We’re in the thick of the NFL offseason and it’s officially time to start fantasy football prep. I’ll be answering the biggest questions heading into the 2020 season. Click here to read the series of questions answered so far.
Replacing a Hall of Fame QB is never easy, but the Cowboys had an incredibly difficult time finding a successor for Troy Aikman when he retired after the 2000 season. The likes of Drew Bledsoe, Quincy Carter, Vinny Testaverde, Chad Hutchinson, Drew Henson and even Ryan Leaf started at least a game for Jerry Jones before the organization stumbled upon former undrafted free agent Tony Romo.
The team certainly had plenty of ups-and-downs with Romo under center from 2006-2015. Still, the Cowboys were at least competitive when they received a full season from No. 9, something they hadn't been able to say for the majority of the early 2000s.
No such grooming period was necessary for Dak Prescott upon being drafted in 2016. The team obviously would've preferred if Romo hadn't suffered a preseason back injury that year, but their fourth-round rookie proved to be more than capable of posting borderline-elite production from the second he stepped on the field.
The Cowboys haven't signed Prescott to a long-term deal just yet, although there's no doubt who will be under center for them in Week 1. What follows is a breakdown on what makes Prescott great, and what we should expect from his fantasy production next season.
Prescott is already one of the game's best QBs
The Cowboys' rising fifth-year QB hasn't missed a game since entering the league in 2016. He's experienced some lows, notably struggling in 2017 and during the first half of the 2018 season before the team acquired Amari Cooper. Either way, as a whole we've seen nothing other than solid efficiency from Prescott:
- Completion rate: 65.8% (No. 11 among 44 QBs with 16-plus starts since 2016)
- TD rate: 4.7% (No. 17)
- INT rate: 1.74% (No. 14)
- QB rating: 97 (No. 13)
- Yards per attempt: 7.62 (No. 11)
- Adjusted yards per attempt: 7.77 (No. 12)
Of course, a large part of Prescott's game involves his rushing ability. The dual-threat talent has averaged a relatively mundane 19 rushing yards per game during his career, but Prescott's ability to find the end zone has been second to none: Josh Allen (17) joins Prescott (21) as the only QBs with more than 15 rushing scores since 2016.
Playing behind one of the league's premiere offensive lines and getting the chance to lean on weapons like Ezekiel Elliott certainly helps. Still, there's little doubt that Prescott is one of the league's better QBs when the play breaks down and he's forced to carry the offense on his own.
The good news for Prescott in 2020 is that his teammates *should* be more ready to help carry the load.
This 2020 Cowboys Offense is loaded
The 2019 Cowboys were already an amazing offense. Overall, they finished last season as one of just 11 offenses to average at least 6.5 yards per play since 1970. There's reason to believe that next season's unit is even better:
- Amari Cooper: Prescott has averaged 25.4 fantasy points with 8.1 yards per attempt in 25 games with Cooper ... and 20.9 fantasy points with 7.4 yards per attempt in 39 games without. His combination of route-running goodness and big-play ability makes him the perfect No. 1 WR for Prescott. Cooper set career-high marks in yards per reception (15.1) and yards per target (10) last season despite regularly demanding coverage from the opponent's No. 1 corner.
- Michael Gallup: The Cowboys' overqualified No. 2 WR was a hair better than Cooper in terms of yards per reception (16.8) in 2019, and he was only slightly less efficient on a per-target basis (9.8). Gallup doesn't possess the most intimidating long speed, yet he consistently seems to find himself behind the defense and making big plays. Prescott has demonstrated enough chemistry with Gallup to believe this could be just the beginning of a long and fruitful relationship.
- CeeDee Lamb: Available targets reflect vacant opportunity for every team in terms of their 2019 targets minus those by players still on their roster in 2020. Only the Falcons (261) have more available targets than the Cowboys (190). Lamb might not have a clear path to No. 1, or even No. 2, WR duties, but the absence of both Randall Cobb (83 targets in 2019) and Jason Witten (83) opens up a fairly-major year-one role anyway. A number of analysts and teams alike considered Lamb the draft's top WR, and he possesses the ability to thrive in both the slot as well as out wide.
- Blake Jarwin: The talented TE finished third on the Cowboys in yards per route run last season. Overall, Prescott's most-efficient receivers (min. 50 targets) during his career have been Brice Butler (10.5 adjusted yards per attempt), Cooper (10.3) ... and Jarwin (9.1). Don't expect the Cowboys' starting TE to work as anything more than the No. 4 pass-game option in this run-first offense, but there should be more than enough spiked weeks to warrant late-round and streamer consideration.
- Ezekiel Elliott: Has proven plenty capable of serving as both an underneath safety valve as well as a legit downfield option. Zeke won't be confused with Christian McCaffrey or Alvin Kamara as a pure receiver anytime soon, but he deserves credit for being one of just seven RBs with at least 50 receptions in each of the past two seasons. There might not be a better pass-blocking RB in the league.
And then we have an offensive line that has regularly functioned as one of the league's best units. The difference ahead of 2020 is the reality that stud C Travis Frederick retired, meaning 2018 starting C Joe Looney will slot into the league's second-most expensive offensive line. The team also drafted Connor McGovern (2019, 3.90) and Tyler Biadasz (2020, 4.146) to provide depth to the interior. They're always an injury away to Tyron Smith or Zack Martin from being significantly less impactful, but this remains a top-10 unit (at a minimum) when everyone is healthy.
Add it all together and ...
Treat Dak as the overall fantasy QB3
The only signal callers I'd take ahead of Prescott at the moment are Lamar Jackson and Patrick Mahomes. Prescott has finished as the fantasy QB6, QB10, QB10 and QB2 over the past four seasons. He possesses arguably the best offense, and worst defense, of his career, meaning we could see the Cowboys continuously participating in shootouts.
The likes of Kyler Murray, Deshaun Watson, Russell Wilson, Carson Wentz and Josh Allen are the only other QBs that I feel have a case to be made as a top-three fantasy option. Ultimately, each finds themselves surrounded by less-talented weapons, in an objectively worse offense, and in a scheme that likely won't be as pass-happy as the Cowboys.
Hating on the Cowboys is just good ole American fun. Still, be careful about assuming Prescott won't find himself atop fantasy leaderboards just because he hasn't had all that much postseason success to this point. Prescott is presently going as the fantasy QB4 in best-ball average draft position. It'd be surprising and inaccurate if we see him drafted outside of the top-five QBs entering 2020.