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2023 Player Outlooks: Dallas Cowboys

By Nick Caron | 6/22/23 |

QB Dak Prescott
(2022 QB Rank – No. 18, 21.6 FPts/G)

2022 was a tough season for the Cowboys offense and much of that was due to the sometimes-erratic play from quarterback Dak Prescott. Not known for being a turnover machine throughout the early part of his career, Prescott regressed into a player who was throwing risky passes at a high rate and unfortunately it was not accompanied by enough big plays to make up for it. Prescott’s 15 picks tied for the league high despite the fact that he played in three fewer games than his counterpart, Davis Mills.

Much of the Cowboys’ offensive woes can also be tied to the lack of pass-catching weapons they had throughout the season. CeeDee Lamb produced as a high-level WR1 for fantasy, but primarily played out of the slot and the Cowboys just did not have the outside pass catchers to continue to produce when opposing defenses would key in on Lamb. They did at least partially address the issue this offseason with the acquisition of veteran Brandin Cooks, who brings some much-needed reliability to this group. The team will also need Michael Gallup to take significant strides forward from what we saw in 2022, as he did not appear to be anywhere close to the player he was prior to his season-ending injury in 2021.

Prescott has the ability to return to being a top-10 fantasy quarterback or even better than that if things break his way in the touchdown department, but there are some concerns that could lead to him having a season that resembles his 2022 campaign. One such issue is that while he was once one of the league’s better under-the-radar runners, Prescott has become a significantly less run-heavy quarterback over the past two seasons. This corresponds with when he returned from his season-ending ankle injury and it makes sense that he would be more hesitant to run after that painful situation. Additionally, Prescott will now be without offensive coordinator Kellen Moore who joined the Chargers this offseason. While not everyone loved Moore’s philosophy, there’s really no denying that Prescott’s numbers benefited from Moore’s system. Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy has made it very clear that he plans to run the ball heavily. That change could make things tough for Prescott to ever return to being a top-five player at the position.

Thankfully, his ADP doesn’t necessitate that Prescott needs to finish as an elite option to return value, so he’s a fairly safe option who is unlikely to completely tank your fantasy squad while still providing some decent upside as a much later-round quarterback than he had been over the previous few seasons.

RB Tony Pollard
(2022 RB Rank – No.8, 13.1 FPts/G)

With Ezekiel Elliott now out of the way, fantasy managers are understandably anxious to land new Cowboys starting running back Tony Pollard in drafts. Primarily a backup in 2022, Pollard still managed to finish as an RB1 in fantasy and that was on a fairly limited workload. Pollard was, in fact, one of only two RBs (Leonard Fournette) who finished within the top 20 scorers (standard scoring) at the position and did not reach 200 carries on the season. An expected increased workload both in the running and passing game means that the sky is truly the limit for this highly talented back.

Some experts believed that the Cowboys would end up making a move to acquire another back of note this offseason, but that didn’t happen. While they brought in veteran journeyman Ronald Jones and drafted rookie Deuce Vaughn, neither player projects to be a significant hindrance to Pollard’s role as the team’s feature back. The lack of competition behind Pollard on the depth chart, along with the coaching staff’s vocal commitment to running the ball, are just more reasons why Tony Pollard looks primed to finish as a high-end RB1 here in 2023.

If you’re looking for skepticism, one thing to keep in mind is that the Cowboys opted not to make Pollard their feature back in the past despite the fact that he was significantly out-producing Elliott on a per-touch basis. Instead, we saw roughly a 50/50 split at best, oftentimes with Elliott seeing the lion’s share of the ever-important goal-line touches. If the team was unwilling to make Pollard a 20-touch player when Elliott was clearly struggling, there has to be some concern that they may just not view him as a true workhorse back. Still, given the lack of competition, it’s safe to assume that Pollard will see at least some increase to his workload and if he can remain anywhere near as efficient as he has been in years past, there’s no reason to think that he won’t produce top-12 numbers at RB this season.

RB Malik Davis
(2022 RB Rank – 84, 4.7 FPts/G)

Dallas’ backup RB role is still up for grabs as the team brought in veteran Ronald Jones and drafted Deuce Vaughn. However, as of right now, it appears most likely that the primary backup for Tony Pollard will be 2022 rookie Malik Davis. Davis appeared in 12 games last season, carrying the ball 38 times for 161 yards and a touchdown, while adding six receptions.

Davis was the third back on the roster behind a high-paid veteran grinder and the league’s most explosive change-of-pace back, so he didn’t get much of an opportunity, but he also didn’t “pop” on film which led to many people believing that the team would look to bring in more competition this offseason. That really didn’t happen, though, as Ronald Jones has shown himself to be not much more than a worse Ezekiel Elliott as a subpar grinder. Vaughn, a highly-accomplished collegiate back, went viral during the draft when his father, Cowboys scout Chris Vaughn, made the call to his son to let him know that the team was drafting him. However, at 5’6” and only 172 lbs, even his father has to admit that Vaughn is likely too small to be much more than an occasional contributor in an NFL offense in 2023.

This leads us back to Davis, who was not much of a producer in college and didn’t get much of an opportunity as a rookie, still being the most likely player to spell Pollard when the opportunity arises. There might not be a lot of that to go around anyway if Pollard is used in the bell cow role that many are projecting, but there’s always the risk of an injury in the NFL, and any player getting 10+ touches in the Cowboys’ offense would almost certainly be fantasy relevant, so don’t forget about Davis late in your draft.

WR CeeDee Lamb
(2022 WR Rank – 6, 11.4 FPts/G)

CeeDee Lamb came into the NFL as one of the more highly-scouted receivers in recent seasons and while he was fine over his first two seasons, the truth is that he had been a bit of a disappointment from a production standpoint. That changed in 2022, however, when the Cowboys moved on from Amari Cooper, allowing Lamb to finally secure his role as the unquestioned top target in the Dallas offense. Lamb saw 156 targets, catching 107 of them for 1,359 yards and nine touchdowns - all far exceeding his previous career highs. Lamb did this despite the other wide receivers on the Dallas roster being embarrassingly bad across the board, which led to defenses being able to really focus on him much more than they had in previous seasons.

Dallas addressed this issue at least a bit this offseason by signing veteran free agent Brandin Cooks, an outside pass catcher who should allow Lamb to continue to play primarily out of the slot where he has become one of the league’s most productive pass catchers. The Cowboys did also lose Dalton Schultz, who often operated in around the same area of the field as Lamb, which might actually end up benefitting the wide receiver from a fantasy standpoint.

The only real concern for Lamb is that the Cowboys will almost certainly end up running the ball more often than they did in recent seasons. With Kellen Moore gone, Dallas’ coaching staff has made it known that they want to run the ball and that will almost certainly lead to fewer total pass attempts for the offense. However, with Schultz gone, there’s little reason to think that Lamb won’t again see an elite-level target share, which combined with his elite-level talent makes him a strong candidate to finish as a solid fantasy WR1 again this season.

WR Brandin Cooks
(2022 WR Rank – 49, 7.9 FPts/G)

Journeyman wide receiver Brandin Cooks has produced everywhere he’s been throughout his nine-year NFL career, but there’s some concern that what we saw from him in 2022 was more to do about a decline of skills than just the terrible Houston Texans offense he was stuck in.

Cooks, who will turn 30 early in the regular season, saw the second-lowest yards per game of his career in 2022, while scoring just three touchdowns on the season. A more analytical dive into his numbers will also show that he struggled to create separation, particularly against zone coverage. Still, even with the risk that he may be on the decline, Cooks still offers something that no other receiver in Dallas did in 2022—the ability to make plays down the field from the outside.

A perennial value, Cooks is being drafted as a WR4/5 in most drafts and it won’t be hard for him to return that type of value on the season. He did that in Houston this past season in a significantly worse situation. His skills, however, may end up being less useful for his own fantasy value than they are for creating opportunities for other players in the Dallas offense.

WR Michael Gallup
(2022 WR Rank – 67, 4.7 FPts/G)

We have to remember that Michael Gallup was coming off of a terrible season-ending ACL injury in Week 17 of the 2021 season, but it’s hard to understate just how bad his 2022 season was. Gallup played in 14 games for the Cowboys, but commanded just 74 total targets (less than 5.3 targets per game) despite the fact that CeeDee Lamb was really the only other wide receiver of note on the roster. He couldn’t get open, wasn’t making contested catches, and really wasn’t even stretching the field effectively so that other pass catchers could make plays. It was a disastrous season for Gallup and he now almost certainly finds himself as the third option at wide receiver in this offense, behind Lamb and newly-acquired veteran Brandin Cooks.

Gallup was a 1,100-yard receiver in his second professional season, but he hasn’t even reached 900 yards receiving in any of his past three seasons. Some of that is due to injury, yes, but past injuries like the ones Gallup has dealt with tend to have a way of resurfacing. The Dallas offense has been good enough to support three pass-catchers in recent seasons, but given the apparent shift in philosophy, it seems likely that Gallup will be more of a complimentary piece and not someone you’ll want to be starting in normal redraft leagues.

TE Jake Ferguson
(2022 TE Rank – 48, 2.7 FPts/G)

The Cowboys let veteran tight end Dalton Schultz walk this offseason which has led to some real debate about the depth chart at the position. Jake Ferguson and Peyton Hendershot were on the team in 2022 and while both players had their moments, neither one really separated himself into being an obvious starting-caliber player going forward. This became particularly true once the Cowboys drafted a tight end—Michigan’s Luke Schoonmaker—with a second-round pick in the NFL Draft.

This type of draft capital at a position like tight end typically means that a team intends for that player to be a contributor early in his career and that is likely to be the case for Schoonmaker. However, those contributions might end up being more important for the Cowboys offense as a whole than they are for Schoonmaker as an individual contributor. Schoonmaker was highly regarded for his blocking skills during the scouting process and his 6’5”, 250-lb frame should allow him to continue to do that in the NFL. Schoonmaker is an athletic player who would seemingly have upside as a pass-catcher, but we just haven’t seen that much as of yet. He caught just 52 total passes over his final two seasons at Michigan.

It’s easy to look at Schoonmaker’s profile and be enamored by the potential, but the reality is that rookie tight ends rarely produce for fantasy and oftentimes they end up not even securing a regular role in their offense until late in the season.

As of right now, it appears most likely that Ferguson will begin the season as the Cowboys’ starter, with Schoonmaker and Hendershot battling for the TE2 spot on the depth chart. Schoonmaker is the player you’ll want to draft if you’re drafting purely for upside late, but if you’re looking for day-one production and the player who will likely lead this group in overall numbers for the season, Ferguson is probably the best bet.

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