Dallas Cowboys: 2015 Outlook

 
 
 
 
Football > Teams > NFC East > Cowboys > Outlook

Dallas Cowboys

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.

Free Agency

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.

Draft

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

Offensive Line

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.

Schedule: Offense

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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Offense

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.

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

Randle has only one game with more than 20 touches through his first two seasons. In that game, he gained 93 yards from scrimmage on 22 touches. Randle ran the ball only 51 times last season but averaged 6.7 yards per carry. For his pro career, Joseph has gained 507 yards on 105 carries with five TDs. He has caught 12 passes for 84 yards. Over his three years at Oklahoma State, Randle ran for 3,085 yards and 40 touchdowns on 564 carries. He scored 26 times in 2012. He also caught 108 passes for 917 yards and three TDs while in college. His talent is a step down from Murray's, but he'll have plenty of room to make plays behind a fantastic O-line. Randle isn't a lock to start for the Cowboys and may not keep the job if he is named the starter for Week 1, but he's been playing with the first-team offense in OTAs. I believe his youth and ability to catch passes will lead to him getting the most touches in this backfield, which has injury-prone options elsewhere. Even with two-thirds of the RB touches, Randle should be in position to get 300 touches, 1,500 yards, double-digit scores and 40-plus catches. He could be a top-12 Fantasy back.


Dallas Cowboys RB Joseph Randle

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.

Last year, Dunbar actually played the second-most snaps of any Cowboys RB, 146 more than Randle. He finished with only 47 touches for 316 yards and no TDs. His best value came in the passing game (18 catches, 217 yards). In his four years at North Texas, Lance ran for 4,224 yards and 41 TDs on 782 carries. He caught 97 passes for 1,033 yards and eight receiving touchdowns. Dunbar has a short resume in the NFL and some injury risk, but he does flash some upside. I'd try to handcuff Dunbar behind Randle with the hopes that one of them emerges as the top option in this backfield.

This 2011 second-round pick has been a bust due to injuries. He lost his rookie season to a torn patellar tendon. In 2012, Ryan gained only 164 yards on 58 carries (2.8 YPC) before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury. Williams spent last season on the Cowboys' practice squad, and he is currently dealing with a wonky knee. During his 2009 freshman season at Virginia Tech, Ryan rushed for 1,655 yards on 293 carries with 21 TDs. His sophomore season was cut short due to injury as well. I'm sure Williams has talent, but his lack of playing time and injury risk lead me to believe his ship has sailed. Williams will need a couple of injuries to occur in front of him in order to have Fantasy value, and he still may not offer upside.

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

Williams was the WR most penalized by Dallas' reduction of pass attempts last year. He had two catches or fewer in 11 of his 16 games, but he was able to secure eight TDs. Terrance never had more than 80 yards receiving or seven targets in any game. He finished with 37 catches for 621 yards on only 66 targets, which was step back from his rookie season (44 catches, 736 yards on 74 targets). Williams has big-play ability and the size to be an asset in the red zone. But the Cowboys' decreased volume of throws will lead to him delivering only low-end WR4 value in season-long leagues.

Beasley had minimal value in the Cowboys' passing game for most of the year, but he was an important player down the stretch due to his ability in the red zone and on third downs. Cole finished with only 37 catches for 420 yards and four touchdowns on 49 targets. Over the last six games, he caught 21 of 28 targets for 277 yards and each of his four scores. However, Cole is a reserve player with limited upside. He has no Fantasy value for 2015.

Street saw action over four seasons at the University of Pittsburgh. He caught 202 passes for 2,901 yards and 16 TDs. His best season came in his junior year as he caught 73 balls for 975 yards and five scores. He missed three games in his senior season due to shoulder and elbow injuries. His hands are his biggest asset along with solid quickness. His overall speed is just below league average at the wide receiver position. His 6-foot-3 frame will give him value at the goal line, but at 198 pounds, his lack of strength will hurt him against press coverage. He isn't made to run over the middle of the field and he needs to improve his route-running in order to create more separation on shorter patterns. As a rookie in 2014, Dallas threw to him only seven times. He finished with two catches for 18 yards. With a year of experience in this system, Devin now has a chance to develop into the Cowboys' No. 4 wide receiver.

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

Bailey has one of the best legs in the league. He's made 89.8 percent of the field goal attempts in his career, which ranks second all-time. In his four seasons, Dan has made 16 of his 23 tries from 50 yards or longer. The strength of the Cowboys' run game and Romo's ability to throw TDs in the red zone has limited Bailey's opportunities at times. Dan has averaged 30 attempts over the past three seasons and has converted an average of 27.3 kicks per year. In 2014, Dallas scored 56 TDs and 25 FGs on 179 possessions. Bailey is a solid top-10 Fantasy kicker who could reach greater heights.