2018 Stats (Rank)
Total Offense: 5,501 yards (22nd)
Offensive Touchdowns: 35 (22nd)
Offensive Plays: 1,022 (11th)
Pass Attempts + Sacks: 583 (19th)
Rush Attempts: 439 (10th)
Unaccounted for Targets: 155 (10th)
Unaccounted for Carries: 44 (22nd)
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The Cowboys parted ways with offensive coordinator Scott Linehan after four seasons with the team. Replacing him is former quarterback Kellen Moore. After six seasons in the NFL, Moore spent the 2018 season as the Dallas quarterbacks coach before this offseason the Cowboys made him the youngest offensive coordinator in the league. Despite Moore’s lack of experience and the playbook not expected to completely be overhauled, early word out of Dallas camp is that Moore is inserting more pre-snap motion and offensive versatility in offensive sets this summer. Suggesting that offensive creativity has been a bugaboo for the Dallas offense these past few seasons would be a massive understatement. The Cowboys have capable, multipurpose offensive personnel, so any tweak in modernizing an offense that has already had flights of success while being mundane will be a welcome change in unlocking the potential ceiling of this offense.
There have been just three quarterbacks that have finished as a top-10 overall fantasy scorer at the quarterback position in each of the past three seasons. Those passers have been Drew Brees, Russell Wilson ... and Dak Prescott. Prescott has been able to survive pedestrian passing output thus far -he’s yet to throw for 4,000 yards or even 25 touchdown passes in any of his first three seasons – because he’s been a consistent source of rushing production. He’s ranked in the top-five in rushing fantasy points at his position in each of his first three seasons and is just the third quarterback ever to have three consecutive seasons with six or more rushing touchdowns, joining Otto Graham and Cam Newton. After 15 rushing attempts inside of the 10-yard line through two seasons, Prescott had 13 carries from that area of the field last season. It wasn’t just all rushing touchdown related, either, as Prescott also had his own number called more often a year ago, tallying a career-high 46 designed rushing attempts after 25 such attempts in 2017 and 30 in 2016.
The one bugaboo with Prescott over the past two seasons is that although the overall results have gotten there, he’s only given us spurts of QB1 fantasy production over the past two season. After a hyper-efficient rookie season, Prescott has had two uneven seasons, finishing 14th and 13th in points per game. In 2018, Prescott went through a number of catawampus splits last season. From his production with and without Amari Cooper, his production at home versus on the road, and his production versus man-to-man based coverage schemes versus zone teams, but no matter what your favorite split of choice to use is, Prescott still failed to reach the set-and-forget status he had as a rookie. Even with the addition of Cooper, he still carried volatility. Prescott was a top-10 scorer in six of his final 11 games in 2018, but in the back half of scoring the other five games.
All that said, Prescott is one of my favorite quarterback targets this summer when waiting on the position. I do stock his splits with Cooper because when Prescott has had a wideout playing at a high level, he’s been a strong fantasy asset. The last time we saw Dez Bryant perform at a high level- after returning from injury in the back half of 2016 season- Prescott was the QB2 in overall scoring from Weeks 8-16 to close the fantasy season with Bryant showing a semblance of his former self. Through the entire 2017 season and the front half of last season before acquiring Cooper, Prescott had no true alpha outlet to lean on or be elevated by through a dominant receiving performance. Tack on his rushing ability and that Prescott has one of the most enticing opening of the seasons -with home games against the Giants and Dolphins in two of his first three games - and he’s one of my favorite options when looking for a quarterback to get off to a hot start.
2018 was on its way to being another letdown for Amari Cooper and those who drafted him. Through six games with the Raiders, Cooper managed to catch just 22 passes for 280 yards and one touchdown. Then, Cooper was sent to the Cowboys. From Week 9 on with Dallas, Cooper caught 53-of-76 targets for 725 yards and six touchdowns as he was the WR9 overall in fantasy output. With the Cowboys, Cooper was still a spike-week fantasy option, posting fewer than 40-yards receiving in four of those nine games, but his efficiency (80.6 catch rate and 9.5 yards per target) with Dallas would’ve been career-highs over a full season. Still just 25-years old this season, Cooper is one of the best splash-play assets in the NFL. Cooper has averaged a whopping 36.9 yards per touchdown reception for his career (37.1 yards in 2018). Since joining the league in 2015, only Tyreek Hill (22) has more touchdowns of 30-plus yards than the 14 that Cooper has scored. Of Cooper’s 25 career touchdown receptions, just five have come from inside of the 10-yard line with just eight coming from inside of the red zone. Cooper is more likely to crash a ceiling when he finds the end zone than save a pedestrian game with a short touchdown -which makes him a better WR2 choice than expecting to be a weekly Gibraltar in your lineup- but with the Cowboys, Cooper is back on the radar as a top-15 fantasy option entering the 2019 season.
Behind Cooper, the rest of the Dallas passing game is better as a sum of parts than looking for another fantasy starter to lean on, although Michael Gallup carries some intrigue as a bench option in the deepest formats or in best ball leagues. Gallup posted 15.4 yards per catch (12th) while posting a 14.1 yards average depth of target. Becoming a full-time player midway through the season, Gallup accrued 628 air yards compared to 732 air yards for Cooper after Cooper was acquired. That dependency on vertical targets had an impact on Gallup’s 48.5 percent catch rate, but the rookie did reach 50-yards receiving in three of his final four games played in 2018.
Randall Cobb enters 2019 at 29-years old and has been on a steady decline for four years running. The further removed we are from his magical 2014 season, the more that season was a clear outlier for his anticipated production. Once again, injuries played a part in Cobb’s 2018 season as he missed seven games as he has missed 11 games over the past three seasons. Even with a resurgence, Cobb should be treated as an ancillary component to the passing game.
After spending a season doing his best Monty impersonation in the Monday Night Football booth in 2018, Jason Witten returns to the Cowboys at age 37. Without Witten, Dallas tight ends combined to catch 68-of-92 targets for 710 yards and four touchdowns a year ago. The last time we seen Witten on the field, he averaged a career-low 8.9 yards per reception and 6.4 yards per target with just 35 receiving yards per game.
Dissecting the Cowboys backfield is as easy as it gets. Ezekiel Elliott has led the NFL in rushing yards per game in each of his first three seasons in the league. On top of that rushing output that has remained steadily on the pantheon of the league, the Cowboys finally tapped into using Elliott as a do-it-all back last season. After catching 58 passes for 632 yards and three touchdowns through his first two seasons, Elliott caught 77 passes for 567 yards and three scores in 2018. After acquiring Amari Cooper, Zeke’s usage in the passing game caught fire as from Weeks 9-16 (he rested in Week 17), Elliott trailed only Christian McCaffrey in targets, receptions and receiving yardage for all running backs. That receiving work elevated Elliott because he actually had his worst fortune in the scoring department compared to his previous two seasons. After scoring on 3.9 percent of his carries through two years, Elliott found the end zone just six times (1.9 percent of his attempts). With positive touchdown recoil, a full season of Amari Cooper, and Travis Frederick returning to the offensive line, Elliott could be set up to have his best full season yet, which is saying something from a locked-in top-three draft selection.
Behind Elliott, the Cowboys acquired Tony Pollard in the fourth round of the draft this spring. Pollard is a jack of all trades type of offensive player, playing in the backfield, as a slot receiver and excelling on kickoff returns during his time at Memphis. Pollard posted 1,010 yards from scrimmage with the Tigers in 2018 with 10 total touchdowns. For his career, Pollard tallied 941 rushing yards and 1,292 receiving yards with nine touchdowns in each department while standing out in the return game, averaging a robust 30.1 yards per kickoff return while matching an FBS record with seven kickoff return scores. The Cowboys have already made Tavon Austin-esque proclamations about Pollard’s potential workload, but he is more of wildcard than fantasy asset at this time behind Elliott. Checking in at 6’0” and 210 pounds, Pollard is unlikely a workhorse back should Elliott suffer an injury or absence, leaving the camp battle between Jackson and rookie Weber as one that could have some relevancy should that event occur in season.
The Cowboys current 2019 win total sits an even nine games across the majority of books. They’ve won at least nine games in three consecutive seasons with Dak Prescott as their starting quarterback and have won 10 or more games in three of the past five years under Jason Garrett. The Cowboys have an above average schedule and you can get positive odds on Dallas reaching double-digit wins once again in 2019, something I believe will happen.