2014 Team Outlook: Dallas Cowboys
QB Kyle Orton, BUF - Not Draft Worthy
Kyle Orton shook off some serious rust, starting his first game in nearly two years for the Cowboys' 2013 season finale. Orton filled in admirably for Tony Romo in a must-win situation with 358 yards and two TDs, but ultimately was picked off late in the fourth quarter, ruining what would have been a remarkable victory. Orton is now holding out and although Dallas would like to retain him for depth, it is uncertain where he will start training camp. Although Orton has shown flashes of being a serviceable starter during his career, it is likely that his best case scenario is as a backup to Romo or somewhere else.
Update: On July 15, 2014, the Dallas Cowboys released Orton.
QB Tony Romo, DAL - Quality Backup
There is more uneasiness surrounding Tony Romo coming into 2014 than in recent years. The former Eastern Illinois alumnus underwent back surgery at the end of last season. It is expected he returns to start the season healthy; however, the growing concern is that the history of freakish injuries (punctured lung & broken clavicle) may be starting to take its toll on the 34-year-old. There is also an added concern that the Cowboys are on the verge of being dismantled on both the coaching and player front after three consecutive mediocre 8-8 seasons where they have severely under-performed expectations. Whether justified or not, much of that blame has fallen on the high profile quarterback who has regularly struggled with critical mistakes late in close games; even in games where his stat line was way above the rim. When healthy, the three-time Pro Bowler has been a consistent and reliable fantasy quarterback for most of his career and even more relevant, has been a clear fantasy starter the past three years. In fact Romo ranked fifth in passing TDs with 31 in both 2011 & 2013. In 2012, he passed for 28 TDs, ranking sixth. Romo's yardage totals peaked in 2012 with 4,903 passing yards, only trailing Drew Brees and Matthew Stafford. Romo fell off a bit in 2013, landing 12th in passing yardage; although he would have made the Top 10 had he not missed the last game of the season due to injury. Camp Romo will also point out that the Cowboys' much maligned offensive line is finally on the rise. The running game (led by DeMarco Murray) is keeping defenses honest and Dez Bryant (along with Jason Witten and Terrance Williams) make up an excellent supporting cast. Additionally, given the likelihood that the Cowboys' defense will continue their recent struggles (which will be further enhanced by the voids left by DeMarcus Ware [free agency] and Sean Lee [injury]), Romo may lead the league in garbage time stats while playing catch-up. Romo is currently being viewed a fringe starter as the 13th QB off the board. While he is certainly capable of being a weekly starter for your fantasy team, be sure to lock up another quality option given the injury worries and cloudiness surrounding the offense.
QB Brandon Weeden, DAL - Not Draft Worthy
Brandon Weeden joins the Dallas Cowboys after two seasons with the Cleveland Browns and will serve as back up to Tony Romo. Weeden has turned in a few quality games thanks in large part to the spectacular play of Josh Gordon but his overall body of work has been unimpressive during his brief career. In 20 career starts his TD to interception ratio is not good at 23TDs/26INTs. Weeden possesses above average arm strength, but he is far from mobile and has trouble escaping pressure. While it's possible that Weeden shows improved pocket awareness as time goes on, he has no fantasy value barring an injury to Romo.
RB DeMarco Murray, DAL - Stud (low risk)
DeMarco Murray is coming off his best season. He set career-highs across the board in all rushing categories, yet fantasy owners still have concerns. The former Oklahoma Sooners RB has sustained multi-week injuries in each of his first three seasons. His rookie year was cut short from a fractured right ankle and he missed six weeks with a sprained foot in 2012. Last year, Murray sprained his MCL in the second quarter and missed two additional games, despite pushing hard to return sooner. During this period, Jerry Jones publically vented about Murray's regular bouts with injuries. This is alarming because Jones has also been vocal regarding his soft spot for backup running back Lance Dunbar. Fortunately for Murray, Dunbar was hurt during his absence and Joseph Randle was never a threat to keep the starting role. Murray returned from the MCL strain and finished the season strong, carrying the team on his back at times. His 5.2 yards per carry led all starting running backs and he hauled in 53 receptions, which amounts to fantasy gold in PPR leagues. It can be argued Murray's overall stats would have been even more impressive had the Cowboys stayed committed to the run in situations that called for it. Word has come out of Dallas that the plan is to run more this year, perhaps in an effort to keep their depleted defense off the field. The Cowboys have drafted offensive linemen in the first round two years in a row with center Travis Frederick ('13) and Notre Dame beast tackle Zack Martin ('14). This all bodes well for Murray to improve upon his aforementioned career-highs in rushing attempts (217), touchdowns (10) and total yards from scrimmage (1,471). Murray is getting drafted late in the second round (ADP 20.70), which could turn out to be great value should he get through an entire season injury-free.
Editor's note: Of all the backs around the Top 10, how many realistically could become fantasy's top RB? Especially if guys like Adrian Peterson, LeSean McCoy, Jamaal Charles and Matt Forte all have great seasons as well. Murray has to be in that conversation. He has speed and contributes on all three downs. The Cowboys have what can be a prolific passing game, which will only give Murray even more opportunities by opening up running lanes. The injury concerns are valid; however, his potential is very real.
RB Joseph Randle, DAL - Low Potential
Injuries in the backfield gave Joseph Randle an immediate opportunity to show the Cowboys what they were getting with their 2013 fifth round pick. Unfortunately for Randle, he did not impress and now finds himself down a bit on the depth chart. Randle averaged a pedestrian 3.0 yards per rush on 54 carries and started two games during DeMarco Murray's absence. With the signing of Ryan Williams, Randle is going to have to earn a roster spot and improve on his running between the tackles.
RB Lance Dunbar, DAL - Fantasy Handcuff
DIAMOND IN THE ROUGH: Coming into his third year in the league, Lance Dunbar has the inside track to backing up DeMarco Murray. The undrafted free agent out of North Texas has been a factor on special teams, but has been slowed by injuries and fumbling issues. The Cowboys did get a glimpse of Dunbar's potential when he ripped off a 45-yard run on Thanksgiving Day vs. the Raiders. Given Joseph Randle's less-than-stellar performance in 2013 (and uncertainty around Ryan Williams), Dunbar is set to get more playing time. Dunbar's only value at this time is as a Murray handcuff.
Editor's note: The Cowboys really like Dunbar and plan to use him all over the field. He can contribute both as a runner and receiver. Some super sleeper potential here, but only if Murray falters.