A preseason injury to Tony Romo last season opened the door for
rookie fourth-round pick Dak Prescott to take over the starting
quarterback job for the Dallas Cowboys. Along with fellow rookie
Ezekiel Elliott, Prescott led the Cowboys to an NFC-best 13-3
record and a first-round bye in the playoffs.
Prescott would finish second to Elliott in rookie of the year
voting while setting NFL records for completion percentage (67.8),
passer rating (104.9), and TD-INT ratio (23-4) by a rookie QB.
To avoid a sophomore slump, Prescott will need to overcome a tough
schedule with road games against Denver and Arizona, and three
home games against the Giants, Rams, and Packers before the bye.
In addition, the vaunted Dallas offensive line that helped protect
Prescott and open gaping holes for Elliott is without two starting
players, as Ronald Leary left via free agency to Denver and veteran
right guard Doug Free opted for retirement.
Despite these knocks, Prescott delivered a record-setting performance
by a rookie quarterback by making smart decisions with the ball
and limiting his mistakes. If he can continue to limit turnovers
and score touchdowns with his feet, he once again could be a viable
fantasy quarterback for those owners who opt to wait on QB. However,
if the offensive line takes a step back and teams are able to
limit Elliott and the ground game, Prescott could be forced to
take on more of a role in the offense, which could lead to more
interceptions and limit his fantasy value.
Elliott certainly lived up to the hype and early draft position
with 1,631 rushing yards and 16 total touchdowns to go along with
363 receiving yards last season. The former Ohio State Buckeye
star will once again be the focal point of the Cowboys offense,
with well over 300-touches likely again in 2017.
The question is will changes to his offensive line limit his
effectiveness on the ground and will a tough opening schedule,
with road games against Denver and Arizona, and a difficult home
game against the Rams, marginalize his fantasy production to start
One area in which Elliott may improve is in the passing game,
as the Cowboys did not fully utilize his skills in that arena
in 2016. Elliott displayed an excellent ability to pass protect
and catch out of the backfield in college and during his first
season in the NFL and the Cowboys coaching staff is on record
stating that they would like to get Elliott more involved in his
Although there are questions surrounding changes to the offensive
line, and a downgrade to the Dallas defense that could lead to
less favorable game scripts, Elliott is a consensus top-3 pick
in standard leagues and should deliver top-10 fantasy production
UPDATE 7/22/17: Elliott's off-field issues
are becoming increasingly worrisome for fantasy owners. The Cowboys
running back may already be facing a short suspension for a domestic
issue last summer and could face a longer suspension if he's found
to be at fault in a recent nightclub skirmish.
Bryant finished with a somewhat disappointing 9.8 fantasy points
per game in 2016, well off his career-best 14.3 in 2014 when he
posted 1,320 yards and 16 touchdowns on 136 targets. After playing
16-game slates in his previous three seasons, various injuries
have limited the former first round pick to just 22 games dating
back to the start of 2015.
On a positive note, Bryant enters the season healthy and showed
a positive rapport with Prescott in the 13 games the two played
together in 2016. Despite a low catch total (50 catches on 96
targets), Bryant posted a career-best 15.9 yards per catch while
on pace for double digit touchdowns.
One of the biggest knocks against Bryant and the main reason
why he is not ranked higher is the demanding schedule he faces
to start the season, with tough matchups against elite cornerbacks
like Patrick Peterson, Aquib Talib, and Trumaine Johnson. Also,
Bryant will be shadowed for four divisional games by Josh Norman
and Janoris Jenkins - two cornerbacks that have limited his production
in the past.
A PPR gem with 75 catches for 883 yards and five touchdowns last
season, Beasley quickly became a favorite check down option for
rookie Dak Prescott, starting with eight catches on 12 targets
for 65 yards Week 1 against the Giants. As defenses continue to
focus on Bryant and Elliott, Beasley could be a sneaky play in
both standard and PPR formats, as Prescott will look his way often
should the pocket break down and Bryant is covered by one of the
many talented cornerbacks he will face in 2017. The drafting of
rookie Ryan Switzer who projects to be a slot receiver and the
fact Beasley missed spring workouts with a hamstring ailment that
he’s been carrying since late last season is cause for concern.
A wide receiver only relevant in deep 12 and 14-team leagues,
Williams failed to become a fantasy relevant player after an impressive
rookie campaign in 2014 in which he scored eight touchdowns on
only 37 receptions. He managed to increase his yardage to a respectable
840 yard in his third season in the league, but his touchdowns
fell to three that season, and he continued to be a non-factor
in the red zone in 2016.
With Bryant and Elliott working as the primary TD threat for
the Cowboys and Witten and Beasley acting as secondary options,
Williams is a role player with very little fantasy value in 2017.
There was a popular narrative that Williams would be the recipient
of more work when Bryant missed four games last season, but that
did not materialize with the Cowboys focusing even more on the
run game and short throw to slot man Cole Beasley.
At a deep position with many tight ends that can deliver similar
numbers, Witten faded into fantasy irrelevancy in 2016 with 69
catches for 673 yards and three touchdowns, with 134 of those
yards coming in one big game against Cleveland Week 9. However,
the weakness of the position allowed Witten to be a TE2 finishing
12th in fantasy points scored among all tight ends.
A lock for the NFL Hall of Fame when he finally hangs up his
cleats, Witten is more of a role player in the Cowboy offense
and a streaming option against weak defenses for fantasy purposes.