Fantasy football team preview: Dallas Cowboys
The Cowboys were the most run-heavy offense in the league last year, and that isn’t expected to change this season regardless of whether Ezekiel Elliott is suspended. Head coach Jason Garrett and offensive coordinator Scott Linehan run a timing-based offense that relied heavily on play action last season, ranking fourth in the league with play action 23.6 percent of the time. Their heavy reliance on the run game led to the league’s slowest paced offense, but they still managed fall in the middle of the pack in snaps per game thanks to playing with the league on over half of their snaps.
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Few if anyone at this time last year thought Dak Prescott would be a viable fantasy option, but he ended up being that and more in his rookie season. Prescott didn’t put up gaudy passing numbers with just 3,667 yards and 23 scores, but he padded his fantasy stats with 281 rushing yards and six scores, which tied with Tyrod Taylor for the position lead. When the dust settled, he finished a surprise sixth among quarterbacks in fantasy scoring. While we could see some regression in Prescott’s efficiency, he still offers solid value as a back-end QB1 option this season.
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At the time of this writing, there has yet to be a decision regarding Elliott’s situation. But instead of focusing on off-field matters, let’s talk about what he did on the field last season. He led all running backs in carries with 322, and only Le’Veon Bell average more touches per game than Elliot’s 23.6. He also ranked second among running backs in fantasy scoring with top-12 finishes in 12 out of 15 games played. Elliott got plenty of help from his offensive line, but he also excelled independent of his blocking with an average of 2.9 yards after contact per attempt, which ranked eighth among running backs with at least 100 carries. While Elliott’s 13 carries inside the 5-yard line was well behind league-leader LeGarrette Blount’s 29, he managed to score seven times on these carries which tied for fifth in the league. Given his heavy volume and impressive skill set, Elliott is locked in as an elite fantasy option this season.
After Elliott, the Cowboys currently have Darren McFadden, Alfred Morris, and Ronnie Hillman. McFadden figures to see some work as a receiver and change of pace option. He’s also the best bet as Elliott’s handcuff, which at least gives him late-round consideration. However, McFadden is unlikely to offer any fantasy value as long as Elliott is healthy and not suspended.
The Cowboys’ run-heavy approach doesn’t help this receiver group out from a volume standpoint. Dez Bryant led the group with an average of 6.8 targets per game, which ranked just 34th among wide receivers last season. Still, Bryant showed he’s still capable of getting it done for fantasy purposes with five top-10 weeks, three of which were also top-five. He’s also coming off a career-high in yards per reception (15.9). Bryant comes with weekly volatility, but his ceiling is still high enough to be considered among the back end of the WR1s.
There isn’t a lot of fantasy value to be had after Bryant on the Cowboys depth chart. Cole Beasley has emerged as a solid slot receiver, but he’s a better real football option than he is in fantasy football. Beasley finished 40th among wide receivers in PPR scoring last year, and that’s about his ceiling this year as long as Bryant stays healthy. Terrance Williams is good for the occasional big game, but he’s been far from consistent over the course of his career. Save him for DFS.
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Jason Witten just keeps on trucking. Now entering his 15th NFL season, Witten has started to show signs of decline over the past two seasons. His yards per reception has dipped under 10 yards both years, and he’s managed a combined six scores over that span. A major upside limited for Witten is his low average depth of target, which was just 6.8 yards last season. That was the lowest of his career and ranked 22nd out of 27 tight ends with at least 50 targets. Witten still has a reasonably high floor, but his extremely low fantasy ceiling makes him a somewhat unappealing TE2 option in 2017.
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