Even though the Cowboys won the division crown in 2009 and were able to knock off the Eagles in the wildcard round, picking up their first playoff victory in 12 years in the process. Unfortunately, they crashed to earth the following week against the Vikings, getting crushed 34-3 in what was easily the team’s worst performance of the year.
While the Cowboys failed miserably that day, it wasn’t a fair measurement of the team as a whole. With the Super Bowl in Dallas this year, there is hope in the air that the Cowboys can make it to the big game, and they have the talent on both offense and defense to make that happen.
Quarterback Tony Romo played a more measured style of game in 2009 that served him and the Cowboys well. He toned down his gun slinging ways and had a career year for the team (although not for fantasy purposes). He cut back on his turnovers but still managed plenty of big plays, finishing the year with a career-high 4,483 passing yards.
The Cowboys added hotshot rookie receiver Dez Bryant in the first round of the draft to provide another weapon in the passing game. The only significant departure on offense was left tackle Flozell Adams, but the team is confident that Doug Free, who played well at right tackle subbing for Marc Colombo in 2009, is ready to step up. They also picked up Alex Barron from the Rams, essentially stealing him in return for reserve linebacker Bobby Carpenter.
Miles Austin ascended to the top of the depth chart in 2009, coming out of virtually nowhere to set the league on fire. He is a big, strong, fast wide receiver who seemed to catch everything in sight last year. Roy Williams had another disappointing season, and this will likely be his last year in Dallas, barring a major rebound.
Tight end Jason Witten was as steady as ever, topping 1,000 receiving yards for the second time in three years. He has averaged 1,042 yards over that stretch. Martellus Bennett backs him up, and he needs to step up his game in 2010. Bennett plays well in the preseason but tends to disappear when the regular season begins. That needs to change, or the Cowboys will look to replace him in 2011.
One area of focus for the Cowboys this season will be their performance in the red zone. Despite finishing with the 2nd most total yards on offense, they ranked just 14th in scoring with 22.6 points per game.
There are big expectations in Dallas, and the roster is loaded with the talent to back up those expectations. With the offense stacked at the skill positions and the defense hoping to take another step up after a solid performance in 2009, a Super Bowl berth is within the Cowboys’ grasp.
QB Tony Romo
Romo is coming off a season in which he finished as the 5th-ranked fantasy quarterback, averaging a solid 21.5 points per game. Since becoming the Cowboys starter at the midpoint of the 2006 seasons, he has averaged 268 passing yards per game and 1.9 passing touchdowns per game. During his stretch as a starter, he has averaged over 20 fantasy points per game in each of those seasons. Romo’s owners get solid, consistent production, and there is little reason to expect that to change in 2010. Despite his past accomplishments, Romo is never mentioned with the big four fantasy quarterbacks (Manning, Brady, Brees, Rodgers). He might not even be the fifth quarterback taken in many drafts. That translates into value. I’m on board, you should be too.
RB Felix Jones
Given the offseason comments emanating from Dallas, it appears that Jones will ascend to the starting running back role in 2010. Unfortunately, that won’t mean much if he can’t stay healthy. When he is indeed healthy, Jones has proven to be a dynamic playmaker capable of producing a big play at any time. With limited touches as a rookie, he averaged an astonishing 8.9 yards per carry (which dropped to 5.9 with more carries last year). What limits Jones’ upside is that Marion Barber will get the goal-line work when healthy, and Tashard Choice could even be the second option in the red zone if Barber goes down. Draft Jones as a low end RB2 or top-quality RB3 with upside.
RB Marion Barber
Barber had a second consecutive season of marginal production last year, finishing 2009 with 932 rushing yards, 221 receiving yards, and seven touchdowns. With Felix Jones emerging as a big-play option, Barber’s role as a receiver was reduced, and he recorded just 26 receptions after catching a combined 96 passes through 2007 and 2008. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has suggested more than once this offseason that Felix Jones deserves an opportunity to start, so it seems as if the Cowboys are convinced Barber’s future is that of a backup. At least he’s in a solid offense and figures to get the goal-line and game-closing work, a role he excelled at in 2006 and 2007. For all the criticism Barber gets in fantasy circles, he still managed to post a very respectable 10.5 fantasy points per game last year. Expect fewer yards but a similar amount of touchdowns in 2010, which would translate into RB3 status.
RB Tashard Choice
Choice had another solid season, displaying nifty footwork on his way to 481 total yards and three touchdowns. He averaged 5.5 yards per carry and was also effective as a receiver, averaging 8.8 yards per reception. He has some ability to make tacklers miss but is not a burner, and his upside is likely that of a backup running back. In 2010, he will run the Cowboys version of the Wildcat but will probably need injuries to Felix Jones or Marion Barber to gain significant playing time. While he played well in his first two years, fantasy football is all about opportunity and there are no guarantees Choice will get much of them this season. He is waiver wire material in all but the deepest leagues.
WR Miles Austin
Austin was a fantasy revelation last year, bursting onto the scene with a 10-reception, 250-yard, 2-touchdown performance against the Chiefs in Week 5. He proved that was no fluke the following week against the Falcons, registering six receptions for 171 yards and two more touchdowns. Despite being barely used during the first four weeks of the season, Austin finished 2009 with 81 receptions for 1,320 yards and 11 touchdowns. While the case could be made that the presence of first-round pick Dez Bryant will cut into Austin’s production, that doesn’t exactly add up. More likely, Bryant will eat into Roy Williams’ playing time, and that should not have much impact on Austin. Any time a player busts out like Austin did, they are a bit of a risk the following season. But Austin is obviously Tony Romo’s go-to guy in a solid offense. Having vaulted himself to the top of the Cowboys wide receiver depth chart, there’s no reason why he can’t duplicate his 2009 performance this year. Consider him a top-tier WR1.
WR Roy Williams
Here’s the thing: when you catch 44.2% of the passes thrown your way, your team may just use its first-round pick on a wide receiver to replace you and then your fantasy value may plummet—even if you were considered top 20 material the previous year. That sums up Williams’ predicament. In 2009, Williams averaged a respectable 6.8 fantasy points per game on 38 receptions for 596 yards and seven touchdowns, but expecting him to catch a touchdown pass every five receptions in 2010 is expecting the unlikely. Williams was probably drafted as a WR2 last year, making his production one of the biggest disappointments among wide receivers in 2009. Williams’ problems were many: he wasn’t on the same page as quarterback Tony Romo, his route running was poor, and he lost the ability to separate from defenders. Perhaps he’s spent his offseason studying the playbook, refining his route running, and getting in better shape. If you want to gamble on all that—along with his holding off hotshot rookie Dez Bryant—then grab him in your fantasy draft. Or maybe take the safer bet and grab somebody else.
WR Dez Bryant
The Cowboys moved up in the draft to grab Dez Bryant with the 24th pick. Bryant has Pro Bowl potential and the reports out of Dallas have been glowing. However, his recent ankle injury has put a temporary bump in the road for 2010. Byrant is schedule to miss most of preseason with a high ankle sprain and it’s questionable whether or not he will be ready to go Week 1. While wide receivers are notorious for not playing well in their rookie seasons, the evidence suggests Bryant may be the exception to that rule. The list of his positives is a long one. He is extremely talented, he is motivated by his draft position, he has the size to be a solid red zone target, and Roy Williams has been a bust. If he can beat out Williams by opening day, he moves way up. However, the expectation is that Williams will start in Week 1 with Bryant biding his time as a backup until part of the way through 2010. Don’t reach for Bryant in redraft leagues, but try to grab him before the final few rounds of your draft. Just be sure to have a veteran such as Derrick Mason to fill in during the first few weeks of the year. Bryant is the top rookie wide receiver in dynasty leagues, considering his huge upside in a solid Cowboys offense.
WR Patrick Crayton
Even though Crayton has been a loyal soldier of Jerry Jones in Dallas, it appears that the team doesn’t have a meaningful role for him in 2010. With Miles Austin coming off a breakout season, Roy Williams unlikely to be jettisoned after signing a big contract, and the team using its first-round pick on hotshot rookie Dez Bryant, Crayton will struggle to find playing time in Dallas. That being said, of all the Cowboys wide receivers, Crayton may be the best suited to play out of the slot—unless Kevin Ogletree steps up his game during the preseason. Crayton generally has a couple of solid games each year, but at number four on the depth chart, there isn’t much upside here. He might be useful in PPR leagues if he’s traded to another team prior to opening day.
TE Jason Witten
Witten had the 3rd most yards among tight ends last year with 1,030 but was only the 8th-ranked fantasy tight end due to his low touchdown total. It’s been a recurring theme for Witten over the last two years, as he finished 2009 with just two touchdowns after having only four in 2008. The Cowboys have shown a propensity to throw to their big wide receivers in the red zone, and the addition of rookie Dez Bryant could exacerbate this trend. In addition, they have an outstanding short-yardage runner in Marion Barber. With Bryant on board and with better health at running back, look for Witten to see fewer opportunities in 2010, resulting in a lower yardage total. Unless his touchdowns increase, his fantasy totals figure to drop this season. He’s definitely more useful in PPR leagues.