2022 Dallas Cowboys Team Outlook
With high-stakes fantasy football legend Shawn Childs anchoring Sports Illustrated's fantasy coverage, we decided to give our take on Shawn's Team Outlooks. While we won't always agree, Shawn's pedigree speaks for itself. Shawn has been a high-stakes Fantasy Football legend since 2004 when he had success in his first season (three titles and $25,000 in winnings). Childs has competed and won six-figures in all different formats – auctions, draft championships, main events, and high-dollar leagues. We dare you to find an expert who knows the NFL player pool better than Shawn Childs -- it can't be done!
Looking back at 2021, the Dallas Cowboys had the best offense in football, but none of their skill players had an elite season. WR Amari Cooper (68/865/8) fell short of expectations, and WR Michael Gallup (35/445/2) missed eight games. WR Cee Dee Lamb (79/1,102/6) improved slightly, but he failed to post a difference-maker year (19th ranked wideout in PPR formats) despite his preseason hype. RB Ezekiel Elliott gained over 55 rushing yards only once over his final 11 starts, leading to an RB2 feel in fantasy scoring (253.10). RB Tony Pollard helped off the bench while looking more explosive at running back. The only overachiever was TE Dalton Schultz (78/808/4). QB Dak Prescott had boom or bust stats in half of his games, with regression in his value as a runner (48/146/1).
Dallas brings back most of the same nucleus on offense except for losing WR Amari Cooper and WR Cedrick Wilson. So the coin toss for fantasy drafters is whether RB Ezekiel Elliott is fading off into the sunset, or does he dig down for one more elite impact year? And will the additions of WR James Washington and WR Jalen Tolbert help the Cowboys soar to new heights in their quest for their first Super Bowl title since 1995?
I know one thing for sure; the Cowboys locked up two impact defenders (LB Micah Parsons and CB Trevor Diggs) over the past two NFL drafts.
The Cowboys were one of two teams in the NFL to gain over 7,000 yards last year. They want to have a blend of run and pass while leaning on their ball-control offense when playing from the lead. With a rebound in play on defense, Dallas may rely more on rushing the ball in 2022.
The growth in the Cowboys' offense led to their running backs finishing with a three-year high in overall production (2,534 combined yards with 16 touchdowns and 92 catches on 508 touches). As a result, they averaged 25.96 fantasy points in PPR leagues with just under 30 chances per game. The rebound in yards per rush (4.76) came solely from the explosiveness of Tony Pollard (5.5 yards).
Over the past three years, the wide receiver position has been a fantasy gold mine in Dallas. They averaged 15 catches for 205 yards and 1.27 touchdowns over this span (49 games) while accounting for about 70% of the Cowboys' passing yards.
Dak Prescott looked to his tight ends often last season, leading to three-year highs in catches (96), receiving yards (962), touchdowns (10), and targets (130). The emergence of Dalton Schultz should lead to another productive year by the Cowboys' tight ends.
Over his first two seasons with the Cowboys, Mike McCarthy went 18-15. He had a successful 11-year run (114-61-1) with the Packers, leading to nine postseason trips and a Super Bowl win in 2020. Over his final two years 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 season Dallas lost in the first round of the playoffs.
The Cowboys had the best offense in the NFL in 2021, leading to 530 points scored (135 more than in 2020).
Kellen Moore gets a third season to run the Cowboys' offense. He went from backup quarterback from 2012 to 2017 with the Lions and the Cowboys to a quarterback's coach in 2018. Moore starts the year at age 33, putting on a path to a head coaching job down the road.
Their defense improved to 7th in points allowed (358) and 19th in yards allowed. Dallas shaved off 115 points from last season.
Regression on defense led to the Cowboys hiring Dan Quinn to be their defensive coordinator in 2021. 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 Cowboys lost RT La'el Collins from their offensive line, leaving a void that needs to be fixed this season. LB Randy Gregory, WR Cedrick Wilson, C Connor Williams, and K Greg Zuerlein found new homes over the winter. Their top signings in the offseason were DE Dante Fowler and WR James Washington.
In this year's draft, the first two areas of need for the Cowboys were their offensive line (Tyler Smith – 1.24) and an edge pass rusher (Sam Williams – 2.24). Dallas added WR Jalen Tolbert (3.24), TE Jake Ferguson (4.24), and T Matt Waletzko (5.12) with their next three picks before shifting back to their defense (CB Daron Bland – 5.24, LB Damone Clark – 5.33, DT John Ridgeway – 5.35, and LB Devin Harper – 6.14).
Dallas moved to 9th in rushing yards (2,119) with 15 touchdowns and 11 runs over 20 yards. They averaged 27.8 rushes per game and 4.5 yards per carry.
The Cowboys improved in passing yards (4,963) with 40 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. They gained 7.7 yards per pass attempt, with 63 passes gaining 20 yards or more. Their offensive line allowed 33 sacks.
LT Tyron Smith and RG Zack Martin remain top players at their positions, but Smith continues to miss some games with injuries (20 over the past two years). C Tyler Biadasz improved to a league-average player in all areas in his sophomore season. The Cowboys added a top talent (Tyler Smith) to start at left guard in this year's draft, leaving one questionable area (right tackle) to be improved this season. Their offensive line should rank in the top eight in the NFL in 2022, as long as their best two players stay healthy.
Dallas climbed to 16th in rushing yards allowed (1,918) with 13 touchdowns and 14 runs over 20 yards. They allowed 4.5 yards per rush.
Their pass defense slid to 20th in yards allowed (4,049) with 24 touchdowns and 26 interceptions. Dallas allowed 7.1 yards per pass attempt with 41 sacks.
CB Trevor Diggs had an impressive 11 interceptions and 21 defended passes last season, but his gamble style led to receivers gaining over 1,000 yards with five scores. Diggs needs to find a balance when to jump routes or stay home in coverage. At the very least, he is one of the best defensive playmakers in the league.
LB Micah Parsons had the "it factor" in his rookie season, leading to 84 tackles and 13 sacks. He still needs work against the run, but his future is bright.
The Cowboys' defensive line needs to improve defending the run and increase the pass rush. Dallas would love for LB Leighton Vander Esch to regain his rookie form (140 tackles in 2018). Their starting safeties support the run, but I sense some risk in coverage if the Cowboys' secondary doesn't get help with a strong pass rush.
The combination of Diggs and Parsons creates scoring chances, making the Cowboys' defense attractive in the fantasy market. Dallas projects as a top-five defense, with work still needed in the real football world.
QB Dak Prescott, DAL - Solid/Safe Pick
In 2019 and 2021, Prescott attempted 596 passes in both seasons over 16 games. He improved by 22 completions last year but regressed by 453 passing yards. Prescott finished with the best completion rate (68.8) of his career with a new high in passing touchdowns (37). He ended the year with a step back in running value (48/146/1) after being much more productive in this area over his first 64 games (241/1,221/21).
When at his best, Prescott had a floor of three touchdowns in nine starts (416/3, 244/3, 223/4, 308/3, 455/3, 301/3, 351/4, 246/3, and 295/5). He delivered 1,864 passing yards and eight touchdowns in his other seven matchups.
Fantasy outlook: Dallas would like to play better defense and not be forced to throw the ball a minimum of 40 times a game. Based on this, Prescott should see a slight drop in passing chances this year. However, he should be more active running the ball at the goal line while being another season removed from his significant ankle injury. With 17 games played, Prescott should deliver 4,800 combined yards with about 34 touchdowns. He ranks 7th at quarterback in the early draft season of the Fantasy Football World Championship.
Other Options: Cooper Rush, Will Grier, Ben DiNucci
RB Tony Pollard, DAL - Quality Backup
Dallas gave Pollard the best opportunity (169 touches) of his career, but he did leave some stats on the table by missing two games with a December left foot injury (plantar fascia). Over his final three games (including the postseason), he struggled to run the ball (15/57) with seven catches for 77 yards. Pollard broke loose in Week 2 (140 combined yards with one score and three catches) while gaining over 100 combined yards in one other matchup (14/75 and four catches for 28 yards). From the Cowboys' second game to Week 15 (12 contests), he averaged 12.2 touches, leading to 905 yards with two touchdowns and 30 catches or 11.04 fantasy points in PPR formats.
Fantasy outlook: In early June in the FFWC, Pollard has an ADP of 94 as the 33rd running back selected. At the very least, he looks mispriced by about 10 backs when adding his final 2021 ranking (28th) and possible finish with an entire season of games. Pollard seems poised to gain over 1,400 combined yards with 50+ catches and a handful of scores if the Cowboys get him about 13 chances a game. For those playing the high-stakes market, don't let a guy with a Cocktail and a Dream steal your Ezekiel Elliott handcuff – protect your interest, or better yet, tee up the potential breakthrough difference-maker.
RB Ezekiel Elliott, DAL - Solid/Safe Pick
When reviewing Elliott's final stats in 2021, he continued to have a high floor in catches (47) and touchdowns (12). On the downside, he gained short yards per catch for the second straight season (6.5 and 6.1). Elliott had 580 touches over the past two seasons, but only seven of those plays resulted in 20 yards or more. From Week 8 to Week 17, over 10 starts, he averaged only 3.4 yards per carry and 39.4 rushing yards per game. Dallas gave him 14.7 touches per week over this span. His best results running the ball came over three home starts early in the year (17/95/2, 20/143/1, and 21/110/1). Over his last seven games, the Cowboys gave him 23 targets (including the playoffs), leading to 10 catches for 59 yards and one score.
Fantasy outlook: The trick when evaluating his 2022 draft value is sifting through last year's actual performance and preseason fantasy hype. Elliott played through a partially torn PCL in 2021 while already having a "best shape of his life" by-line in May per Mike McCarthy (looks great while being clocked at 22 mph). In the early draft season in the FFWC, Elliott has an ADP of 43 as the 21st running back selected. I expect him to see fewer chances in the passing game with about 16 overall touches per start. I'll set his bar at 1,175 combined yards with eight to 10 touchdowns and 30 catches (about 200.00 fantasy points in PPR leagues). Elliott is young enough to surprise, and he does play in one of the better offenses in the league.
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 running back average speed (4.54 40-yard dash) with decent size (5"11" and 215 lbs.). He runs 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 is carrying the ball loosely in the open field and his injury resume. The Cowboys signed him as an unrestricted free agent in 2020.
A broken hip led to him missing all of last year. He gained only 24 yards on seven carries in 2020.
Other Options: JaQuan Hardy, Malik Davis, Aaron Shampklin
WR CeeDee Lamb, DAL - Stud (low risk)
Despite the Cowboys losing Michael Gallup for half of the season and Amari Cooper underachieving, Lamb failed to rise to WR1 status in his second year with Dallas. He finished with 79 catches for 1,102 yards and six touchdowns on 120 targets (233.10 fantasy points in PPR leagues). His catch rate (65.8) came in slightly below 2020 (66.7) while improving his yards per catch (13.9). Lamb posted all three of his games with over 100 yards receiving (7/104/1, 9/149/2, and 6/112) over the Cowboys' first eight matchups. His only other impact game (6/94/2) came in Week 10. Dallas struggled to get him the ball over his final four games (19/183 on 16 targets). Lamb missed one game with a concussion issue.
Fantasy outlook: Lamb looks poised to become a 100-catch stub in 2022, with growth expected in scoring. His opportunity should grow by about 25%, leading to 1,300+ yards with a chance at double-digit scores. In the high-stakes market in early June, he is the 6th wide receiver drafted with an ADP of 17. His talent and ceiling suggest an edge as a WR2 for a wide receiver strong team or a worthy lead wideout. Lamb isn't a player I would want to finesse.