2015 Team Outlook: Dallas Cowboys
The Cowboys have the best winning percentage in the history of the NFL (.575). After three straight seasons with an 8-8 record, Dallas rode RB DeMarco Murray and their elite offensive line to a 12-4 record. It was their first playoff berth since 2009. The Cowboys scored the fifth-most points (467) while finishing seventh in total yards per game (383.6). Jason Garrett returns for his sixth season as the head coach. He's never had a losing season in his career. His record now stands at 41-31. Scott Linehan was promoted to offensive coordinator after running the passing game in 2014. Linehan has eight years of experience in a similar role. Rod Marinelli returns for his second year as the defensive coordinator. Rod has three seasons of experience as a head coach. Last year, Dallas allowed the 15th-most points (352), which was an 80-point improvement from the previous year. They allowed the 19th-most yards per game (355.1). The Cowboys have made the playoffs 31 times in their last 49 seasons.
Dallas lost Murray to the Philadelphia Eagles after they rode him into the ground (497 touches in 18 games). They added Darren McFadden to replace him, but Darren hasn't been an asset since 2010.
Cornerback Sterling Moore left to sign with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Moore was slightly above league average in pass coverage. He allowed 51 catches for 671 yards and one TD on 82 pass attempts. Sterling was replaced by Corey White. White struggled badly in pass coverage, permitting 58 receptions and four touchdowns on 85 targets. Defensive end George Selvie moved on to the New York Giants. He was the Cowboys' best run defender in 2014. Defensive tackle Henry Melton will collect his next check in Tampa. Melton played well as a situational pass rusher (five sacks, five QB hits and 19 QB hurries). Defensive end Greg Hardy was also signed. Although he is one of the best pass rushers in the game, he is currently scheduled to be suspended for the season's first 10 games. Dallas added linebackers Jasper Brinkley and Andrew Gachkar. Brinkley plays well against the run while Gachkar is barely a league-average player. Without an injury in front of him, Andrew has a slim chance of starting.
Offensive tackle Jermey Parnell signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars. In limited snaps, Parnell added value in both run and pass blocking.
The Cowboys selected five defensive players with their first six draft picks. In the first round, they took CB Byron Jones. Jones flashed athletic ability at the NFL combine, but he didn't run in 40-yard dash. He has quickness, vision and anticipation; he's a playmaker. Byron needs to add some more strength to help in press coverage.
Linebackers Randy Gregory, Damien Wilson and Mark Nzeocha were taken in the second, fourth and seventh rounds, respectively. Gregory will have value in all areas of the game due to his raw talent. Randy needs to add more bulk and improve his football instincts. Wilson will have value as an attacking run defender only. His skill set is no more than league average. Nzeocha is another plus athlete with plus strength, but he is still learning how to play the game.
In the third and seventh rounds, Dallas continued to add talent to its offensive line with tackles Chaz Green and Laurence Gibson. Green's best asset will come in pass protection, but he needs to add more strength. Chaz tends to be a liability as a run blocker. Gibson possesses solid speed, quickness and intelligence. However, he's just an inconsistent player. That may be the result of a lack of strength.
Defensive end Ryan Russell was selected in the fifth round. Russell has the quickness and speed to be a quality pass rusher, but he struggles once he gets blocked. At best, Ryan is a situational player until he improves his overall skill set.
With their final pick, the Cowboys drafted Geoff Swaim to add depth to the tight end position. He'll compete for playing time as a blocker.
Dallas Cowboys CB Byron Jones
Dallas finished last season with the second-most rushing yards (2,354). They scored 16 rushing TDs and gained 4.6 yards per rush. The Cowboys had 19 runs of more than 20 yards and five of more than 40 yards, the second-most in each category. If Murray had another gear, those totals would have been even higher.
Left tackle Tyron Smith is one of three players on this line who are former first-round draft picks. Smith has been an elite player at his position in three of his first four seasons, offering upside as a run and pass blocker. He's allowed only four sacks over the past two years.
Left guard La'el Collins was expected to be a first-rounder in this year's draft, but his value plummeted due to speculation that he was somehow tied to his ex-girlfriend's death. Collins is expected to move right into the starting lineup. He's a good run blocker. His hands are the key to his upside in pass blocking.
Center Travis Frederick has been an electric run blocker in both of his NFL seasons. The 2013 first-rounder allows some pressure up the middle, but gave up only one sack last year.
Right guard Zack Martin played well in his rookie season after the Cowboys drafted him 16th overall. Martin allowed minimal pressure on his QB (one sack, two QB hits and 11 QB hurries), but he was only slightly above league average in run blocking.
Right tackle Doug Free is the only Dallas lineman who lacks pedigree. He was a fourth-round pick in the 2007 draft. Last October, he broke a bone in his foot and later underwent surgery on his ankle. He is the weakest link on the team in pass protection and holds his own in the run game.
This line has to be the best in the league. The loss of Murray is a concern as he gained so many yards after contact. Dallas will still try to control the clock to order to keep its suspect defense off the field.
The above chart shows the Cowboys' 2015 offensive strength of schedule in terms of rushing attempts (RATT), rushing yards (YDS), yards per attempt rushing (YA), rushing touchdowns (TDs), completions (COMP), passing attempts (PATT), passing yards (YDS), yards per attempt passing (YA) and passing touchdowns (TDS).
This information is based on 2014 stats, which we will work with as our starting point for 2015. We'll look at all the changes on offense for each team in the NFL plus the upgrades and downgrades each team has made on the defensive side. We'll update this table when we finish researching all 32 teams.
2014 Average: The league average of each stat from all 32 teams in 2014.
2014 Results: The results for each specific team in the NFL.
2015 Adjustment: The difference between a team's result and the league average in a certain statistic. This number will show if a team is above or below the league average in each stat and will serve as the basis for the strength of schedule.
Dallas faces only two teams with strong run defenses, the Seattle Seahawks and the New York Jets. They have will also take on weak run defenses in the New Orleans Saints and the Giants (twice). The Cowboys' toughest matchups against the pass will come against the Seahawks and the Buffalo Bills. On the plus side, they will also face the Eagles' secondary twice and the Atlanta Falcons.
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The Cowboys had one of the more balanced attacks in 2014. Nearly 25 percent of Romo's completions went to his RBs, and 23.5 percent went to his TEs. His wideouts caught 174 passes for 2,485 yards with and 28 TDs, the second-most in the NFL.
Week 14 DFS Update (12/13): In his six games of action, Cassel has five TDs and five Ints with no 300-yard passing games. The Packers are about league average in QB Fantasy defense, with two teams scoring over 30 Fantasy points. QBs have 16 passing TDs and two 300-yard passing games against them. Can't trust him even with Dez on his side.
Week 13 DFS Update (12/3): In what amounts to about four full games, Cassel has 902 passing yards and five TDs. His only game of value came vs. the Eagles (299 yards and three TDs). He will have the services of Dez Bryant, so he has a fighter's chance if this game were to get wide open. The Redskins are just below league average in QB Fantasy defense, with one team scoring over 30 Fantasy points. QBs have two TDs or more in the last six games against them (15 combined TDs over this stretch - 22 on the year). Only worth a swing if you want to include Bryant in your next dance.
QB Tony Romo, --- - Solid/Safe Pick
UPDATE (11/20): Romo makes his Week 11 return against the Miami Dolphins this week. The team has been nightmarishly bad without him and went 0-7 in his absence. It's unclear how well he will play right out of the gate, but no matter how well he plays, it may be too little too late. He should be considered a QB2 until he gets rolling. With every game being crucial, hopefully Romo isn't rusty.
Romo was one bad non-catch call away from a possible Super Bowl title, which would have washed away some of his misery in key moments for the Cowboys. Tony threw a career-high 37 TDs last year while leading the league with a 69.9 completion percentage and an average of 8.5 yards per attempt. All while dealing with a year-long back injury. He had just one 300-yard outing, largely because he threw fewer than 30 passes in 11 games. However, he tossed three TDs seven times. His number of pass attempts has declined by at least 100 in consecutive years as the Cowboys' ground game has grown. Romo has thrown for more than 30 touchdowns in four different years. He has one elite receiving option in Dez Bryant and serviceable talent everyone else. Dallas is going to run the ball a ton, but the steady Romo will find a way to throw for more than 4,000 yards with 30-plus TDs again.
Dallas Cowboys QB Tony Romo
RB Lance Dunbar, --- - Fantasy Handcuff
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Last year, Dunbar actually played the second-most snaps of any Cowboys RB, 146 more than Randle. He finished with only 47 touches for 316 yards and no TDs. His best value came in the passing game (18 catches, 217 yards). In his four years at North Texas, Lance ran for 4,224 yards and 41 TDs on 782 carries. He caught 97 passes for 1,033 yards and eight receiving touchdowns. Dunbar has a short resume in the NFL and some injury risk, but he does flash some upside. I'd try to handcuff Dunbar behind Randle with the hopes that one of them emerges as the top option in this backfield.
RB Darren McFadden, --- - Gamble (high risk)
Week 14 DFS Update (12/13): McFadden fumbled his way out of some snaps in Week 13. He finished with 15 touches, 59 yards, a TD and a catch while being on the field for 36 plays, compared to 17 by Robert Turbin. On the year he only gains 3.8 YPC with only three TDs. He has three 100-yard rushing games. The Packers rank 9th in the NFL in RB Fantasy defense, with improved success over the last five games (16.7 Fantasy points per week). Green Bay allows 4.2 YPC with backs scoring 11 TDs. High volume player with a below par matchup. His biggest strike is the lack of TDs.
Week 13 DFS Update (12/5): Just like DeMarco Murray, McFadden made Fantasy owners puke up their Turkey dinner on Thanksgiving with his dismal performance vs. the Panthers (14 touches for 56 yards). On the year he is only gaining 3.8 YPC with only two TDs (none in his last five games). Over the last six games, McFadden has averaged 25.2 touches per game. The Redskins are about league average defending RBs, with four teams scoring over 30 Fantasy points per game, which happened over four straight weeks (Week 5 - 33.0, Week 6 - 37.80, Week 7 - 30.10, Week 8 - bye, and Week 9 - 41.10). Washington allows 4.7 YPC with seven TDs to the RB position. The Cowboys' offensive line is so overrated (4.2 YPC and six rushing TDs with 23 sacks allowed). This is a favorable matchup with McFadden's edge being volume. I hate his lack of explosiveness and the boring play calling by Dallas. Fair price point when considering his value in the passing game and touches.
UPDATE (11/20): McFadden has emerged as the top back in Dallas. However, it was pretty much by default. Lance Dunbar was lost for the season, Christine Michael is awful and the underwear thief was kicked off the team. McFadden had a three-game span where he had more than 25 carries per game. He topped the 100-yard mark twice in that span. Outside of that it's been the same old McFadden, except shockingly healthy. If you rely on him, he will disappoint.
Over a 17-game stretch from the start of 2010 until Week 4 in 2011, McFadden was one of the best backs in the game. He ran for 1,605 yards on 298 carries, caught 62 passes for 639 yards and scored 13 total TDs. He averaged 137 yards and 21.96 Fantasy points per game. Unfortunately, over the past three years, Darren has averaged only 3.34 YPC over 485 carries and just 6.1 yards per catch. I'd love to put the blame on the Oakland Raiders' offensive line, but McFadden's length of failure is too long. McFadden will open the season at age 28. He's been a talent receiver but has never been an asset in pass protection. He has high injury risk and has been great for only short periods of time during his seven-year career. I won't dismiss the former first-rounder, but I won't overpay for his poor resume.
RB Joseph Randle, --- - Sleeper (undervalued)
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Randle has only one game with more than 20 touches through his first two seasons. In that game, he gained 93 yards from scrimmage on 22 touches. Randle ran the ball only 51 times last season but averaged 6.7 yards per carry. For his pro career, Joseph has gained 507 yards on 105 carries with five TDs. He has caught 12 passes for 84 yards. Over his three years at Oklahoma State, Randle ran for 3,085 yards and 40 touchdowns on 564 carries. He scored 26 times in 2012. He also caught 108 passes for 917 yards and three TDs while in college. His talent is a step down from Murray's, but he'll have plenty of room to make plays behind a fantastic O-line. Randle isn't a lock to start for the Cowboys and may not keep the job if he is named the starter for Week 1, but he's been playing with the first-team offense in OTAs. I believe his youth and ability to catch passes will lead to him getting the most touches in this backfield, which has injury-prone options elsewhere. Even with two-thirds of the RB touches, Randle should be in position to get 300 touches, 1,500 yards, double-digit scores and 40-plus catches. He could be a top-12 Fantasy back.
Dallas Cowboys RB Joseph Randle
RB Ryan Williams, --- - Gamble (high risk)
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This 2011 second-round pick has been a bust due to injuries. He lost his rookie season to a torn patellar tendon. In 2012, Ryan gained only 164 yards on 58 carries (2.8 YPC) before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury. Williams spent last season on the Cowboys' practice squad, and he is currently dealing with a wonky knee. During his 2009 freshman season at Virginia Tech, Ryan rushed for 1,655 yards on 293 carries with 21 TDs. His sophomore season was cut short due to injury as well. I'm sure Williams has talent, but his lack of playing time and injury risk lead me to believe his ship has sailed. Williams will need a couple of injuries to occur in front of him in order to have Fantasy value, and he still may not offer upside.