Perhaps the only foe consistently stopping the Cowboys from having the most improsing fantasy offense are bones and muscles, and their ripping and breaking. Since all humans have bones and muscles, that’s a problem.
Notable Additions: None with a fake football impact
Notable Draft Picks: Travis Frederick, Gavin Escobar, Joseph Randle
The Marquee Men (the elitest of the elite)
Dez Bryant (ADP: 15.3): Bryant is my favorite receiver to watch out of all the receivers not named Calvin Johnson. He’s far too large to be able to run fast, run far, and jump high, often all in the same play. He’s that damn good, and his numbers (92 catches for 1,382 yards and 12 touchdowns last year) will consistently be inflated by the Cowboys’ high-volume passing which led to 138 targets.
There’s a problem with Bryant for us, though, and it’s the same one you’ll deal with if you’re the type who’s all about cornering the wide receiver market early with one of the elite options available. To get Bryant (or Johnson, or A.J. Green, or Brandon Marshall, and often also Julio Jones and Demaryius Thomas), you’ll have to give up a second-round pick. Hell, for Johnson it’s a first-round price, and as you can see from the above ADP, Bryant can also often creep into opening round territory. That’s troubling because of the scarcity at running back.
Let’s say you take Bryant at 15th overall, after drafting LeSean McCoy or Trent Richardson in the first round as your top running back. Now, you’re waiting until near the end of the third round until you’re on the clock again, flailing as 21 picks go by. If you’re lucky, the RB2 you land there is Le’Veon Bell, and then peace has been restored in your fantasy kingdom. But there’s a much greater chance that you’ll have to settle for one of the final featured backs on the board in Darren McFAdden (who could be horrible), or DeMarco Murray below (who could be broken).
That’s a significant step down from Matt Forte or Stevan Ridley, who were likely both available where you picked Bryant. In the very early rounds, position scarcity (see: running backs) is king this year.
DeMarco Murray (ADP: 27.0): Ahhh, the sad tale of one DeMarco Murray. You can all recite it by now: injuries, followed by teasing, followed by more injuries and teasing.
Part of me wants to hold Murray up as the classic example of the problem with the injury prone label. Instead, he’s mostly been wildly unlucky, with frequent breaks and sprains. Last year, a sprained left foot led to six missed games, and in 2011 it was a fractured right ankle that ended his season early. Even before he was on the field for a single NFL snap, Murray ruptured his hamstring at Oklahoma.
Fracture, rupture, and sprain. All of Murray’s serious problems have been the product of sudden and violent events which led to an injury. So basically, he’s been football’ed repeatedly. Yet still, we’re left with a burning question: how much bad luck can one really have?
Consider: a year ago at this time we were in awe over Adrian Peterson’s progress, and the likelihood that he’d be ready for opening day (you know, sort of like the slobbering over RG3 right now). But prior to his knee shredding at the end of the 2011 season, Peterson had logged 1,543 touches over five seasons and 73 games, a stretch in which he missed five games with minor injuries. In only two seasons, Murray has missed nine of a possible 32 games, and he’s touched a ball just 386 times.
Despite the knowledge of his fragile nature and/or bad luck, a healthy Murray still has a bulldozer-like quality. Depending on how your draft snakes around and where your early priorities lie, you may have to embrace risk and take a chance on Murray as your No. 2 running back (surely your 2013 attention span didn’t forget that scenario above yet, right?). If that happens, know that at least you’re spending your risk budget wisely. Murray straight plows dudes, recording five runs of 20 yards or more on just 161 carries last year. That tied him with Ray Rice on nearly 100 fewer carries.
Jason Witten (ADP: 59.7): Of the 648 pass attempts hurled by Tony Romo in 2012, 150 of them were directed at Jason Witten. That’s more targets than Dez Bryant, more targets than fellow tight end superman Jimmy Graham, and more targets than all but seven other players who are paid to catch balls.
But oh, it gets better. Remember that target number which represents 23.1 percent of Romo’s throws (he attempt 648 passes, third highest in the league), and then also recall that because of Jason Garrett’s desire to pass all the time every time, Witten’s 1,039 yards topped Graham’s 982. Yes, Graham missed essentially two games due to an injury, but even with that factored in, the difference in yardage is still significant considering the value you’re getting with Witten.
There’s value, and lots of it. With the glut of injuries at tight end (Aaron Hernandez got all murder-y, Rob Gronkowski will likely miss time along with Heath Miller, while Dennis Pitta is out for the year), Graham may climb to become a first-round pick. Meanwhile, at the his current ADP, Witten can be found up to 30 picks later after he averaged only two fantasy points fewer per game last year.
The Middle Men (middle-to-late round options)
Miles Austin (ADP: 75.2): Unlike Murray, this is definitely a case where the injury prone label is easier to tolerate. Instead of breaking and battling brutal luck, Austin has constantly fought hamstring issues over the past two seasons, missing six games in 2011, and being severely limited last year, though to his credit he didn’t miss any time. Combine that with Bryant’s emergence, and the result has been a steady decline in production since those heady days when we viewed Austin as a top tier wide receiver. In 2011, Austin had 1,320 receiving yards, a number that dipped to just 579 in 2011, before climbing back to 943 last year.
But volume will always keep Austin relevant, even if it’s as a WR3 now or low-end WR2. That’s the case with every Cowboys pass catcher, but especially so with Austin due to his breakaway speed in space that will lead to sporadic booming weeks. We saw that even in is shortened 2011, when 143 of his overall yardage (24.6 percent) came in one week. Ditto last year, when Austin had a 133-yard game in Week 8, and he only recorded one other 100-yarder.
Tony Romo (ADP: 80.4): If I draft Romo as my starting quarterback in every league I’m in this year, I’ll be happier than Dwayne Harris chasing a mountain goat.
You’re perspective on Romo may be deeply fractured, as football discourse has been plagued by the virus-like belief that he’s a dirty chocker, which is wholly inaccurate. That’s a conversation for another time, as right now we care only about his fantasy contributions and value, of which there’s plenty.
Your mind may also be tainted by Romo’s 19 interceptions last year, which certainly sucked (he tied a career high). But please don’t let your blinding rage allow you to forget that nine of those picks came over two particularly bad afternoons (week 4 and 8), and he had seven other games with a nice round zero in his interceptions column. And whatever, Romo’s picks will be long erased by his production relative to his ADP. That’s the selling point here.
As you can see, Romo is currently a late-sixth round pick in 12-team leagues, though often his ADP can slide much further, and into the eighth round. He’s then coming off the board about 57.3 picks (or four rounds, if you prefer) later than Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers, after he averaged only 4.2 fantasy points per game fewer than Brees, and 3.5 fewer than Rodgers. He did that largely with his 4,903 passing yards at a pace of 306.4 per game, his fourth +4,000-yard year over six fully healthy NFL seasons (Romo broke his collarbone in 2010, playing in only six games).
Tony Romo is the reason you wait on quarterbacks.
The Menial Peons (sleepers, flex plays, and matchup plays)
Dwayne Harris/Terrence Williams (ADP: undrafted): Drafting Austin is the rare time when it’s wise to handcuff a wide receiver, which is especially true for you deep leaguers who won’t see your loved ones between the months of September and Decemver. In another sort of rarity, this is an offense where the third wide receiver has legitimate weekly flex value, again due to passing volume.
Right now, Harris — the aforementioned animal chaser — has the edge on that job in camp, but Williams is still challenging.
The Mop-Up Men (deeeep sleepers and handcuffs)
Lance Dunbar (ADP: undrafted): I think we can all agree that handcuffing DeMarco Murray’s backup is what intelligent people do, and right now that title belongs to Dunbar, though philip Tanner could still push him through the reminder of August.