|By Shawn Childs, Sunday, June 21, 2015|
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.
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 Joseph Randle - Sleeper (undervalued)
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Dallas Cowboys RB Joseph Randle
RB Darren McFadden - Gamble (high risk)
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.
WR Dez Bryant - Stud (low risk)
UPDATE (11/20): Bryant has pretty much been a disaster for Fantasy owners this season. However, most, if not all, of that is due to injury and a nightmarish quarterback situation. He's played four games this season and only once was he even worth having in your lineup. He has 17 receptions for 209 yards and a TD. His one good game consisted of five catches, 104 yards and a TD. Aside from that his yardage totals in the three other games were 12, 45 and 48. He should bounce back with Romo returning.
The Cowboys placed their bet on Bryant over Murray as the face of the franchise going forward, which is a wise more. Bryant led the league with 16 receiving touchdowns. He amassed 88 catches in 136 targets for 1,320 yards. Dez has a three-year average of 91 catches, 1,311.66 yards and 13.6 scores. Although he topped the 100-yard mark only four times last season, he scored in 11 games. His consistency led to him notching at least 10 Fantasy points in every game after Week 1 and finishing as Fantasy's No. 4 WR. Dez is a great player with impact upside, but his opportunity is limited by the Cowboys' run-centric offense. His ceiling is 100-plus catches for more than 1,500 yards and 15 scores. His floor is 90-1,350-10. He is a rock-solid start to any Fantasy team.
Dallas Cowboys WR Dez Bryant
WR Cole Beasley - Deep-league Only
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WR Terrance Williams - Bye Week Fill-in
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WR Devin Street - Not Draft Worthy
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TE Jason Witten - Over the Hill (decreased production)
Over the past two years, Jason has lost value in the Cowboys' passing attack. Last year, he saw only 90 targets, his lowest total since 2006. This led to an eight-year low in catches (64). Witten caught 71.1 percent of his targets. He finished as the No. 9 Fantasy TE in PPR leagues despite ending just one game with more than 70 yards. Jason has 11 straight years with at least 64 catches and 700 yards. Witten has scored 57 TDs in his 191 career games. At age 33, Jason is a steady but boring option. He will give PPR owners about 10 points per game but will rarely have a truly big game.
Dallas Cowboys TE Jason Witten
PK Dan Bailey - Stud (low risk)
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Dallas - Quality Backup
The Cowboys will face two tough rushing attacks -- the Seahawks and Jets -- and one poor ground game -- the Falcons. The Bills' rushing offense should be much improved with LeSean McCoy around. Dallas' pass defense will be severely tested by 10 matchups versus above-average passing games. The Seahawks and Jets are their only opponents with exceptionally weak aerial attacks.
The Cowboys ranked eighth against the run last year. However, they still allowed 18 rushing TDs and their opponents posted an average of only 24.5 rushing attempts per game, sixth-fewest in the league.
Defensive tackle Tyrone Crawford was the Cowboys' best interior pass rusher (three sacks, 12 QB hits and 20 QB hurries) while defensive end Jeremy Mincey led the team with six sacks. Both players weren't great against the run. Mincey had surgery in January to repair an elbow issue. DT Nick Hayden has been a disaster against the run over the past two years and hasn't recorded a sack since 2010. DE Demarcus Lawrence was only a part-time player in his rookie season. He missed the first eight games due to a broken foot. He should become a better pass rusher as he gains experience.
The Cowboys will have the services of LB Sean Lee after he missed last season with a torn left ACL. He is a solid run defender with value in pass coverage, but he rarely adds value to the pass rush. LB Rolando McClain is a former first-round pick with upside against the run who also plays well in coverage. Jasper Brinkley will upgrade Dallas' run defense, but he will be on the bench for passing downs. Fourth-round rookie linebacker Anthony Hitchens was huge liability in pass coverage and added no value to the pass rush. He graded just above the league average against the run.
CB Orlando Scandrick has played well over the past two seasons in pass coverage. Last year, he allowed 64 catches on 85 targets but for just 655 yards and no touchdowns. CB Brandon Carr was the weak link in the Cowboys' pass defense (60 catches on 100 targets for 1,007 yards and six TDs. There is a good chance he loses his starting job to rookie Byron Jones, who has upside in coverage. Safety Barry Church is no more than a league-average player in all areas of the game. Second-year safety J.J. Wilcox was a liability in both run defense and pass coverage.
The Cowboys amassed only 28 sacks. They allowed the seventh-most passing yards (4,031) along with 22 passing TDs and grabbed 18 interceptions.
This defense exceeded expectations in 2014, but there is plenty of risk at each level. The lack of pressure on the QB will lead to the secondary being exposed. The Cowboys have a chance to be league average against the run, but their D-line will allow too many short-yardage scores. This defense has no sustainable Fantasy value for this season.