2021 saw the Cowboys finally take the steps forward that many
had been expecting them to take for a long time now. Dallas led
the NFL in both total yards per game and points per game, making
them one of the most fantasy-friendly teams in the league. While
those totals led to quarterback Dak Prescott being a quality mid-level
QB1 on the year, he was surprisingly inconsistent on a week-to-week
basis. He finished with 25 or more points in 11 contests but also
finished with fewer than 17 points in five other games. That left
only two games where he finished between 17 and 25 fantasy points.
These types of dramatic swings from week to week can be good
if you’re in a format like best ball, but many traditional fantasy
gamers don’t have the patience to deal with a quarterback who
gives them 12 points one week and 33 the next. Sadly, it’s unlikely
that Prescott is suddenly going to ascend into being a weekly
elite option here in 2022. While the Cowboys did bring in new
weapons in veteran James
Washington (foot) and rookie Jalen Tolbert, they lost their
former WR1 in Amari Cooper. Add in the reality that Michael Gallup
will likely start the season on the PUP list after his ACL surgery
and it looks like we could see a noticeably worse passing game
in Dallas this season.
Many experts are projecting the Cowboys to be even better defensively
than they were in 2021, which would presumably mean fewer situations
where the team needs to pass and thus a lower ceiling for Prescott.
Still, he’s a safe option once the high-upside options are
off the board. He may not be a league winner, but he’s also
unlikely to be a league loser at the QB position.
Is this the year when the wheels finally fall all the way off
for Ezekiel Elliott? Many fantasy managers seem to think so as
the former perennial first-round fantasy pick is now falling to
the third and even fourth round in some drafts. It seems as though
the late-season dropoff in his statistical output is still fresh
in the minds of fantasy gamers, many of whom seem to be expecting
that Tony Pollard will take over the backfield this season.
Elliott’s statistical descent in 2021 saw him start the
season averaging well over 5.0 yards per carry over the first
month of the season, only to fall to 3.7 yards per carry over
the remainder of the year. Dallas’ ever-deteriorating offensive
line certainly played a part in that, but we shouldn’t expect
that to be any better this season. The Cowboys lost both right
tackle La’el Collins and left guard Connor Williams this
offseason and while they did draft Tyler Smith in the first round
of the NFL Draft, there’s likely to be some growing pains
along this offensive line here in 2022.
If you’re looking for some positive outlooks on Elliott,
consider that he battled through multiple injuries throughout
the 2021 season, including a partially torn PCL early in the year,
and was still able to start all 17 games. In fact, other than
a suspension which saw him miss six games in his second season,
Elliott has never missed more than one game in any season throughout
his professional career. Major injuries are mostly unpredictable,
but Elliott has shown us that he is more than willing to play
through a ton of minor injuries that would knock most players
out for multiple weeks. Having that type of reliable workhorse
in your fantasy backfield is always nice, even if he’s not
the same guy who led the league in rushing earlier in his career.
While Pollard is almost certainly going to break into Elliott’s
workload, Elliott is still listed atop the depth chart and he’s
still likely to see a 60/40 backfield split at worst in 2022.
With the Cowboys still expected to be a pretty good offense, he’d
need to be injured or lose his starting role in order to not return
value given his offseason ADP.
One of the most explosive playmakers at the running back position,
fantasy owners have been begging for Pollard to take over as the
starter in Dallas for multiple seasons. Despite carrying the ball
over 100 fewer times than him, Pollard finished less than 300
yards behind Elliott on the ground while also out-producing him
by 50 yards on eight fewer receptions in the passing game.
All of these numbers would seem to indicate that the Cowboys
would be wise to get Pollard more involved in the offense and
begin to phase Elliott out, but word out of Cowboys camp continues
to be that the team is fully in on Elliott. While they’re
excited about what Pollard can bring to the table, and perhaps
he’ll end up being the lead back in the future, it’s
going to be tough to imagine that Dallas opts to hand the keys
to the backfield over to Pollard here in 2021.
With that in mind, the ever-converging ADPs of Elliott and Pollard
doesn’t seem to make a ton of sense. Sure, we may want Pollard
to take over the backfield, but unless the team is in agreement,
the best-case scenario looks to be more like what we saw from
the Broncos in 2021 when Melvin Gordon and Javonte Williams were
touching the ball almost equally each week. Both of those backs
were productive and viable starters, but neither was a big difference
maker primarily due to the other player.
Of course, if Elliott does go down with an injury, it’s
definitely Tony Pollard’s time to shine. There’s some
value in that lottery ticket, but paying a sixth-round pick for
a guy who’s yet to even be hinted at as being the starter
by his own coaching staff seems like it could end up being a decision
that fantasy managers end up regretting.
It’s hard to look at CeeDee Lamb’s 2021 season and
not be a bit disappointed. While he finished as the Cowboys’
top wide receiver with 79 receptions for 1,102 yards and six touchdowns—all
of which were an improvement over his rookie campaign in 2021—the
way he got there just wasn’t very exciting. He topped 10
standard scoring fantasy points just six times on the season while
reaching 20 points just twice. Worse yet, his end-of-season numbers
were truly abysmal as he finished with six straight games with
below eight fantasy points, including the Cowboys’ Wild
Card playoff loss to the 49ers.
The downward trend on his season should have fantasy owners a
bit worried as he heads into his third professional season, but
the reality is that Lamb still has a lot going forward. Most notably,
the Cowboys moved on from star wide receiver Amari Cooper this
offseason, leaving behind a sizable portion of the team’s
targets from 2021. Additionally, wide receiver Cedrick Wilson
left in free agency. Certainly, these targets won’t all
end up going to Lamb, but he stands to see the biggest increase,
especially considering that the new receivers the Cowboys brought
in are almost completely unproven. Perhaps best yet, the Cowboys
will likely be without Michael Gallup (~17 percent target share)
to start the season, leading to an even higher likelihood of targets
coming Lamb’s way.
We all love to see more targets coming the way of our receivers,
but actual talent does still matter. While he hasn’t broken
out in the same way that Justin Jefferson did from the same class,
Lamb is still just 23 years old and it seems likely that his best
work is still in front of him. The Cowboys were the No. 1 offense
in the NFL a season ago, so being the top dog in that situation
makes Lamb a strong candidate for a real breakout season with
potential league-winning upside.
The departures of Amari Cooper and Cedrick Wilson should benefit
Michael Gallup perhaps more than any other player on the Cowboys
roster, but after tearing his ACL late into the 2021 season, Gallup’s
early-season status is still very much in question. While some
reports indicate that he might be ready as early as Week 1, it
seems much more likely that we’re going to be looking at
him being a PUP candidate to start the season, and then he’ll
be eased into the offense before potentially being a full-go by
mid-season or so.
While Gallup definitely has some big-time upside when he does
get back on the field, drafting him in your fantasy league, especially
if you don’t have a designated IR spot, is very risky. Even
if he does avoid the PUP to start the season, it’s unlikely
that he’s going to be someone you’re confident to
start right away, especially if the Cowboys aren’t giving
him a full snap count. The worst-case scenario, of course, is
that he could never even get back to full health.
The positive, of course, is that the Cowboys made the decision
to re-sign Gallup after he suffered the ACL injury. A five-year,
$57.5 million deal indicates that the Cowboys expect him to be
a big part of their passing game going forward and he’ll
be given every opportunity to do it once he’s back on the
field. Even if another receiver on the team breaks out early in
the season, Gallup should return to being the second wide receiver
in the lineup when he’s back on the field.
Gallup has averaged just over 50 receiving yards per game over
his past two seasons with the Cowboys, but that’s been while
he’s operated as the third wide receiver in the offense.
When he was last the WR2 in Dallas, before the team drafted CeeDee
Lamb, Gallup accumulated a 1,107-yard, six touchdown campaign
in just his second season in the league. That type of per-game
production is not out of the realm of possibility when it comes
to Gallup as long as he’s able to get back to full health.
The Cowboys wide receiver group saw a bit of an overhaul this
offseason with the subtractions of Amari Cooper and Cedrick Wilson,
along with a torn ACL from Michael Gallup. The two new notable
additions are former Steelers wide receiver James Washington (foot)
and rookie Jalen Tolbert.
It seemed reasonable to assume that Washington would be ahead
on the depth chart to start the season, but a foot injury early
in camp has put him on the shelf for possibly two months. Even
when he comes back, keep in mind Washington has failed to reach
even 400 yards receiving in three of his four years in the league.
That lack of production should lead fantasy owners to lean more
toward Tolbert if you’re looking to take a late-round shot
on a Cowboys receiver.
Tolbert is coming off of back-to-back collegiate seasons in which
he exceeded 1,000 yards, including a 2021 season in which he went
for nearly 1,500 yards and eight touchdowns at Southern Alabama.
The competition might not have been great and that’s probably
a big part of why Tolbert went in the third round as opposed to
earlier, but his downfield pass-catching skills are an interesting
fit with the Cowboys and give him by far the highest likelihood
of breaking out amongst Dallas wide receivers not named Lamb and
There was a hot debate heading into the 2021 season between those
supporting Dalton Schultz and those supporting Blake Jarwin. Practically
everyone agreed that the Cowboys’ tight end position had
some excellent potential heading into the year, but a split tight
end situation is rarely great for fantasy production. Jarwin struggled
to stay on the field for the second straight season which gave
Schultz an opportunity to run as the unquestioned TE1 in Dallas.
Schultz responded by ending the debate, delivering the fourth-most
fantasy points at tight end in standard scoring formats. His 808
receiving yards were sixth-most at the position and his eight
touchdowns were fifth-most, narrowly finishing behind Mark Andrews,
Travis Kelce, Hunter Henry, and Dawson Knox who all had nine touchdowns.
Now heading into his third season as the Cowboys’ top tight
end, there’s some serious potential for an even bigger year
from Schultz, particularly early in the year. The Cowboys losing
both Amari Cooper and Cedrick Wilson, along with likely being
without Michael Gallup to start the season, means that the team
will really only have two pass catchers—CeeDee Lamb and
Dalton Schultz—on the roster who have any real history of
production in the NFL. Schultz finished the 2021 season with the
sixth-most total targets at the tight end position and that was
when he was competing with much better receivers for passes.
Don’t expect a Travis Kelce-like season from Schultz, but
an even higher target share in a good Dallas offense should lead
to a high floor for those investing in him in fantasy. Schultz
is a safe option who could be a legitimate needle mover this season,
especially early in the year.