|By Ben Standig, Sunday, October 6, 2013|
QB Tony Romo - Solid/Safe Pick
Romo threw for a career-high 4,903 yards with 28 touchdown passes last season, his top three pass catchers (including Dez Bryant) are all back - and his fantasy value dipped. What? That's what happens when three stud rookies and Colin Kaepernick entered the fantasy QB top 10 list since the start of last season without replacing one. Fine, Romo also threw 19 interceptions, matching his career worst. He is also currently out after back surgery, though he is expected back for the start of training camp. What does all this mean? In 12-14 team leagues, Romo is a tremendous value and yet another reason for those that like waiting on QBs to do exactly that.
QB Kyle Orton - Fantasy Handcuff
Based on his relative success as a starter in the league and the Cowboys' weapons offensively, Orton is one of the higher upside backup QBs if he becomes the starter. Twice threw at least 20 touchdown passes in a season, but the last time came in 2010. Orton hasn't played more than five games in a season since. Tony Romo (back) is working his way back, but is expected to be healthy for the start of training camp. Obviously Orton isn't draftable unless Romo's situation changes.
RB DeMarco Murray - Solid/Safe Pick
DeMarco Murray represents "through the roof" potential in PPR fantasy leagues. The only question is health, which has been an issue following Murray his entire career (not unlike Reggie Bush, who in his early career couldn't shake the stigma of injury prone, however look no further than his last two years of becoming NFL tough). We're projecting Murray on what he can do, and that's all we can really do. There's only a handful of backs that bring his potential workload in a high powered offense to the table. He is a top 5 RB in PPR if he plays 16 games. His potential production in the 3rd round allows you to confidently take a WR in the first two picks if need be.
RB Joseph Randle - Fantasy Handcuff
For those who follow the gospel of owning the handcuff to your stud running back, DeMarco Murray is a tricky situation. Oh, Murray has crazy potential, but he hasn't proven he can stay healthy. Speaking of not proven, may we present Randle, Dallas' fifth-round pick out of Oklahoma State. The 6-foot, 204-pounder racked up over 1,400 rushing yards last season with 28 receptions - and 14 scores on the ground. That wasn't enough for anyone to invest anything better than a fifth round selection on him. The Cowboys believe Randle can be a fulltime runner should the need arise, which is why he's the favorite for the gig behind Murray. For those that draft Dallas' oft-injured starter and snag Randle as a deep reserve, you had better hope the Cowboys know of what they speak.
RB Lance Dunbar - Fantasy Handcuff
Update (8-13): Less than a month before the start of the regular season and the all-important backup job behind DeMarco Murray remains unsettled. Well, at least officially. Phillip Tanner and rookie Joseph Randle are in the mix, but Dunbar is listed as the No.2 RB on the Cowboys' official depth chart. Considering Murray's injury history, grabbing his backup is necessary, whomever it ends up being.
The Cowboys are making it clear they believe rookie Joseph Randle will be DeMarco Murray's backup. Could be, but that's a lot of faith in a fifth round pick. Of course, the other options are not terribly exciting, though Dunbar reportedly turned up his offseason training a notch or six. The 5-foot-8 back rushed for 75 yards in 21 carries last season. Exactly. DeMarco, please stay healthy.Injury Status: Injured Reserve
RB Phillip Tanner - Not Draft Worthy
With rookie Joseph Randle anointed as the No. 2 running back behind DeMarco Murray, the battle is between Tanner and Lance Dunbar for the third and perhaps final RB job. The 5-foot-10, 208-pounder rushed 25 times for an abysmal 2.4 yards per carry. There appears to be no there there with either of these options, but seeing as Murray is a consistent injury risk, the Dallas backups are always worth monitoring. Just a bummer there isn't much reason to get excited if they're called upon.
WR Dez Bryant - Stud (low risk)
In his third season, Dez finally produced the kind of starry campaign the fantasy world has been waiting for: 92 receptions, 1,382 yards, 12 touchdowns. Guess what? Everyone is expecting a similar season in 2013, if not a little better. Guess what? Outside of injury (or a return to his off-field shenanigans), that's a reasonable expectation. Bryant is a top-5 WR in all formats except those that downgrade for excitement.
WR Miles Austin - Quality Backup
Update (10-4): Here we go again. Miles Austin did not practice again on Friday, his third consecutive missed practice. In his absence, the Cowboys are expected to start Terrance Williams out of Baylor. Last week, the rookie caught seven passes for 71 yards. In what should be a shootout against the Broncos, WIlliams has WR3 appeal. As for Austin, hang on for now and fight through the frustration.
Update (9-23): FFToolbox news on Austin, of the injury kind. - Stop me if you've heard this before: Miles Austin has a hamstring injury. OK, I won't stop there, but yes, Austin injured his hamstring during yesterday's win against St. Louis. Head coach Jason Garrett said Monday that he doesn't think Austin has a "severe hamstring injury, but we'll take his injury day to day and see how he progresses as the week goes on." Austin has suffered three hamstring injuries in the past couple of years, and missed six games in 2011 due to separate hamstring injuries.
Anyone that hears the name Miles Austin and still thinks fantasy darling, it is time to change your outlook (though that doesn't mean the 29-year-old's days as a viable option are over). It has been four seasons since Austin's breakout campaign and three since he posted 1,000 yards in a season, though he almost made it there last year with 943 yards on 66 receptions. Of course, constant hamstring woes limited his availability, though he played in at least portions of all 16 games last season. Dallas used him frequently in the slot and that should continue, though his productivity from that spot was marginal at best. Don't let the name brand fool you, but at the same point, monitor Austin's health this summer. If he's running with ease, he could make for a nice value if selected in the 35-40 range.
WR Terrance Williams - Super Sleeper (high risk/potential)
Update (10-5): Miles Austin did not practice again on Friday, his third consecutive missed practice. That means a likely second straight start for Terrance Williams, who last week caught seven passes for 71 yards. In what should be a shootout against the Broncos, the rookie has WR3 and Flex appeal, especially in PPR formats.
Ideally a third round selection comes and contributes immediately, even if sparingly. Based on his productivity during his senior season at Baylor - 97 receptions, 1,832 yards, 12 touchdowns - one might think Williams can do just that. Well, maybe not, or at least one can infer that seeing as his position coach in June said Williams "still has a long way to go." The 6-foot-2 target will battle Dwayne Harris for the WR3 job out of camp, but more opportunity could come if Miles Austin's hamstring injury flares up. A flyer today, Williams could become a main cog in two years once Austin moves on.
WR Dwayne Harris - Deep-league Only
Other than the brief Laurent Robinson era, the Cowboys have been sans a third wide receiver for a little while now. Tony Romo owners would certainly welcome a viable option, especially since Miles Austin's health is always dicey. For the long haul, rookie Terrance Williams could be that player, but for this season Harris is the one to watch. Only caught 17 passes for 222 yards and one touchdown last season, but OTA buzz had Harris making great strides as a route-runner. Probably not worth a draft pick in leagues with 12 or fewer teams, but could pick up a bump in value with a strong training camp. In addition, that star on the helmet always helps create buzz.
TE Jason Witten - Stud (low risk)
This just in: the fantasy tight end position is not a deep one this year - and that assessment initially came when we all believed New England had two strong options. Now, hmmm. There is the one true stud in Jimmy Graham, but then lots of uncertainty even those options boasting considerable potential. There is no doubt what Witten provides; last season he hauled in a career-best 110 receptions for 1,039. He's missed just one game in 10 seasons. Then again, his 9.4 ypc was the lowest of his career and Witten had just three touchdowns. At 31, there is no question that father time will start winning the war soon, but for now Witten can dominate another battle or two. It is conceivable he could become a top-3 option by August, but he remains a strong TE1 regardless.
TE Gavin Escobar - Super Sleeper (high risk/potential)
Wanting to get into the two tight end act (and perhaps because starter Jason Witten is closer to the end then the beginning of his career), the Cowboys selected the 6-foot-6 Escobar in the second round. Escobar hauled in 93 receptions for 13 touchdowns over his last two seasons at San Diego State. At this stage his game is about catching passes and little else. At this stage of his career, his value is greater in dynasty leagues than redraft because Witten isn't going away anytime soon. Even if the Cowboys indeed employ multiple TE sets, there probably won't be enough targets coming Escobar's way to justify drafting, but let's watch training camp for sure.
PK Dan Bailey - Solid/Safe Pick
Though fewer field goal attempts led to scoring 11 less points during his sophomore season, Bailey knocked in his kicks with greater accuracy, finishing tied for second in the NFL at 93.5 percent (29 of 31). He also hasn't missed an extra point as a pro. The Cowboys' offense is plenty potent, so the chances will be there, making Bailey a fantasy starter in all formats.
Dallas Defense - Quality Backup
With stars DeMarcus Ware and Brandon Carr in the starting lineup, it feels like the Cowboys' fantasy defense should be a must start. Then a review of the basic stats reminds why perception and reality are not always the same. Dallas tied for 19th in fumbles recovered, ranked 20th in the NFL with 34 sacks and tied for last with only seven interceptions. That's a collective yikes for sure, but Ware remains a formidable pass rushing presence, the front 7 is solid (if Jay Ratliff stays healthy on the nose), while Carr and Morris Claiborne should develop into one of the game's most potent CB pairings. Ideally the offense keeps the Cowboys in front so the defenders can attack, attack and attack in the second half of games. If that happens consistently, then the D can become a consistent fantasy option.