10 carries a game until week six. From week 6 until the end of the season, McFadden had 7 games with more than 90 yards rushing.
McFadden's touchdown total from that season leaves a lot to be desired, but let's not forget the quarterbacking chaos that went on that season. Between Brandon Weeden, Matt Cassel, and Kellen Moore, defenses weren't worried about being beat in the passing game.
Frankly, it's a miracle that McFadden rushed for 1,000 yards.
Over 11 games from weeks 6-17, McFadden averaged 21.45 touches per game and 108.27 total yards per game. At that pace, stretched over a 16 game season, McFadden would have totaled 1,732 yards, which would have led all running backs in total yards that season.
If you still have to draft, I would take a chance on McFadden around the 7th or 8th round in 10 or 12 team drafts.
As for Alfred Morris, he will get some touches as much as the Dallas Cowboys will look to run the ball. That being said the second half of 2016 showed who the coaches preferred as the backup.
The last time Morris ran for more than 1,000 yards was in 2014. In 2015, if you'll remember, he lost his job to Matt Jones who has since lost his job to UDFA Rob Kelley, who is starting but is being threatened by 2017 draft pick Samaje Perine.
When Morris played last year he was pretty ineffective averaging a career-low 3.5 yards per carry.
With McFadden's injury history, you can take a shot on Alfred Morris late in your fantasy drafts around the second to last or the last round.
How Should You Value Ezekiel Elliott in Upcoming Fantasy Drafts?
That's a difficult question to answer, because a lot will depend on your league settings. My simple answer is, if you can get any discount on Ezekiel Elliott from his average draft position of 3.0, then you're getting a good value for at least the second half of the season.
Just a week ago I wrote to not allow this absence to sway you too much. I stand by that.
Fantasy football is about getting as much value as you can with each draft pick. Elliott is a top 5 value in any setting, even if he has to sit out. I think you can comprise a roster good enough to get into the playoffs, then you'll want Elliott for a playoff run.
Just like the Dallas Cowboys, all you need to do is tread water while he's out. If you can make it through the suspension at or around .500, you will still be in good position to win your fantasy football league.
When Elliott comes back, he will be the starter.
Even if they make him earn it, it won't take long. He's just better than McFadden and Morris. If your league lets Elliott somehow slip outside of the first round, snatch him up and make sure you draft McFadden. You'll thank me for it later.
While many will look at this situation as a detriment to Dak Prescott and may feel deterred from drafting him as the 9th quarterback in your league, I actually see it the opposite. While Dak was very efficient in Dallas' run-first offense, he showed throughout the 2016 season that he could be leaned upon in a shootout or to bring the team back from a large deficit.
In fact, Dak might have played his best game of the season during the playoff loss to Green Bay when the team got down 21-3. Forced to pass, Prescott completed 63% of his passes for 302 yards, three touchdowns and one interception in nearly leading the team back to victory.
With a full offseason in the Dallas offense and a really good compliment of receivers led by Dez Bryant, I fully anticipate Dak to have an excellent sophomore campaign.
Dallas may lean more on the pass during Elliott's absence, which will make Dak more valuable to me. Remember fantasy football is about acquiring stats and with Elliott out, Dak will have a great chance at putting up even bigger numbers. Especially if the run game is ineffective.
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