QB Tony Romo
(2013 QB Rank—#10, 24.1 FPts/G)
Tony Romo underwent back surgery to repair a herniated disc in December, but is expected to be 100 percent by the start of training camp. Head Coach Jason Garrett believes Romo is in the prime of his career, but considering the quarterback is now 34 years old, that statement is likely May/June “coach speak.” On the plus side, the Cowboys have hired Scott Linehan as their new passing-game coordinator, a move the veteran Romo is reported to be thrilled with. Under Linehan, the Lions’ Matthew Stafford averaged 4,885 passing yards over the last three seasons, and he never attempted fewer than 630 passes. Contrast that with Romo, who has only surpassed 550 attempts once in his career. Romo is perpetually underrated in fantasy circles and should prove to once again be a boon for owners who wait on drafting a QB. In four of his eight seasons as an NFL starter, he has topped 4,000 yards in passing, and he threw for 3,828 yards with 31 TDs in 15 games last season. If his attempts were to rise significantly under Linehan, Romo could put up a career year even at 34 years of age.
RB DeMarco Murray
(2013 RB Rank—#8, 14.8 FPts/G)
DeMarco Murray is coming off his best season as a professional, but still did not manage to play a full season—an issue that has plagued Murray throughout his three years in the NFL. Last year he did manage a career-high 14 games, and gained almost 1,500 total yards, while finding the end zone 10 times. He also caught 53 balls last season, a number that could increase in Scott Linehan’s offense. Linehan has claimed that he will lean on the running game in Dallas, but his past history speaks otherwise. Still, with recent improvements to the offensive line and a talent like Murray, the Cowboys should have a very effective running game and Murray could be poised to set career highs across the board. As always, health could be an issue for a running back who doesn’t always find himself able to avoid contact due to an upright and violent running style. However, at 6’0” and 220 pounds, and with impressive straight-line speed, Murray can dish out the punishment as well. An owner could do worse than picking Murray somewhere near the Round 1/Round 2 turn in drafts later this summer.
RB Lance Dunbar
(2013 RB Rank—#93, 3.0 FPts/G)
Lance Dunbar only managed to play in nine games last season, but he was impressive before a national television audience on Thanksgiving Day, rushing for 82 yards on 12 carries before leaving the game and missing the rest of the season due to injury. Dunbar has earned rave reviews from new offensive coordinator Scott Linehan this offseason, and beat reporters have touted him as a breakout player to watch in 2014. The 5’8”, 188 pound Dunbar should be an effective weapon in the passing game, especially when you consider that Linehan’s offense in Detroit allowed both Reggie Bush and Joique Bell to thrive while running the ball and catching passes out of the backfield. He’s a must-have handcuff for Murray owners due to Murray’s penchant for injuries, but should also have some fantasy value in his own right, especially in PPR leagues.
WR Dez Bryant
(2013 WR Rank—#5, 12.7 FPts/G)
Scott Linehan is used to working with star wide receivers, having helped guide Randy Moss and Calvin Johnson to great heights while with Minnesota and Detroit respectively. At times last season, it seemed as if Dallas wasn’t willing to force-feed its stud WR the way Linehan has shown he’s willing to do in past stops. In fact, Bryant had eight games last year where he didn’t see double-digit targets. This year Linehan plans to move Bryant around more, making it difficult for opposing teams to cover him, and he has never been afraid to have his quarterback utilize his best weapon, even when the receiver is covered. Combine that with a contract year for Bryant and it’s very reasonable for fantasy owners to expect Bryant’s best season to date in 2014. Bryant is one of the league’s most physically gifted WRs, with a combination of speed and strength not seen in most of his peers. He should be capable of taking over a game, and Linehan is likely to give him the opportunity to do so. Don’t be shocked if Bryant sits atop the WR rankings at the end of the season.
WR Terrance Williams
(2013 WR Rank—#40, 6.9 FPts/G)
Second-year wideout Terrance Williams will be thrust into a starting role in 2014, after a fairly successful rookie season that saw the former Baylor Bear grab 44 balls for 736 yards and 5 TDs. Williams spent some time in the starting lineup last season in place of the oft-injured Miles Austin, and the team saw enough potential in him to release Austin this offseason. Williams will have the benefit of not being the focus of opposing defenses, with Dez Bryant lined up across from him and tight end Jason Witten commanding targets, but of course the flip side of that is the two veterans will generally be Tony Romo’s preferred options almost every time he drops back and scans the field. Nevertheless, the 6’2”, 200 pound Williams flashed some big-play ability (despite sometimes showing questionable hands) and is a breakout candidate under the pass-happy offense of Scott Linehan. Williams will need to show consistency early in the season in order to gain Romo’s trust. If he’s able to do that, there should be enough targets to make him at worst a low-end WR3 for fantasy teams.
WR Cole Beasley
(2013 WR Rank—#94, 3.5 FPts/G)
Diminutive third-year wide receiver Cole Beasley entered the PPR radar midseason in 2013 with a couple of six-catch games, but finished the season with only 39 catches at less than 10 yards per reception, and 2 TDs. Receivers coach Derek Dooley has talked Beasley up this offseason and has said that he expects an expanded role for the former SMU receiver. Being a small (5’8”, 180 pound) white slot WR, Beasley naturally draws plenty of Wes Welker comparisons, but he’s not nearly as quick or strong as the underrated Welker. However, Beasley does run good sharp routes and is sure-handed, so he could carry some PPR value this year as a bye-week filler.
WR Dwayne Harris
(2013 WR Rank—#120, 2.3 FPts/G)
Thus far in his career, Dwayne Harris’ contributions have been mostly limited to his special teams play. He is one of the best return men in the league, but only has 26 receptions in his three-year career. He is competing with Cole Beasley to be the Cowboys’ WR3 this season, and if he wins that job he could have some fantasy value in their high-volume passing attack. He’s probably not worth a draft pick in leagues that don’t award kick return yardage, but could be someone to monitor should injuries strike players in the Dallas passing game. He has big-play potential but lacks the consistency to be a reliable difference maker for your fantasy team.
TE Jason Witten
(2013 TE Rank—#5, 8.3 FPts/G)
Jason Witten turned 32 years old in May, and while he looked as if he had lost a step last season, no player in the league is more trusted by his quarterback. Witten has been a top-six tight end in each of his last four seasons, and with Miles Austin out of the picture and the new offense expected to be even more pass-centric than ever, it would be unwise to bet against that streak continuing in 2014. While he’s never been an athletic specimen on the level of a Tony Gonzalez or Antonio Gates, Witten has been every bit as productive, surpassing 1,000 yards in four NFL seasons. Surprisingly, Witten has never reached double-digit TDs in a season, and the eight he scored last year was the second-highest total of his career. While second-year TE Gavin Escobar’s role is expected to expand, it really should not come at Witten’s expense. Witten knows how to get open, presents a big target for Romo, and has sure hands, so even if he loses yet another step in 2014, his floor is still that of a fantasy starter at the position.
TE Gavin Escobar
(2013 TE Rank—#50, 2.8 FPts/G)
Gavin Escobar had very little production during his rookie season, but that is not uncommon at the tight end position. Reports indicate his role will be expanded in 2014 and he could end up on the fantasy radar. Blocking was an issue for Escobar last season, but Jason Witten has praised his fellow TE’s improvement in that area, and in Scott Linehan’s new offensive system, Escobar’s pass-catching skills are much more needed anyway. Linehan says he is excited to see what the young TE can do, and during the coach’s seasons in Detroit, second- and third-string tight ends like Tony Sheffler and Joseph Fauria were able to make contributions in the passing game behind starter Brandon Pettigrew.