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Andrew Swanson | Archive | Email |
Staff Writer

2017 Player Outlooks: Dallas Cowboys

Dak Prescott

Dak Prescott's high-end QB2 performance will be difficult to repeat given Dallas' run-heavy approach.

QB Dak Prescott
(2016 QB Rank - No.14, 21.3 FPts/G)

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.

RB Ezekiel Elliott
(2016 RB Rank - No.2, 19.7 FPts/G)

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 the year?

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 sophomore season.

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 in 2017.

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.

WR Dez Bryant
(2016 WR Rank - No.12, 9.8 FPts/G)

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.

WR Cole Beasley
(2016 WR Rank - No.50, 7.1 FPts/G)

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 hes been carrying since late last season is cause for concern.

WR Terrance Williams
(2016 WR Rank - No.71, 5.6 FPts/G)

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.

TE Jason Witten
(2016 WR Rank - No.25, 5.6 FPts/G)

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.