QB Tony Romo
Romo put together a strong 2011 season after missing ten games in 2010 due to a broken collarbone. He topped 4,000 passing yards for the third time with 4,184 yards and threw for 31 touchdowns, the second highest total of his career. The truth is that Romo may have had the best year of his career last season as he continued to play well despite missing Miles Austin for six weeks, Jason Witten struggling somewhat down the stretch and Dez Bryant failing to register a breakout season in his second year in the league. Part of Romo’s success was based on the chemistry he had with Laurent Robinson, the team’s third wide receiver who signed with Jacksonville in the offseason. It’s anybody’s guess who will attempt to replace that production in 2012 but the odds are that none of the candidates will come closing to matching Robinson’s 858 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns. While Romo’s statistics from last season would have been good enough to make him a top five fantasy quarterback a few years ago, he finished as the 8th ranked player at his position. There is little reason to suggest that he will improve on that ranking in 2012. Consider him a low end QB1.
QB Kyle Orton
What seemed inevitable finally occurred this past offseason. Kyle Orton resigned himself to being a backup and signed a three-year contract with Dallas. While Orton isn’t worth grabbing in any fantasy format, it is worth noting that he has put together some decent seasons. That makes him a solid pickup as your QB2 if Tony Romo gets hit with the injury bug – not a ridiculous proposition given the state of the Cowboys offensive line.
RB DeMarco Murray
When Felix Jones went down with an ankle injury in Week 6, Murray took over the starting role and proved the Cowboys made the correct decision by drafting him in the 3rd round of the 2011 draft. Murray ran wild over the St. Louis Rams in Week 7 with 25 rushes for 253 yards and a score. He put together a string of solid performances until suffering a broken ankle in Week 14 that ended his season. Murray possesses outstanding speed, enough agility to make tacklers miss on the second level and enough strength to run over defenders when he has a head of steam. Unfortunately, he also can’t stay healthy making him a risky proposition as a RB1 in 2012. One thing is for certain, head coach Jason Garrett will give him the ball enough to establish himself as an upper tier running back. In the seven games that he was the Cowboys primary back, Murray accumulated 155 touches. His talent and productivity when he played last season coupled with the Cowboys strong offense basically ensure that some owner in your league will draft him as their RB1 and take on that risk. You need to decide if that owner is going to be you.
RB Felix Jones
If 2011 proved anything, it proved that Jones’ days as a starting running back in the NFL are over. Barring injury, that is. When Jones was lost for four games in the middle of the season, DeMarco Murray took over and the Cowboys rushing attack exploded. Murray’s performance relegated Jones to backup status until an injury suffered in Week 14 ended his season. While Jones has enough speed and explosiveness to put together a couple of solid performances, he has failed to remain healthy for most of his career, having missed 16 games in his four-year career. Since Murray brought a reputation of being an injury risk from college to the pros and failed to stay healthy in 2011, Jones has some value as his handcuff but that’s about it. Jones is a low end RB4 in 2012.
RB Phillip Tanner
Normally it wouldn’t be worth mentioning a 2nd year former undrafted free agent running back sitting behind a pair of players with solid pedigrees but Tanner may be worth a pick in larger leagues. With DeMarco Murray and Felix Jones having difficulty staying healthy, Tanner may actually have some fantasy value in 2012 especially when you consider that Jones is entering the final year of his rookie contract and may not want to re-up in Dallas to sit behind Murray. While the Cowboys could always take a running back in the 2013 draft, Tanner is likely to get a chance in 2012 to prevent that from happening.
WR Miles Austin
It is now two years removed from Austin’s breakout performance of 1,320 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2009 and the question is whether he will ever approach those numbers again. After a rather pedestrian 2010 season with 1,041 yards and seven touchdowns when quarterback Tony Romo missed most of the season, Austin suffered through an injury-plagued 2011. He missed six games with leg injuries, finishing the season with 43 receptions for 579 yards and seven touchdowns. At just 28 years of age, Austin has plenty left and with the Cowboys likely to rely heavily on the trio of Austin, Dez Bryant and Jason Witten in the passing game, he has a good chance to approach his 2009 production provided he can stay healthy and Romo can stay upright behind a leaky offensive line. Austin shapes up as a high end WR2 with upside in 2012.
WR Dez Bryant
While Bryant improved upon his production as a rookie in 2010, his 63 receptions, 928 yards, and 9 touchdowns in 2011 still left the Cowboys and his fantasy owners wanting more. Watching the talented 6’2”, 217 pound Bryant when he is on his game makes that feeling completely justifiable. Basically, the sky is the limit for Bryant but the question is whether his work ethic and attitude will ever allow him to reach his potential. He figures to get plenty of opportunity to make that happen in 2012 with no proven third wide receiver on the roster. But that was the expectation last season and he finished the season with just 103 targets, the 4th lowest total amongst the league’s top 20 fantasy wide receivers. Presumably head coach has noticed that Bryant’s explosiveness warrants more touches. In essence, adding Bryant to your fantasy roster means drafting him for his potential rather than his past production and doing that too often can be a risky proposition. As evidenced by his latest off-field incident, which may or may not lead to discipline from the league, Bryant is a high-risk, high reward wideout. Consider him a WR2 with a huge upside in 2012.
WR Kevin Ogletree
With Laurent Robinson having left town for Jacksonville, the Cowboys are looking for a third wide receiver and Ogletree will at the top of their list heading into training camp. After three largely unproductive seasons, the odds of Ogletree approaching Robinson’s 858 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns are pretty much non-existent. Hey, if the Cowboys liked Ogletree they wouldn’t have signed Robinson after he was cut by the Chargers prior to opening day, right? Basically no player is going to replace Robinson’s production. Far more likely is the Cowboys giving more targets to their big guns at wide receiver and tight end. Ogletree hasn’t proven anything and it’s doubtful he can put up meaningful production even if he takes over Robinson’s role.
WR Danny Coale
The Cowboys used a 5th round pick on Coale, a 5’11”, 201 pound Virginia Tech product who they envisioned working out of the slot as a rookie. However, a broken foot suffered in May OTA’s put a kink in that plan and likely rule out Coale winning the third receiver job out of training camp. Coale isn’t worth drafting in redraft formats but may be worth a flier in PPR dynasty leagues.
TE Jason Witten
Witten put together what can only be described as another Witten-like fantasy performance in 2011. The talented Cowboys tight end once again had a season heavy on yards but a little disappointing in the touchdown category. He finished the season as the 6th ranked fantasy tight end with 79 receptions for 942 yards and five touchdowns. Unfortunately for his fantasy owners, he stumbled down the stretch, gaining just 272 yards and failing to find the end zone over the final six weeks of the season. The question is whether Witten is slowing down at age 30 or he simply lost touches in the passing game to the hot hand of third wide receiver Laurent Robinson? With Robinson now in Jacksonville and the Cowboys failing to sign a proven receiver to replace him, Witten should get plenty of targets in 2012 and more red zone looks than he had last season. Another 1,000 receiving yard season with six to eight touchdowns seems to be in order for Witten in 2012 and that should make him a top five fantasy player at the tight end position.