Evan Silva

Offseason Low Down

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Cowboys Fantasy Preview

Friday, June 15, 2018


Cowboys Offensive Profile Under Scott Linehan

2014-2017 Pass Attempts Rank: 31st, 23rd, 30th, 29th
2014-2017 Rush Attempts Rank: 3rd, 18th, 1st, 5th
2014-2017 Play Volume Rank: 18th, 29th, 20th, 18th
2014-2017 Yards Per Play Rank: 3rd, 14th, 4th, 15th
Unaccounted for Air Yards from 2017 (Rank): 2,645 (2nd)
Unaccounted for Carries from 2017 (Rank): 121 (16th)

Projected Starting Lineup

QB: Dak Prescott
RB: Ezekiel Elliott
WR: Allen Hurns
WR: Terrance Williams
WR: Cole Beasley
TE: Geoff Swaim
LT: Tyron Smith
LG: Connor Williams
C: Travis Frederick
RG: Zack Martin
RT: La’el Collins

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Passing Game Outlook

Dak Prescott built on his prolific rookie campaign with a white-hot start to 2017 for overall QB1 per-game fantasy results in Weeks 1-7. As his supporting cast crumbled, Prescott tumbled to QB19 from Week 8 on, managing an 8:9 TD-to-INT ratio in Dallas’ final ten games and finishing below 200 passing yards seven times. Ezekiel Elliott’s six-game suspension removed dimensions from Dallas’ offense, while Dez Bryant, Jason Witten, Terrance Williams, and Cole Beasley couldn't get open. The Cowboys’ coaching staff showed no ability to compensate for LT Tyron Smith’s (back, knee) three-game absence, even surrendering an unthinkable six sacks to Falcons DE Adrian Clayborn in Week 10. (Clayborn had 3.5 combined sacks in his other 17 games, including playoffs.) I think more designed Dak runs would have been beneficial offensively. Elliott’s ban is behind him, and the offensive line returns at full health, but we should expect to learn a lot about Dak in his third year with a remade pass-catcher corps. Is Prescott a sum-of-his-parts quarterback who needs everything around him to go right to succeed? Or is Prescott the franchise solution he appeared to be in his first 22 games? Not helping is a pass-defense schedule Warren Sharp rated fifth toughest in football. At fantasy’s most-replaceable position, all the uncertainty renders Prescott a mere QB2.

 

In Dallas on a two-year, $11 million deal after he was cut by the Jaguars, Allen Hurns is penciled in as Dez Bryant’s replacement at X receiver. It’s a lot to ask a player who ran 70% and 73% of his routes in the slot the last two years and missed 11 games with severe hamstring and ankle injuries. Hurns was a 63% outside receiver in his breakout 2015 (64/1,031/10), however, and did show above-par 2017 vertical Game Speed per Josh Hermsmeyer’s Next Gen Stats research. Hurns’ plus route running and slot experience should make him a more-versatile X than Bryant was. Hurns is low in “sexy” factor, but he’s a viable late-round fantasy pick as the favorite to lead Dallas in targets. 


Coaches/management pet Terrance Williams enters 2018 with under 600 yards in each of Dak’s two years and zero TDs in his last 17 games. Jason Garrett’s staff has stayed high on Williams for his run blocking and durability, never missing a game in six seasons. Williams’ games-played streak will be threatened by a broken right foot sustained early in the offseason program and May arrest for public intoxication and leaving the scene of an accident, which may result in a short suspension. As targets are up for grabs in a Dallas offense missing the NFL’s second-most Air Yards from last year’s team, opportunity is the lone factor giving Williams appeal as a last-round best-ball flyer.

 

Editor's Note: The 2018 Rotoworld Draft Guide provides more than 500 extensive player profiles, tiers, projections, Evan Silva’s Sleepers and Busts and much more. Get the NFL Draft Guide now.



Vying for three-receiver snaps will be pedestrian slot man Cole Beasley, third-round pick Michael Gallup, situational deep threat Deonte Thompson, and 2017 seventh-round project Noah Brown, who shines in t-shirts and shorts but disappears when the pads go on. Never the same since playing through a partially torn hamstring in the second half of 2016, Beasley has reached 50 yards once in his last 21 games. I didn’t take it as a positive sign the Cowboys gave Beasley more snaps at outside receiver in May OTAs. Thompson runs 4.31, but he is a seventh-year journeyman on his fifth NFL team. Brown managed 32 catches in his college career. No. 81 pick Gallup is by-far most intriguing as a Donald Driver-level talent with plus route quickness and high-end run-after-catch skills. In a receiver corps where playing time is up for grabs, Gallup is a sleeper to lead the Cowboys targets as this year’s JuJu Smith-Schuster.

Tight end is also wide open after Jason Witten and James Hanna retired, leaving behind over 1,300 snaps and 96 targets. Beat writers expect a “tight end committee.” Most experienced is Geoff Swaim, a 2015 seventh-round pick who caught just 13 passes in 22 college games and blocked on 82% of his snaps last year. Second-year UDFA Blake Jarwin played three snaps as a rookie. He was an H-back and short-area possession receiver in Oklahoma State’s spread offense, although he caught only 41 passes in 28 college games. Fourth-round pick Dalton Schultz from Stanford is another blocker. Ex-basketball player Rico Gathers offers by far the highest ceiling in Dallas’ tight end corps after putting on a Jimmy Graham-like clinic in the 2017 preseason with a 7/106/2 receiving line in two games. A severe concussion sent Gathers to I.R., and the Cowboys declined to activate Gathers when eligible, even after he was medically cleared. Gather has diverse interests off the field, and Dallas’ coaching staff has cited concerns about his blocking and commitment to the game. Gathers’ place in the plans is unclear.

Running Game Outlook

Ezekiel Elliott led the league in rushing yards per game in each of his first two seasons, averaging 24.9 touches with 25 TDs in 25 appearances. Elliott’s impact has been far less in the passing game, where his 2.3 career targets-per-game average is dwarfed by Le’Veon Bell (6.4), Alvin Kamara (6.3), David Johnson (5.6), and Todd Gurley (3.9; 5.8 last year) among this year’s consensus top-five fantasy backs. Whether due to his own deficiencies or coaching-staff scheming, Elliott’s receiving production is his biggest box-score drawback. Team officials have hinted Zeke’s passing-game work could be threatened by Tavon Austin. More promising is the healthy return of 4-of-5 offensive-line starters and addition of second-round LG Connor Williams at the front five’s weakest link. Elliott’s six-game suspension is in the rearview mirror. He’s my No. 4 back among the previously mentioned top five and arguably offers the highest sheer workload projection of all of them, particularly in rushing attempts.

Although Dallas’ delusional ownership talked up trade acquisition Tavon Austin as a candidate for “12-24 touches per game” as a “web back,” OC Scott Linehan expects Austin to play receiver. “We’ll use him for a lot of things, but he’s a receiver first,” clarified Linehan. “Some of his skill set is as an outside receiver, but he can move around.” Elliott’s likelier handcuff is swiss-army-knife Rod Smith, who will be active on game days for his special-teams value and was efficient on both a per-carry (4.22) and per-reception (10.6) basis last year, seeing increased snaps during Zeke’s ban. Whereas Austin stands 5’9/174, Smith combines plus size (6’3/231) with passing-game skills. Also worth monitoring is seventh-round pick Bo Scarbrough, an injury-riddled poor man’s Derrick Henry.

2018 Vegas Win Total

The Cowboys’ Win Total opened at 8.5 with -120 odds to the over. The good news is the offensive line and Elliott are back, and the Cowboys should field their most talented defense in years when DT David Irving returns from suspension. The bad news is passing games drive NFL success, and Prescott’s ten-game downturn last season raises questions with a made-over pass-catcher corps. Warren Sharp rated Dallas’ schedule strength 14th toughest in football, including a pass-defense slate that ranks fifth-most difficult. Sharp’s metrics show the Cowboys have the league’s fourth-hardest SOS in Weeks 1-14. The Redskins and Giants are beatable in the NFC East, but outside the division Dallas draws the brutal NFC South and rising AFC South, plus Detroit (home) and Seattle (away). I see the Cowboys as more of a 7-9-win team than 8-10 wins and am taking the under on 8.5.



Evan Silva is a senior football editor for Rotoworld.com. He can be found on Twitter .
Email :Evan Silva



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