Preseason - 2021 Dallas Cowboys Outlook
Dallas Cowboys Outlook
In his first season with the Cowboys, Mike McCarthy went 6-10. He had a successful 11-year run (114-61-1) with the Packers, leading to nine trips to the postseason and a Super Bowl win in 2020. Over his final two seasons with Green Bay, he went 11-16-1. Dallas made playoffs three times over the six years before McCarthy arrived while compiling a 56-40 record.
Last year the Cowboys fell to 14th in offense yards after losing their starting quarterback in Week 5. They finished 17th in points scored (395), 39 fewer than in 2019 (434).
Kellen Moore returns to run the Cowboys' offense for a second season. He went from backup quarterback from 2012 to 2017 with the Lions and the Cowboys to a quarterbacks coach in 2018. Moore starts the year at age 32, putting on a path to a head coaching job down the road.
Their defense fell apart in 2020, leading to a fade to 23rd in points allowed (473) and 28th in yards allowed. Dallas gave up 152 more points than 2019 (321).
Regression on defense led to the Cowboys hiring Dan Quinn to be their defensive coordinator. Over five-plus seasons as the head coach of the Falcons, he went 43-42 with a trip to the Super Bowl in 2016 and another postseason appearance the following year. His defense helped the Seahawks win the Super Bowl in 2013. Quinn has been a coach in the NFL since 2001.
The only offensive changes via free agency for the Cowboys were the loss of QB Andy Dalton and the addition of T Ty Nsekhe.
Dalton went 4-5 in relief of Dak Prescott, but he gained only 6.5 yards per pass attempt. Over 10 seasons in the NFL, he had a 74-66-2 record with no wins in four chances in the postseason.
Nsekhe provides bench depth to their offensive line. He has never been a full-time starting player in his seven seasons in the league.
Their defense lost CB Chidobe Awuzie, S Xavier Woods, and DE Aldon Smith.
Awuzie missed seven games last year with a hamstring injury, plus another due to a Covid issue. In 2018 and 2019, as a full-time starter for the Cowboys, he allowed many big plays while being a league-average player.
Woods picked up 149 combined tackles over the past two seasons, but his run defense faded in 2020 with more mistakes in touchdowns allowed.
Smith tends to be better than the league average in run support. His career started in San Fran with dominant sack totals in 2011 (14.0) and 2012 (19.5). Off-the-field issues led to him missing four seasons and delivering a much lower ceiling in his play.
The Cowboys added S Keanu Neal, DE Tarell Basham, and DT Brent Urban.
Neal is a talented player with a first-round pedigree (2016). He missed almost all of 2018 and 2019 with injuries. Neal played under defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, where he flashed upside in all areas. His play should improve the Cowboys' run defense. Neal will give up catches, but receivers tend to gain short yards per catch.
Basham improved defending the run over the past two seasons with the Jets while working off the bench. He has 5.5 sacks over his last 32 games.
Urban projects as a rotational player with early-down value in run support. He has never had over 2.5 sacks in any season.
This year's draft was all about improving the defensive side of the ball. Dallas drafted six straight defensive players – LB Micah Parsons (1.12), CB Kelvin Joseph (2.12), DT Osa Odighizuwa (3.11), DE Chauncey Golston (3.21), CB Nahshon Wright (3.36), and LB Jabril Cox (4.10).
Parsons should be a high-volume tackler with the speed and quickness to excel all over the field. His next step is finding a balance between attack and patience to help him find his assignments on time. He needs to improve his transition when facing traffic against blockers. Parson has the potential to add much more production in the pass rush.
Joseph brings the physical tools to support the run and work well in press coverage. His reads lack confidence at times, which should improve with more experience. Joseph can get unwound in the heat of the battle, leading to cheap shots and penalties. Quarterbacks will have success manipulating him with their eyes early in his career.
Odighizuma wins off the line with a disruptive first step, with the vision to keep an eye on his mark in the run game. His motor runs hot, helping him push to the quarterback. His challenge comes when facing bigger bodies on the interior of the defensive line. Odighizuma plays too fast on some plays, inhibiting his success rate when needing to add a secondary more in the pass rush. The Cowboys' task is finding the correct position to play him in.
Golston looks to have a misplaced skill set at this point in his career. He offers better success rushing the quarterback on the inside, despite having the build (6'5" and 270 lbs.) to play on the outer limits of a defensive line. Golston loses value when rushing the quarterback off the corner, which may come when adding more strength. For now, only a passing rushing option with plenty of questions about his run defense.
Wright has a good feel for reading pass routes with the length to cover a big window over the short areas of the field. Unfortunately, his long speed is lacking, leaving him in the dust if beaten early in pass routes. He may develop in press coverage if his body (185 lbs.) catches up to his height (6'4"). His technique needs work when trying to match wide receivers in pass routes. I expect him to be a better player in red zone coverage.
Cox made the jump to a top college program in 2020 with minimal regression in his play. His attacking style improves a run defense, but Cox still has a looker feel, which leads to a slower first step out of his breaks. He will add value in pass coverage. Overall, Cox is an improving player with a chance to have success on all three downs.
Dallas took a swing at two offensive linemen (T Josh Ball and G Matt Farniok) in the fourth and seventh rounds.
An off-the-field issue led to Ball sliding below his talent and ceiling in the draft. His pass grades are ahead of his run blocking skills. He wants to protect the outside in the pass rush, leading to inside pressure by defenders cutting across his face. Ball fires into defenders, which can cause balance issues if missing his mark.
Farniok adds flexibility and depth to the Cowboys' offensive line. His game plays the best in a quick-hitting run game. He should handle most bull rushers while needing to improve in pass protection.
In the fifth round, the Cowboys took a dance with WR Simi Fehoko. He has a one-trick pony feel due to his lack of route running and questionable short-area quickness. His intrigue comes over the long field where Fehoko owns an edge in size (6'4" and 220 lbs.) while offering sneaky build-up speed.
Dallas shifted back to the defense in the sixth round – DT Quinton Bohanna and CB Israel Mukuamu.
Bohanna will be an early-down run clogger with minimal chance of seeing the field on passing downs. He plays with power with enough of a first step to put offensive linemen on their heels. His range is limited while losing value with each step away from the center of a defense.
Mukuamu owns an edge in size (6'4" and 210 Lbs.) that should play well in press coverage in the red zone. His foot speed out of an early release could lead to some issue over the long field. His run support is trailing while lacking the foundation in his footwork to match top receivers in their route running.
Dallas faded to 16th in rushing yards (1,788) with only seven touchdowns and 10 runs over 20 yards. They averaged 26.9 rushes per game and 4.2 yards per carry.
The Cowboys dipped to seventh in passing yards (4,511) with 25 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. They gained only 7.1 yards per pass attempt with 50 passes over 20 yards. Their offensive line allowed 44 sacks. The loss of Dak Prescott led to a much weaker passing offense over the final 11 games.
LT Tyron Smith
Over the last five seasons, Smith missed 27 games with knee, ankle, neck, and back issues. He played only two games in 2020 due to a neck injury that required surgery. He remains a top pass-blocker while having a winning resume in the run game. Dallas expects him to be ready for training camp.
LG Connor Williams
After struggling in his rookie season, Williams tore his ACL in his left knee late in November in 2019. He has a strong foundation in his technique, which gives him the most upside in run blocking. Williams improved slightly in pass protection last year while becoming an asset in the run game.
C Tyler Biadasz
Dallas added G Tyler Biadasz in the fourth round. His foundation skill set grades well while also offering plus hands and an excellent feel for his blocking assignments. Biadasz comes up short in pass protection and his ability to make run blocks outside his initial defender.
In his rookie season, he made four starts while failing to make an impact in any area. Biadasz missed five games with a hamstring issue.
RG Zack Martin
Martin has been a beast in pass protection in all seven years in the NFL while also offering an excellent foundation in run blocking. The Cowboys drafted him in the first round in 2014. He missed six games last season due to a calf injury.
RT La'el Collins
In 2019, Collins made a move from underachiever to an elite asset on the offensive line. He dominated in the run game while showing more growth in pass blocking. A hip injury led to him missing all of 2020.
Injuries at quarterback and on the offensive line led to Cowboys underperforming on the ground and in pass protection in 2020. They still have three top-tier players, leading to a rebound in all areas this season. The center position looks messy, while Conner Williams remains unknown.
Dallas finished second in the league in pass attempts (639) while rushing the ball just over 40 percent. With improved defensive play, the Cowboys will be more productive on the ground. They have the receiving talent to push up the rankings in scoring and passing yards.
QB Dak Prescott, DAL - Stud (low risk)
After four games, Prescott was on a blistering pace in passing yards (6,760), highlighted by three impact games (468/4, 498/3, and 514/4). His season ended in Week 5 due to an ankle injury that required surgery. He set career-highs in his completion rate (68.0) and yards per pass attempts (8.4). Prescott had 25 completions of 20 yards or more. Over his past 21 starts, he completed 22 passes that gained 40 yards or more.
The demise of the Cowboys' defense pushed Prescott to the air 50 times over his first four games. Dallas has elite wide receiving talent, plus the complementary pass-catchers out of the backfield and at tight end. He also has 24 rushing scores over his first 69 matchups. Prescott averages 5.1 yards per rush while gaining 19 yards on the ground in his career.
Fantasy Outlook: Prescott is typically the fourth quarterback drafted in the 12-team high stakes market. I fully believe he will follow through in 2021. Over a 17-game schedule, he looks to be on a path for 5,500 combined yards with a push over 40 combined scores.
Other Options: Garrett Gilbert, Ben DiNucci, Cooper Rush
RB Ezekiel Elliott, DAL - Stud (low risk)
The Cowboys' running backs combined for 2,060 yards in 2020 with 14 touchdowns and 81 catches. Their backs saw a regression in yards per rush (4.1) and yards per catch (6.5). Part of the downturn was due to injuries on the offensive line and downgrade in quarterback play. Dallas needs to regain this bounce in their step running the ball, especially in the red zone.
The running lanes shrunk in 2020, leading to Elliott having the lowest production of his career. He gained only 4.0 yards per rush with more fade in his yards per catch (6.5). When at his best in his rookie season. Elliott was much more explosive in all areas. His offensive line ranks well but below his early seasons in the league.
He rushed over 100 yards in only two matchups (21/103 and 19/105). The Cowboys gave him 19.7 touches per game, which was below 2018 (25.4) and 2019 (22.2). Elliott caught over 50 passes in each of his past three seasons. Over his last 545 rushes, he gained 20 yards or more on only seven plays. In 2020, none of his 52 catches reached the 20-yard mark.
Fantasy Outlook: The positives to his opportunity in 2021 should be a much healthier and talented offensive line, plus Dallas will have one of the highest-scoring offenses in the league. Tony Pollard will steal some of his chances, but Elliott could very well explode this season. With an ADP of 7 in 12-team leagues, he will be a trusted asset with a high floor and possible explosive ceiling. My bet is on 16 scores with 1,800 combined yards and 50 catches.
RB Tony Pollard, DAL - Fantasy Handcuff
In his second season in the NFL, Pollard gained 628 combined yards with five touches and 28 catches on 129 touches. He finished 41st in RB scoring (121.30) in PPR leagues with one highlight game (132 combined yards with two touchdowns and six catches in Week 15 when Ezekiel Elliott didn't play.
Over his first five games, the Cowboys only gave him 20 touches, leading to 100 combined yards with a touchdown and seven catches. Dallas leaned on him more over his next eight games (342 combined yards with two touchdowns and 11 catches on 73 touches).
Fantasy Outlook: Pollard has underachieved his draft value over his first two seasons with Dallas. He remains a high-end handcuff while being an injury away from a top 12 opportunity. His next step should be 175 touches with 800 combined yards, 35 catches, and five to seven scores. Pollard should inch closer to being a viable flex play in PPR leagues.
RB Rico Dowdle, DAL - Not Draft Worthy
After flashing upside in his freshman season (819 combined yards with seven touchdowns and 15 catches on 148 touches), Dowdle wandered his way through his through the next three years (295 rushes for 1,403 yards with 10 touchdowns plus 47 catches for 428 yards and two scores) at South Carolina.
He missed four games in 2016 with a battle with a hernia issue that required surgery, a broken leg in 2017, and a couple of games in 2019 with a knee issue.
Dowdle comes to the NFL with just below average running back speed (4.54 forty-yard dash) with decent size (5"11" and 215 lbs.). He runs with some patience while using his eyes and feel to pick the right spot to turn up the jets.
When in the open field, Dowdle shows the ability to make defenders miss either with fight or wiggle. His vision plays up while owning change of direction value. Dowdle's downside risk comes from carrying the ball loosely in the open field and his injury resume. The Cowboys signed him as an unrestricted free agent last season.
He gained only 24 yards on seven carries in 2020.
Other Options: Sewo Olonilua, Brenden Knox, JaQuan Hardy
WR Amari Cooper, CLE - Solid/Safe Pick
An ankle injury that required surgery over the winter puts Cooper behind schedule heading into training camp. He set a career-high in catches (92) while gaining over 1,000 yards for the fourth time in seven seasons. His catch rate (70.8) was the best of his career.
Cooper had an excellent connection with Dak Prescott over the first four weeks (10/81, 6/100, 9/86, and 12/134/1). He struggled three times (2/23, 1/5, and 2/10) over his final 12 starts. With Andy Dalton behind center, Cooper had five productive games (7/79/1, 7/80, 6/81, 6/112/1, and 4/121).
At home, he gained 14.7 yards per catch compared to 9.8 on the road.
Fantasy Outlook: Cooper has been an excellent player in his career, but he failed to become an elite WR1. His ADP (45) in mid-June prices him as the 16th wide receiver off the board. Last year, Cooper finished as the 15th highest scoring wideout (237.70 fantasy points) in PPR leagues after ranking 10th in 2019. He tends to come up short in the most significant moments of the year in the fantasy market while doing his most damage at home.
WR CeeDee Lamb, DAL - Stud (low risk)
If Dak Prescott stayed healthy all season, the Cowboys' wideouts would have pushed to one of the top combos in the league. Their wide receivers accounted for over 70 percent of Dallas's passing yards for the second straight year. Despite a rise of 32 catches, they gained fewer yards (12.6) per catch, leading to a slide in receiving yards (3,235) and touchdowns (17).
Without a doubt, Lamb will be a target in drafts this season. He finished his rookie season with 74 catches for 935 yards and five touchdowns on 111 targets. Lamb gained over 20 yards on 18 catches while also adding some production on the ground (10/82/1).
His season started with 36 catches for 497 yards and two touchdowns over six matchups. His best value over this stretch came in three games (6/106, 5/79/2, and 8/124). Andy Dalton struggled to get him the ball over his next seven games (25/245/2) while gaining only 9.8 yards per catch.
Lamb regained a bounce in his step over his final three matchups (5/85, 3/84/2, and 5/43).
Lamb has excellent hands while showing explosiveness in the open field. His route running needs some works, which I'm sure he'll add to his bag of tricks with more experience. Even with the appearance of needing more bulk and strength, Lamb will break tackles with uncanny feel to set up defenders with the ball in his hands.
Fantasy Outlook: In the early draft season, Lamb is the 14th wide receiver drafted in 12-team in PPR leagues with an ADP of 42. Fantasy owners price him as the top Cowboys' wide receiver, which is a message I support. He plays with heart and toughness, pointing to growth in his second year. His next step is 90 catches for 1,200 yards and a chance at double-digit scores.