QB Tony Romo
(2012 QB Rank – #7, 23.0 FPts/G)
The Cowboys have put their faith in Tony Romo, signing him to a lucrative long-term extension during the offseason despite his age (33 on opening day) and his inconsistent play in 2012. While Romo doesn’t look like a player that will ever lead the Cowboys to the promised land, his fantasy bona-fides are definitely in order. With the Cowboys struggling to establish a consistent running game last season, Romo had his most prolific passing season, establishing career highs in completions (425), attempts (648) and yards (4,903) while throwing for 28 touchdowns. While his penchant for untimely turnovers may have annoyed the Cowboys, it wasn’t the death knell for his fantasy production, as he averaged over 21 PPG for the sixth consecutive season. With Dallas having brought back all their key passing attack weapons, and with improvement expected along the offensive line and the injury-prone DeMarco Murray still leading the rushing attack with no proven backup, Romo figures to come close to matching his 2012 production this season. Consider him a mid-tier QB1.
RB DeMarco Murray
(2012 RB Rank – #26, 11.5 FPts/G; #26 PPR, 14.9 FPts/G)
Two years into his career, DeMarco Murray has shown us a couple of things. One is that he is an elite talent capable of being a top-five RB. The other is that he lacks durability—a trait that has been noted since his collegiate career. There isn’t much Murray can’t do on a football field. He has averaged 4.8 yards per carry, caught 79.2 percent of his targets, and averaged 116.9 total yards in the 15 games in which he had 15 touches or more. He has soft hands, enough speed to take it to the house, the ability to make tacklers miss and the power to run them over. He has Tarzan talent but Humpty Dumpty bones. If you knew he was going to play 16 games, you could pretty much guarantee top-five fantasy RB production with Murray playing in the Cowboys’ high-powered offense. But he has missed nine games in two years, and that is a lot considering he barely played during the first five games of his rookie career. Rest assured, somebody will see the tantalizing talent and draft him as a low-end RB1. Just don’t let it be you. The breakout will likely happen at some point, but the odds of a breakdown are far more probable.
RB Joseph Randle
(2012 RB Rank – N/A)
With a glaring hole at the running back position behind DeMarco Murray, the Cowboys chose Joseph Randle in the fifth round of this year’s draft. The Oklahoma State product was highly productive during his college career but is most likely suited to a backup role in the NFL because of his lack of size (6’1”, 200 lbs.) and upright running style. Murray also has that same running style and it’s part of the reason he has been unable to stay healthy during his first two years in the league. While Randle seems attractive given Murray’s injury woes, it wouldn’t be all that surprising if the Cowboys leaned heavily on their passing attack if he were to go down once again in 2013. And that limits Randle’s upside as a handcuff. Murray owners will want to grab Randle, but don’t reach for this unproven rookie.
The Cowboys currently list Tanner and Dunbar third and fourth on their depth chart at running back, but they were truly awful in their limited opportunities last season and will likely only be on the Cowboys opening-day roster if nothing of interest comes across the waiver wire. And if the waiver wire is empty, don’t be surprised if Dallas swings a trade to get a better option. There is a good chance that the Cowboys’ third-string running back isn’t currently on their roster.
WR Dez Bryant
(2012 WR Rank – #3, 13.1 FPts/G; #4 PPR, 18.9 FPts/G)
Looks like the light went on, folks. Make that, the light definitely went on. After opening the 2012 season with 164 yards and no touchdowns over the Cowboys’ first three games, Bryant exploded over the final 13, catching 79 passes for 1,218 yards and 12 touchdowns. Maybe he was trying to single-handedly prove the third-year WR breakout theory, because his season was certainly that. While the routes he ran during his first two years in the league seemed to suggest a lack of command of the Cowboys playbook, Bryant was a dominant force in all aspects in 2012, turning short and intermediate passes into big plays and hauling in deep passes on his way to averaging 15.0 yards per catch. As the Cowboys’ top offensive threat, Bryant should see the team continue to devise ways to get him the ball in 2013, and another monster year seems likely. After Calvin Johnson, Bryant is in the mix to be the next WR off the board at your draft, and there is a good argument that he should be, given the problems the Cowboys had rushing the ball in 2012.
WR Miles Austin
(2012 WR Rank – #26, 8.1 FPts/G; #24 PPR, 12.3 FPts/G)
If the 2011 season didn’t prove that Austin had been usurped by Dez Bryant as the Cowboys’ lead receiver, then last season certainly did. Although Austin managed to keep his frail hamstrings in the lineup for all 16 games, he didn’t exactly light the league on fire, finishing the season with 66 receptions on his 119 targets for 943 yards and six touchdowns. Part of his mediocre production can be blamed on nagging injuries, but the bottom line is that something always seems to be ailing him. When Austin is on his game, you can see glimpses of the glory that led him to a 1,320-yard, 11-touchdown season in 2009, but his lack of durability seems likely to prevent him from ever approaching that production again. While Austin has no challengers for his starting position on the Cowboys, he has plenty of them when it comes to your fantasy roster. His talent is as good as any fantasy WR2 but his injury history renders him an upper-tier fantasy backup.
WR Dwayne Harris
(2012 WR Rank – #109, 3.1 FPts/G; #114 PPR, 5.0 FPts/G)
The Cowboys sixth-round pick in 2011, Harris contributed nothing as a rookie but was marginally productive in 2012, catching 17 passes for 222 yards and a score. While that isn’t all that impressive, it did all come in the Cowboys’ last seven games, and that gives Harris a leg up on winning the job as the team’s third receiver. Harris will likely get some fantasy love this preseason as the Cowboys’ third receiver, due to Laurent Robinson’s outstanding season in 2011, but you won’t find that love here. Harris isn’t worth of taking a flier on in standard leagues.
WR Terrance Williams
(2012 WR Rank – N/A)
Williams, the Cowboys’ third-round pick out of Baylor, is a talented player who could have a solid future in Dallas. However, the 6’3”, 205-pound outside receiver is considered a raw prospect and is stuck behind Dez Bryant and Miles Austin on the depth chart, so he isn’t expected to contribute much as a rookie. He could earn some looks if the injury-prone Austin fails to remain healthy, but his size likely rules him out as an option in the slot where the competition for playing time isn’t as fierce. Williams is a decent prospect in dynasty formats.
TE Jason Witten
(2012 TE Rank – #5, 7.6 FPts/G; #3 PPR, 14.5 FPts/G)
If Peyton Manning is Mr. Consistency at quarterback, then Witten must own that honor among the league’s tight ends. In ten years with the Cowboys, he has missed just one game—way back in his rookie season in 2003. Over the past six seasons, Witten has caught at least 79 passes for at least 942 yards. With the Cowboys running game struggling in 2012, Witten was a target machine, hauling in 110 of his 147 looks (both career highs) for 1,039 yards. If you’re looking for a knock on Witten, we can give you two. One, Father Time catches up to all of us, and the 31-year-old has a lot of wear and tear on his system. Two, quarterback Tony Romo doesn’t look his way in the red zone, with Witten scoring just three touchdowns in 2012 and averaging just 4.4 touchdowns per season over the past seven years. With no proven third receiver, Witten should come close to replicating his performance from a year ago. You could make the argument that he should be the third TE off the board this season, behind only Jimmy Graham and Rob Gronkowski.