Dallas Cowboys: 2016 Outlook
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Dallas Cowboys

By Shawn Childs, Thursday, December 3, 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.


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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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.


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


Week 14 DFS Update (12/13): McFadden fumbled his way out of some snaps in Week 13. He finished with 15 touches, 59 yards, a TD and a catch while being on the field for 36 plays, compared to 17 by Robert Turbin. On the year he only gains 3.8 YPC with only three TDs. He has three 100-yard rushing games. The Packers rank 9th in the NFL in RB Fantasy defense, with improved success over the last five games (16.7 Fantasy points per week). Green Bay allows 4.2 YPC with backs scoring 11 TDs. High volume player with a below par matchup. His biggest strike is the lack of TDs.

Week 13 DFS Update (12/5): Just like DeMarco Murray, McFadden made Fantasy owners puke up their Turkey dinner on Thanksgiving with his dismal performance vs. the Panthers (14 touches for 56 yards). On the year he is only gaining 3.8 YPC with only two TDs (none in his last five games). Over the last six games, McFadden has averaged 25.2 touches per game. The Redskins are about league average defending RBs, with four teams scoring over 30 Fantasy points per game, which happened over four straight weeks (Week 5 - 33.0, Week 6 - 37.80, Week 7 - 30.10, Week 8 - bye, and Week 9 - 41.10). Washington allows 4.7 YPC with seven TDs to the RB position. The Cowboys' offensive line is so overrated (4.2 YPC and six rushing TDs with 23 sacks allowed). This is a favorable matchup with McFadden's edge being volume. I hate his lack of explosiveness and the boring play calling by Dallas. Fair price point when considering his value in the passing game and touches.

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.


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.


Week 13 DFS Update (12/5): Williams has four catches or less in his last 10 games, while averaging only 5.6 targets per game in 2015. He only has one TD in his last seven games (three on the year). Last season he had nine catches for 137 yards on 12 targets in two games against the Redskins. Real tough to believe in him with Cassel under center.

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.


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.


Week 14 DFS Update (12/13): Witten extended his scoreless streak to 11 games. Plus he has six straight games with fewer than 50 yards receiving. On the year he has one game of value (Week 1 - 8/60/2), while averaging 6.7 targets per game. Last season he had six catches for 71 yards on seven targets against the Packers. Green Bay allows the sixth-most Fantasy points to TEs, with three teams scoring over 20 Fantasy points. His ship has run aground in the Fantasy world.

Week 13 DFS Update (12/5): Witten ranks 10th on the year in TE scoring in PPR leagues, but he's been worthless in the daily games over the last 10 games. His only game of value came in Week 1 (8/60/2). He is averaging 6.4 targets per game. He has fewer than 50 yards receiving in six of his last seven games. Last season Witten had nine catches for 119 yards and a TD on 14 targets in two games vs. the Redskins. Washington is 6th in the NFL in TE Fantasy defense, with 10 teams scoring less than 15 Fantasy points. With no Romo, Witten has no mojo.

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.


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.