Cowboys training camp begins on the 24th, making it a perfect time to begin speculating on the fantasy impact and future of the Dallas Players.
This unit grew stronger as last season progressed. Tyron Smith and Travis Frederick would stand out on almost any team in the league. To the surprise of many (myself included), Doug Free had a strong year at RT. Top to bottom, this is the strongest position group on the team and should be one of the best lines in the league.
What to watch for in camp:
The other guys. Especially Zach Martin. Martin is a rookie with high expectations. It's a foregone conclusion that he is going to start at guard this season. If he is merely adequate, the line will be very good. If he breaks out like Frederick and Smith before him... this line is elite.
An elite line sustains more drives. Sustained drives means more offensive plays. This has a direct impact on every positional player on the Cowboys offense as well as the defensive ranking of the team.
It's Romo. Loved and hated. Praised and decried. Elite and worthless. Game changer and choke artist. He will win 4 games a year on his performance alone. He'll probably lose 2 games this year on his performance alone. I'm personally a fan. The Cowboys released Kyle Orton leaving Brandon Weedon as a lock in the back-up spot. I'm also a fan of Brandon Weedon. But for much different reasons.
What to watch for in camp:
Romo's back is the only story here. There isn't anything to suggest he's not at 100% but the proof, as they say, is in the pudding. Until he starts training camp, he's still a 34 year old quarterback coming off back surgery.
Scott Linehan is calling the plays in Dallas this season. Each of the past three seasons with the Lions, Linehan orchestrated a top 4 passing offense. The Lions and Cowboys have similar receiving corps. Stafford benefited from good pass blocking, and Romo has even better blocking, and a much more threatening run game. If healthy, Romo having a top 5 QB fantasy season in all formats is a very, very reasonable prediction.
A quick overview: At 5.2 ypc, Demarco Murray had one of the highest per-carry average in the league last season. It was the highest amongst heavy workload backs, surpassing even Lesean Mccoy. He also finished ranked 10th in total yards. The Cowboys have been effective running the past several seasons with Murray, but have not placed a large emphasis on the ground game during this time.
What to watch for in camp:
Joseph Randal, Lance Dunbar and Ryan Williams will all be fighting for their place in the depth chart. Randal was serviceable as Murray's primary back-up last year but hardly separated himself from the rest of the pack. Dunbar is explosive and the voices hoping for him to have an expanded roll are growing louder. Williams is a recent FA acquisition and is trying to revive a career that started with promise as the 38th overall pick in the 2011 draft (Cardinals), but quickly fizzled out in disappointment and injury.
Linehan throws a lot of passes. Moreover, he's not afraid to throw to his running backs. Last season Murray caught 53 balls. Meanwhile in Detroit, Reggie Bush caught 54 balls... AND Joique Bell brought in 53 MORE receptions. The cowboys only split 15 receptions between Randle and Dunbar. If the stats stay similar with his new team, Cowboys running backs will add 30-40 more receptions this upcoming season. Likely, these receptions will go to the primary back-up. Whether or not this elevates the winner to RB3 or RB4 status is up in the air. Joique Bell had significant fantasy value last season for the Lions and whoever wins the primary back-up spot in Dallas could be worth a later round pick. More so in a ppr league. At this stage, If Dunbar can pick up the passing game, he is the probable choice. His speed and quick feet could be tremendously effective in this passing offense.
Dez Bryant and Jason Witten are elite receivers. Terrence Williams emerged as a 3rd option last season. The Cowboys did not want for reliable options in the passing game last season.
What to watch for in camp:
Who's number 4? Cole Beasly or Gavin Escobar? Primarily this will depend on the offensive sets utilized by the Cowboys. Last season Escobar was drafted with the understanding that the Cowboys would be running 2 Tight End personnel packages with great frequency. Escobar didn't develop quickly and the package was largely ignored. This season, Escobar is said to be coming on strong. Does this mean the 2 TE packages will be the primary offensive set?
There are two. 1.) Draft Dez Bryant high. Draft him immediately after Calvin Johnson. Linehan found a way to involve Megatron despite all of the attention he garners from defenses. Last season the Cowboys used Dez as a decoy when teams focused on him. Dez still caught 93 for 1233 and 13 touchdowns. DRAFT DEZ BRYANT HIGH. He should be the second WR off the board... and he might finish the year as the #1 fantasy WR in football. But... if you draft him ahead of Johnson, you're going to be mocked heavily. You'll have to decide if that shaming is worth it.
2.) Again... who's number 4? Last season, both Cowboys back-up tight ends and Beasly combined for 60 receptions with Beasly having 40 of those catches. This season, more passes will be directed at the running backs than in previous years. And while this will diminish the available catches for the #4, there is another consideration. Laurent Robinson caught 11 tds from the 3 and 4 spots in 2011. Kevin Ogletree caught several early touchdowns from the 4 in 2012. When a play breaks down, Romo has shown a great skill at extending the action. With all of the attention placed on Dez, Witten and the #2 receiver, the 4th option tends to get the softest coverage. Romo has a knack for exploiting that coverage early in the season. Last season didn't see a breakout performance by Beasly, but that doesn't mean it won't happen this year. Perhaps the Rookie Devin Street will be able to pass Beasly on the depth chart. Chemistry with Romo is almost as important as route understandings in this offense. Street is on the tall side, relatively quick, and could challenge for the WR3 position. Obviously, his performance in camp will determine where he lands on the depth chart. Once the depth order is set, it might be worth it to take a flyer on the Cowboys number 4 with your last non-kicker pick in your draft (depending on the size of your bench). If he hits, you have a decent chip for an early trade.
What to watch for:
Wow... umm... everything? Last season the defensive line was an abomination of nature that couldn't put pressure on a CUSA school. This lead to necessary but largely ineffective blitzes by the linebackers, which lead to island living by the defensive backs... which just doesn't work when the quarterback has all day to find a receiver. The cowboys invited roughly 73 defensive linemen to camp. That's a good place to start when analyzing the defense's strides in camp.
None. Seriously. You aren't drafting this defense. The defense should be much better than last season (even with the Lee injury), but the absolute best case scenario is a 15th ranked defense... and the odds are LOOOOOOOOOONG on that happening. Somewhere in the ballpark of 20th is much more likely. So, Unless you're in a league with more than 15 teams... you're not drafting this defense.
Overall outlook going into camp:
Right now the offense looks fierce. Top 5 in total offense and points seems... likely. Dez and Romo being top 5 at their respective positions seems... likely. Witten and Murray are both solid picks at their positions. The Cowboys have potential sleepers in their back-up RB (likely Dunbar, but possibly Randal or Williams) and their #4 receiving option (Escobar or Beasly/Street). Camp and the preseason will clear up the depth chart mysteries and give a handle of which personnel packages will be featured this season. The preseason will also grace us with many offensive snaps by Brandon Weedon.