|By Shawn Childs, Wednesday, August 30, 2023|
2023 Dallas Cowboys Outlook
Over his first three seasons with the Cowboys, Mike McCarthy went 30-20 with back-to-back trips to the playoffs. 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 the Cowboys won their first postseason game since 2016.
Dallas slipped to 11th in offensive yards while scoring 467 points (4th – 63 fewer than 2022). In 2021, they had the best offense in the league.
Brian Schottenheimer takes over as the Cowboys' offensive coordinator after working as their coaching analyst in 2022. He held the same position for the Jets (2006 to 2011), Rams (2012 to 2014), and Seahawks (2018 to 2020). Schottenheimer has been coaching the NFL for 21 years.
Dallas bumped to 5th in points allowed (342) and 12th in yards allowed. The Cowboys' defense shaved off 131 points over the past two seasons.
Regression on defense led to the Cowboys hiring Dan Quinn to run 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 only roster changes for Dallas over the winter were the losses of CB Anthony Brown, G Connor McGovern, TE Dalton Schultz, and RB Ezekiel Elliott. The Cowboys signed RB Ronald Jones while trading for WR Brandin Cooks and CB Stephon Gilmore.
Dallas focused on their defense with three of the first four selections in the 2023 NFL Draft (DT Mazi Smith – 1st, LB DeMarvion Overshown, and DE Viliami Fehoko Jr.).
Smith projects as an early down run clogger with more depth to his game. He gets off the ball quickly with a sense of urgency to win on plays after the snap. His next step is adding more endurance to his game to help his success when offenses run a hurry-up offense. Smith isn't quite there yet in the pass rush, putting him on the bench on passing downs.
Overshown is a rising all-around linebacker who is finding the balance between attack and waiting for a play to develop. He flows to the oncoming ball carrier quickly while having the tools to handle his pass-catching responsibilities. Overshown does have to get stronger to combat the battles in tight quarters vs. offensive linemen.
Fehoko will have to prove himself vs. tougher competition in the NFL. He fires off the ball with a plan to create havoc at the line of scrimmage. His next step is showing how much of the field Fehoko can handle in run support. He projects better in the pass rush early in his career.
In the second round, the Cowboys added TE Luke Schoonmaker. His foundation skill set grades well in blocking with a higher ceiling when he gets stronger. Schoonmaker has pass-catching talent, thanks to his speed and feel for pass routes. He must take advantage of his mismatches in coverage while showing more aggression in jump ball situations.
T Asim Richards was the choice in the fifth round. The Cowboys should shift him to guard to take advantage of his physical presence and lower power as a run blocker. He must add better rhythm to his attack to help stay within himself in the heat of the blocking battles. His range will be in question in pass protection.
Dallas had two additions in the sixth round – CB Eric Scott and RB Deuce Vaughn.
Scott has the look of an enticing cornerback, but he struggles to stay engaged with wideouts while having a free-lancing style that creates some interceptions and big plays for the opposing team. The Cowboys hope his game translates well in press coverage and over the short areas of the field in the red zone.
Vaughn is an undersized running back (5'5" and 180 lbs.), but he's willing to dance his way through the big bodies on inside runs. His vision and feel for daylight point to more success at the next level than most believe. His pass-catching will be an edge, along with his open-field running, but holding up in pass protection will be an issue.
The Cowboys' last flier came with WR Jalen Brooks in the seventh round. He comes to the NFL with below-par speed (4.69 40-yard dash). His hands are elite, with the talent to win contested battles at a high rate. Brooks shines in the open field. Unfortunately, his route running and release invite downside in his pro career.
Dallas inched to 8th in rushing yards (2,298) with 24 touchdowns and 17 runs over 20 yards. They averaged 31.2 rushes per game and 4.3 yards per carry.
The Cowboys fell to 18th in passing yards (3,911) with 28 touchdowns and 18 interceptions. They gained 7.0 yards per pass attempt, with 50 passes gaining 20 yards or more. Their offensive line allowed 27 sacks.
LT Tyron Smith missed the first 13 games of last season with a left knee injury. His last full year came in 2015 while missing 33 starts over the past three seasons. Smith is a plus run and pass blocker at the top of his game.
The left guard position should be an open battle this season between multiple players that need to step up. Chuma Edoga, Asim Richards, and Josh Ball are the top contenders.
C Tyler Biadasz has yet to be an edge player in his three seasons in the NFL. He allowed minimal sacks over this span with below-par value in run blocking.
RG Zack Martin didn't allow a sack over his 19 games played while giving up minimal pressure. His run blocking fell well below his career path. Smith has been a stud in almost every season in the NFL.
RT Tyler Smith struggled in pass protection in his rookie season after getting drafted 24th overall in 2022. His value in the run game was much better over his final nine starts. The Cowboys were forced to start in most games at left tackle in his rookie year.
Dallas has one, possibly two star players on the offensive line if Tyron Smith can stay healthy. The center and right tackles positions have a chance to approach the league average. Overall, the Cowboys have enough talent to run the ball better in 2023 with the foundation to minimize the damage in sacks.
QB Dak Prescott - Solid/Safe Pick
In 2019 and 2021, Prescott attempted 596 passes in both seasons over 16 games. He improved by 22 completions in 2021 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.
After an off game in Week 1 (134/0 with one interception) last season, Prescott missed five starts with a broken right thumb. His year ended with the most interceptions (15) of his career over 12 matchups, with further regression in his yards per pass attempt (7.3). Prescott only had a slight fall off in his completion rate (66.2 – 68.6 over his previous 21 contests) while repeating his value in the run game (45/182/1). Over his final 13 games (including the postseason), he had a completion rate of 70% or higher in eight matchups, but Prescott only passed for more than 300 yards in two starts (347/3 and 305/4). He averaged 33.1 passes over his 14 games, compared to 37.3 in 2021.
Fantasy Outlook: Other than an excellent growth season by CeeDee Lamb (107/1,359/9), the Cowboys' receiving corps failed to match preseason expectations. Michael Gallup (39/424/4) was a shell of his previous self, and rookie Jalen Tolbert (2/12) didn't develop into a viable receiving option. Adding Brandin Cooks gives Prescott a proven veteran wideout, but he also lost his top tight end threat (Dalton Schultz). My early thought is that Dallas should average close to 250 passing yards per game, with Prescott finishing with a floor of 30 combined touchdowns (on pace for 34 in 2021). He is the 12th ranked quarterback in early June in the high-stake market.
QB Cooper Rush - Not Draft Worthy
Over his first four seasons with Dallas, Rush was only on the field for eight games, leading to him completing 31 of his 50 passes for 424 yards with three touchdowns and one interception. He kept the Cowboys in the playoff hunt by winning four of his five starts when Dak Prescott was out with his thumb injury. Despite his winning success, Rush was only a game manager over his first four contests (775/4 with no interceptions). When facing the Eagles, he was overmatched in Week 6 (18-for-38 for 181 yards with one touchdown and three interceptions).
Fantasy Outlook: Rush remains the top backup quarterback for Dallas, but he will see minimal time again in 2023.
Other Options: Will Grier
RB Malik Davis - Not Draft Worthy
The Cowboys gave Davis their RB3 opportunity in 2022 after signing him as an undrafted free agent last year. Over five seasons at Florida, he never earned a starting opportunity. Davis gained 2,196 combined yards with 10 touchdowns and 80 catches over 45 games in college, with his peak output coming in 2021 (92/487/5 with 23 catches for 217 yards and two scores).
In his first year in Dallas, he came off the bench in six matchups, leading to 224 combined yards with one touchdown and six catches on 44 touches. His best showing came in Week 17 (10/39 with two catches for 23 yards) when Tony Pollard missed a game.
Fantasy Outlook: Davis will compete for the Cowboys' RB2 job in 2023 while starting the year in the free-agent pool in fantasy leagues.
UPDATE: Davis lost the RB2 role to Rico Dowdle and was released. He's a candidate to join the practice squad but is well off the fantasy radar.
RB Tony Pollard - Solid/Safe Pick
Dallas gave Pollard 169 touches in 2021, 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.
Pollard was frustrating to manage over the first five games last season due to his up-and-down usage by the Cowboys. He had empty production in Week 1 (22 combined yards and two catches) and Week 4 (eight combined yards and one catch) while flashing his explosiveness over his other three contests (289 combined yards with two touchdowns and four catches on 34 touches). When given a chance to start in two games midseason, Pollard played at a high level (14/131/3 and 22/115/1) with four combined catches and 29 yards. Dallas gave him an uptick in chances over the next six weeks (83/367/3 with 24 catches for 237 yards and three scores), but ankle and leg injuries led to a missed game and a step back in play over his final three contests (28/118 with five catches for 23 yards).
Fantasy Outlook: The excitement for Pollard is brewing in the early fantasy draft season based on his ranking (10th). He finished last season as the ninth-highest-scoring running back (248.80) in PPR formats despite averaging 14.5 touches. Dallas will rotate in a second running back, but Pollard should see his opportunity improve by at least 15%. I'll set his early bar at 225 rushes for 1,100 yards with a dozen scores and 50 catches for 450 more yards. His only negative is back-to-back late-season injuries, with the latter requiring surgery to repair a broken left leg last January.
RB Deuce Vaughn - Super Sleeper (high risk/potential)
Over three seasons at Kansas State, Vaughn gained 4,371 combined yards with 47 touchdowns and 116 catches over 37 games. He had a high-volume opportunity in 2021 (284 touches) and 2022 (335 touches), showcasing his durability for a smaller back. His career highlights were 22 touchdowns in 2021 and 1,936 combined yards last season. Vaughn rushed for more than 100 yards in 15 of his final 20 games in college.
Fantasy Outlook: Neglect may be the theme for fantasy drafters when reviewing Vaughn for the upcoming fantasy season. His lack of size will make him easy to write off, but defenders will struggle to get a hard hit on him in space. When given daylight, Vaughn seizes the opportunity while having the uncanny ability to make defenders miss in tight quarters due to his shifty footwork and vision for openings. He projects as an RB6 in the early draft season. I expect him to be in the running back rotation for Dallas in his rookie campaign.
RB Ronald Jones - Low Potential
In 2021, Jones failed to make an impact on early downs (101/428/4) for Tampa while catching 10 passes for 64 yards. The Bucs gave him six touches or fewer in nine of his 16 games. His only game of value came in Week 16 (81 combined yards with one touchdown and two catches). Jones saw his season end in Week 18 with an ankle injury.
The Chiefs signed Jones to a minimal contract ($1.5 million for one season) in 2022, but he failed to work his way into their running back rotation (17/70/1 with one catch for 22 yards).
Jones gained 2,760 combined yards over the previous four seasons with 19 touchdowns and 70 catches on 552 touches.
Fantasy Outlook: Dallas featured a power running on early downs last year, giving Jones a window to secure some part of that opportunity in 2023. He'll turn 26 in August while running out of time to earn a starting job in the NFL. For now, Jones is only a player to follow until he proves his worth in training camp.
Other Options: Rico Dowdle, Hunter Luepke
WR CeeDee Lamb - Stud (low risk)
Despite the Cowboys losing Michael Gallup for half of 2021 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 games with over 100 yards receiving (7/104/1, 9/149/2, and 6/112) over the first eight weeks. 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.
Despite a quiet Week 1 (2/29) and the loss of Dak Prescott for five games in 2022, Lamb developed into an elite WR1 in his third season with the Cowboys. From Week 2 to Week 6, he had 31 catches for 380 yards and two touchdowns on 49 targets with Cooper Rush behind center. Lamb hit his stride over his final 11 games (including the playoffs), leading to 79 catches for 1,029 yards and seven touchdowns on 102 targets when he gained more than 100 yards in six matchups (11/150/2, 6/106, 7/126, 10/120/2, 11/100, and 10/117). Lamb scored 74.7 fantasy points in PPR formats from Week 15 to Week 17 when fantasy championships were on the line.
Fantasy Outlook: Lamb improved each season in the NFL while pushing his catch rate (68.6) to an elite level in 2022. He ranks sixth at wide receiver in the early draft season of the high-stakes market while on a path to becoming an annual 100-catch receiver. Next step: 115 catches for 1,500 yards and double-digit touchdowns.
WR Brandin Cooks - Quality Backup
Cooks has been in the NFL for nine seasons while playing for four franchises. He gained over 1,000 receiving yards six times (at least once in each city played). With the Texans in 2020 and 2021, Cooks had two excellent years (81/1,150/6 and 90/1,037/6), ranking 17th and 20th in fantasy scoring (232.00 and 231.80) in PPR leagues. His best play in 2021 came in seven games (5/132, 9/78/1, 9/112, 6/83/1, 8/101, 7/102/2, and 7/66/1). He had a floor of six catches in eight contests but seven targets or fewer in nine games.
Last season, Cooks never found his rhythm in his third year with Houston. He missed four games with wrist, hip, and calf issues. His only game of value came in Week 18 (5/106/1). The Texans gave Cooks double-digit targets over the first two weeks (12 and 10), but they only looked his way 71 times over his next 11 starts (6.5 per game).
Fantasy Outlook: Cooks has had plenty of success in his pro career, and a switch to Dallas points to a much better opportunity in 2023. He ranked 49th in wide receiver scoring (145.60) last year while missing about a quarter of the season. The plusses for him this year outweigh his current price point (43rd) in fantasy drafts. Cooks will turn 30 in September while offering a 70/850/5 floor.
WR Michael Gallup - Bye Week Fill-in
2021 didn't go well for Gallup. A calf injury in Week 1 led to seven missed games. Over the next eight matchups, he caught 31 passes for 409 yards and two touchdowns on 55 targets with only two weeks of value (5/106 and 5/36/1). A torn ACL in his left knee ended his season in early January, but he didn't have surgery until February 10th. Dallas thought enough of his game to sign him to a five-year, $62.5 million contract in mid-March of 2022.
Gallup didn't return to action last year until Week 4. Over his 15 games, he gained more than 50 yards in one matchup (5/63). His best output came in Week 13 (4/23/2) and Week 19 (5/46/1 – playoffs). Gallup posted weakness in his catch rate (52.7) and yards per catch (10.9).
Fantasy Outlook: With an entire offseason to get healthy, Gallup should regain the bounce in his step this year. Unfortunately, CeeDee Lamb has become the workhorse wide receiver in this offense, and Brandin Cook has a better NFL resume. My early outlook will be about 60 catches for 750 yards and five touchdowns. Gallup comes off the board as a late WR6 in PPR formats in June.
WR Jalen Tolbert - Super Sleeper (high risk/potential)
Dallas added Tolbert in the third round of the 2022 NFL Draft. He played well over his final two seasons (64/1,085/8 and 82/1,474/8) at South Alabama. Tolbert gained 17.6 yards per catch in college with a low catch rate (55.5). His release and route running project well, pointing to success in his NFL career.
The Cowboys only had Tolbert on the field for 89 plays in his rookie season. He caught two of his three targets for 12 yards.
Fantasy Outlook: Based on his style of play, Tolbert looks to be the insurance option for Michael Gallup. He'll challenge a defense in the deep passing game while having the foundation skill set to shine over the short areas of the field. His lack of production in his first season puts Tolbert in the free-agent pool in all formats in 2023.
Other Options: Simi Fehoko, KaVontae Turpin, Jalen Brooks
TE Jake Ferguson - Super Sleeper (high risk/potential)
Over four seasons at Wisconsin, Ferguson caught 145 of his 207 targets for 1,618 yards and 13 touchdowns. His best opportunity came in 2021 (46/450/3). The Cowboys added him in the fourth round of the 2022 NFL Draft.
In his rookie season, Dallas gave him TE2 snaps, leading to 19 catches for 174 yards and two touchdowns. Ferguson only had one game of value (4/40/1).
Fantasy Outlook: With Dalton Schultz no longer on the roster, Ferguson should emerge as the Cowboys' lead tight end. He ranks 25th at tight end in early June in the high-stakes market while competing with two other players for targets and snaps.
TE Luke Schoonmaker - Dynasty Only
Schoonmaker is another tight end option for Dallas, who comes to the NFL with a low resume in college. Over his 28 games at Michigan, he had 54 catches for 637 yards and seven touchdowns on 78 targets. Schoonmaker set career highs in catches (35) and receiving yards (418) in 2022.
Fantasy Outlook: His path to snaps is helped by his ability to block. Schoonmaker will turn 25 in September, suggesting his time to develop into a starting player has passed.
TE Peyton Hendershot - Low Potential
Based on his resume in college (136/1,479/14 on 198 targets), Hendershot may have the highest pass-catching ceiling at tight end on the Cowboys' roster. They signed him as an undrafted free agent in 2022. In his rookie season, he caught 11 of his 16 targets for 103 yards and two touchdowns.
Other Options: Sean McKeon, Seth Green, Princeton Fant
PK Tristan Vizcaino - Not Draft Worthy
The kicking job for Dallas will be an open competition this summer. In June, Tristan Vizcaino sits at the top of the depth chart. He's kicked around the NFL for four seasons with better success making field goals (11-for-12) than extra points (15-for-20). Vizcaino has yet to attempt a kick from 50 yards.
The Cowboys scored 52 touchdowns in 2022 while creating 32 field goal attempts. There's a top-10 kicking opportunity on Dallas if someone can lock down the job all season and add value from long-range.
UPDATE: Vizcaino was released early in the offseaon. Brandon Aubrey will open the season as the Cowboys' kicker. Vizcaino will re-join the traveling veteran kicker circuit.
PK Brandon Aubrey - Bye Week Fill-in
Aubrey won the Dallas kicking job in August and will open the season as the Cowboys' place kicker. We're not expecting the Dallas offense to be as potent as it was in 2022, but that could lead to more stalled drives and fewer TDs. As long as he can hold onto the job, Aubrey looks like a good bet to score above league-average points.
Dallas - Solid/Safe Pick
Dallas fell to 22nd in rushing yards allowed (2,198) with nine touchdowns and 20 runs over 20 yards. Offenses averaged 29.2 rushes while gaining 4.4 yards per rush.
Their pass defense climbed to eighth in yards allowed (4,049) with 23 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. Dallas allowed 6.9 yards per pass attempt with 54 sacks.
LB Micah Parsons has 26.5 sacks over his first 33 games in the NFL while adding 139 tackles, six forced fumbles, and three fumble recoveries. His run defense showed growth last year despite a decline in tackles. Leighton Vander Esch is the only other proven linebacker on the roster. He finished last year with 90 tackles and one sack over 14 games. His best play came in his rookie season (2018) when Vander Esch appeared to have a higher ceiling.
DE DeMarcus Lawrence adds a veteran presence to the Cowboys' defensive line. He'll help in the sack department (6) and hold his own in run support. His play did have regression in 2022 while starting this season at age 30. DT Osa Odighizuwa improved in all areas in his sophomore year with Dallas. His next step is eliminating some of his missed tackles. Incoming rookie DT Mazi Smith should upgrade the Cowboys' run defense on early downs. DE Dante Fowler gets a chance to rush the quarterback on passing downs, but he has never lived up to his draft pedigree (third overall pick in 2015).
CB Trevon Diggs lost his playmaking ability in 2022 (three interceptions – 11 in 2021), but he did a better job keeping his assignment in front of him on more plays while becoming a better all-around player. Dallas traded for CB Stephon Gilmore, who has a long history of being a top coverage player. S Jayron Kearse continues to play well supporting the run, thanks to his sure tackling. Receivers will catch passes against him, but they tend to go for short yardage with minimal damage in scoring. S Donovan Wilson and S Malik Hooker saw a ton of snaps last year while helping to slow down the run game. Hooker had the higher ceiling, and his play improved late in 2022.
The secondary of this defense should create plenty of turnovers in 2023 if Dallas continues to fire on all cylinders in the pass rush. Parson sets the tone at the line of scrimmage, while the Cowboys have other players who will get after the quarterback. If Dallas slows down the run and their linebacking corps develops, they will be one of the better defenses in the league. In fantasy leagues, the Cowboys are the third defense selected in June.