Despite a solid rushing attack that resulted in Romo attempting just 435 passes in 2015, he still managed to produce a solid fantasy season, throwing for 3,705 yards and 34 touchdowns while averaging 21.8 points per game. Looking forward to 2015, his fantasy prospects hinge on whether the loss of DeMarco Murray will see the team place more emphasis on its passing attack. Given the state of the team’s depth chart at running back, look for a healthy increase in Romo’s passing attempts in 2015, although a decline in his touchdown passes should be expected (one touchdown pass per 12.8 attempts is not sustainable). With those factors likely to mostly offset each other, a season with close to 4,000 passing yards and 30 touchdown passes is our best guess which would rate Romo as an upper tier QB2.
At 27 years of age and after producing just one 1,000 yard rushing season during his first seven years in the league, Run-DMC gets what is most likely his final chance to prove that he wasn’t a total bust as the 4th overall pick in the 2008 NFL Draft. After three consecutive seasons of averaging under 3.5 yards per carry, he was signed in the offseason to compete for a starting position in Dallas due to the departure of DeMarco Murray, with the team expected to add additional competition in the draft. Shockingly, the team failed to draft a running back, leaving McFadden to compete with the likes of troubled Joseph Randle, Lance Dunbar and injury-riddled Ryan Williams to open the season as the team’s starter. Let’s face it, none of these options is stellar and the only reason fantasy owners are intrigued by the quartet is that the Cowboys feature arguably the league’s most impressive offensive line, a group supplemented by the acquisition of rookie La’el Collins and one that helped Murray lead the league in rushing last year with 1,845 yards. However, even if McFadden wins the role, he will likely operate out of a committee and he has a low probably of emerging as a breakout candidate given his recent struggles and inability to stay healthy.
Taken in the 5th round of the 2013 NFL Draft out of Oklahoma State, Randle struggled as a rookie before posting 343 rushing yards last season on 51 carries. While his impressive average of 6.7 yards per carry might lead you to believe that he rates as a solid option to emerge as the Cowboys starting running back following the departure of DeMarco Murray, the more important statistic just might be his total carries. As in, even though Murray finished with 393 carries in an age when running backs rarely ever approach that total, we’re still not giving Randle more opportunities to run the ball. Given that he failed to earn a larger role last season and his penchant for off the field issues (two arrests in the last year, team fines, head shaking public comments criticizing Murray’s performance last year), why would anyone predict that he will earn a starting role this season? Well, the competition isn’t exactly tough with Darren McFadden, Lance Dunbar and Ryan Williams on tap. Nonetheless, we expect the Cowboys to use a committee approach next season which renders none of their running backs any better than a RB3 unless one of them emerges from the shadows.
Three years into his career, Dunbar has done nothing to suggest that he should be in the mix to replace DeMarco Murray as the Cowboys starting running back for the 2015 season. Unable to stay healthy during his first two years in the league, Dunbar was surpassed on the depth chart by Joseph Randle and was used as more of a pass receiver out of the backfield, catching 18 of his 22 targets for 217 yards. While there is a small chance that he could open the season as the team’s starter, the truth is that even if Dunbar wins that role, he offers little fantasy upside given his size (5’8″, 191 pounds) and inability to stay healthy. Look for him to be relegated to a mostly receiving role provided he beats out Ryan Williams for the 3rd spot on the depth chart.
There is a lot of smoke and mirrors in the offseason and that seemed to be the case when reports surfaced in May that Williams was in the mix to start for the Cowboys in 2015. While Dallas may not have found an adequate replacement for DeMarco Murray, a player who couldn’t earn a promotion off the practice squad in 2014 wouldn’t generally rate as a potential replacement. The truth is that Williams has battled significant injuries during his four-year career and anything more than a minor role in the Cowboys backfield this coming season is unlikely.
If there is a Cowboy to own for fantasy purposes, Dez is your man. Simply put, he is the most dynamic player on the Dallas roster and a quick peak at his production over the last three years tells you all you need to know. During that stretch, he hasn’t missed a game while totaling 273 receptions for 3,935 yards and 41 touchdowns. After finishing as the 3rd and 5th rated fantasy wide receiver in 2012 and 2013, he finished 3rd last season. A physically imposing player possessing outstanding speed, Bryant is simply unstoppable in man to man coverage and savvy enough to beat zone coverage. Did we mention his consistency with nine or more fantasy points in 11 games last season? The only red flag here is his desire for a long term contract extension that may see him holdout. Outside of Demaryius Thomas, there is no wide receiver more likely to post huge numbers in 2015.
As being somewhat of a revelation as a rookie while catching 44 of his 74 targets for 736 yards and five touchdowns, Williams regressed during his sophomore season, a victim of his own inconsistency and the Cowboys increased reliance on their rushing attack. After totaling 27 receptions for 426 yards and six touchdowns on 46 targets during his first nine games, Williams saw his role in the team’s offense decline as Cole Beasley took on a more meaningful role. Over his final six games, Williams was targeted just 19 times, catching 10 passes for 195 yards and a pair of touchdowns. With solid size at 6’3 and 205 pounds and possessing some big play ability (career yards per reception of 16.7), Williams has the potential to breakout in 2015 provided the proverbial light comes on. Consider him a low end WR4 with upside.
With little depth behind Dez Bryant and Terrence Williams, the Cowboys used a 5th round pick in last year’s draft to acquire Street. Then they buried the 6’3″, 195 pounds Pittsburgh product on the depth chart. Given Terrence Williams’ lack of progress, Street has a chance to carve out a more meaningful role in 2015 but he rates as little more than a middling prospect in dynasty formats with no appeal in redraft formats.
The Cowboys must like Beasley since they signed him to a four-year, $13.6-million contract extension in the offseason. However, you don’t have to like him for fantasy purposes and you probably shouldn’t. While the 2012 undrafted free agent may have seen his role in the team’s offense increase over the final third of the season, the fact is that he actually saw his targets decrease from 55 in 2013 to 49 last season. As a 5’8″, 177 lb. slot receiver with little playmaking ability (career average of 10.1 yards per reception) in an offense that runs the ball heavily, Beasley holds little fantasy appeal other than as a depth option in PPR formats.
While Witten’s production suffered another steep decline for the second consecutive year, we can safely chalk up his 2014 decline to the Cowboys commitment to, and success at, rushing the football. While his completion to target percentage rose from 65.8% to 71.1%, his reception and yardage totals were his lowest since his rookie season in 2003. He finished the season as the 10th rated fantasy tight end but, at 33 years of age, he no longer rates as a potential elite fantasy option. Although the Cowboys may run the ball less in 2015 given their inability to adequately replace DeMarco Murray at running back, we don’t see Witten seeing his usage and production increase. Consider him a lower tier TE1 with little upside.