The last time we checked in on the Cowboys Fantasy Football prospects, we were knee deep in the lockout. Now that the league year is open (free agent signings can report on Thursday). We've gotten five days worth of training camp practice reports, but only players that have been under contract with the team already and the draft picks have been able to practice.
The biggest new question is what do the changes to the right side of the line mean. Colombo is replaced by Tyron Smith, who seems to be under heavy guidance by the coaches and defensive players. With the way an injured Colombo performed last year, the athletic ability from Smith should outweigh the loss of Colombo's experience, at least by the season's quarter mark. This could mean a slow start for the Cowboys, and the possibility that owners would be willing to trade their players away. If you don't get your favorite Cowboy player, he may be available for trade if the team starts out slower than expected.
Leonard Davis has been replaced, currently by veteran Montrae Holland. In his limited snaps last year, Holland graded out relatively even with Davis in the run game, according to Pro Football Focus. Since this is a cumulative metric, expect the Cowboys run game to actually improve, as the team can now run to both sides of the center, and both edges of the line. That should bump up the production of the running backs and make them sneaky contenders to be considered steals after the season starts. Remember, the Cowboys were decidedly left-handed last season. They placed a tight end to Doug Free's side often, we assume that will shift to the right side now with Tyron Smith.
The Cowboys run game to the left (outside LG) scored a cumulative +37.9. Up the middle (LG, C, RG), they scored a cumulative +5.6 and to the right (outside RG) a -1.9. Beefing up the right side will be a huge improvement for the balance of the offense.
Players re-signed, or coming from other clubs, have still yet to be integrated, so our fantasy look next week should give you the clearest picture of what to expect from this club. For now, we'll take a look back at the forecast for Cowboys, with some minor tweaks based on some recent camp news.
Quarterback Tony Romo is almost always a must get for me. His production is consistently above average, and he is consistently hated on by non-Cowboys fans. In a pass happy offense, Romo has a career average of 8.0 yards per attempt. That's guaranteed production. He has 118 career touchdowns in 61 games, close to a 2 per contest average. Over the past three years he's averaged over 34 attempts per game. That's an average stat line of 270+ yards and 2 TDs. I'll take that all day and twice on Sundays.
All these stats occurred with Marc Colombo at right tackle, who by most advanced metrics was the third-worst tackle in the entire league last year. The upgrade on the line should allow Romo more time and cut the interceptions down. If healthy, expect Romo to throw for over 4,400 yards, over 30 touchdowns with 10-13 interceptions. He should be looked at immediately after the first tier of QB's goes, target end of 3rd, early fourth round. QB1 material all the way.
Running backs Felix Jones and DeMarco Murray should be targeted in the 4th and 7th rounds respectively in you play in a points per reception league. Drop them a round each if it's a pure yardage/touchdown scoring system. Jones shouldn't be counted on to be a RB1. Expect 1,100 yards rushing with 5 TDs, plus 40 catches for 500 yards 2 TDs. If you draft Felix, you should definitely handcuff him with Murray as there is an injury history to be concerned with. Felix averages 9 yards a reception and never drops a pass. Murray is a Jones clone and can run routes as well. A Jones injury moves Murray up from a RB4 to a RB2. Tashard Choice is a RB4/5, as both ahead of him have a history of dings. Simply based on rookie running back history, any lengthy playing time by Murray should be viewed as a chance to build his value and trade him if he isn't a Jones handcuff.
Wide receivers Miles Austin and Dez Bryant make a dynamic one-two punch. Austin is WR1 material, and his off year without Tony Romo should allow you to grab him in the second round after you acquire a stud running back in the first round. Bryant's injuries and offseason nuisances could allow you to steal him in the fifth or sixth round, but I wouldn't count on it if you really want him on your squad. Some reports have Dez making phenomenal athletic displays in camp, so don't be surprised if he's your competitor's pet cat. Early fifth round at the latest. He is definite WR2 material with WR1 potential. Austin could go for 1,600 yards in 2011 and double digit touchdowns are a possibility. Expect Bryant to approach 1,000 yards and 6-8 touchdowns. In leagues where return yardage counts for offensive players, bump him up a notch. If Bryant does make 'the big leap' as a receiver this year, then maybe you should temper your enthusiasm for making Austin your number one. One man's stat increase has to come at the expense of someone else's, I'd avoid Austin in the first round, and consider him at the tail end of the second now. Kevin Ogletree is currently the third receiver, but he'll most likely be the fifth option for Romo. Insurance only pick.
Jason Witten is Mr. Consistent. Fifth or sixth round value. You'll get 1,000 yards, 90 catches (big number in PPR leages) and about 5-7 TDs. The Cowboys defense had a down year in 2010, but you can normally wait until about 6-8 defenses are picked and still get great production from the unit.
For all the hope I had in Rob Ryan invigorating this Cowboys Defense, the lack of a free safety at this point scares me. With such a short window to learn the system and more importantly establish trust with teammates, we've lost over half of training camp. The free safety is the quarterback of the defense and he won't be on the same page with his teammates to start the season. For this reason, I'd advise avoiding the Cowboys D/ST, let someone else use a pick on them, then add them to your roster once the other guy cuts them. They should be a solid play by week 6 or so.
BTB 'Fear The Star' Leagues. Invites have been sent for all four (4!) leagues. I still need commissioners for Revolutions and Animatrix. Please, somebody, anybody, step up :)
If anyone that didn't make the cut is interested in starting a fifth league, email me at KDP10For10. I will help recruit owners for you, and give you all the settings, but that is all i can offer.
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