Dez Bryant’s foot and then Tony Romo’s shoulder.
That’s the Cliffs Notes version of Dallas’ 2015 downfall. Yet the league’s best O-line still helped Darren McFadden deliver wonderful fantasy value to those who drafted him late. Jason Witten continued to provide steady-if-unexciting PPR stats.
And that was about it.
Romo and Bryant are back for 2016, but for how long? And will they take a fantasy backseat to the 1st guy in the spotlight here?
Let’s preview the Cowboys …
What will happen: Ezekiel Elliott will live up to his draft price.
We can understand if you’re just not comfortable drafting a rookie RB in Round 1, but history doesn’t seem to stand against Elliott as much as you might believe.
Over the past 20 years -- dating back to 1996 (that make you feel old?) -- 38 rookie RBs have averaged 15+ carries per game. That seems like a safe floor for Elliott, after Darren McFadden averaged 18.4 as the starter last year and DeMarco Murray 24.5 the season before.
Eighteen of those 38 rookies posted PPR scoring averages that would have ranked among the top 10 RBs last season. In non-PPR, 22 of the 38 posted per-game averages that would have ranked top-7 at the position last season.
Does that seem like cherrypicking, comparing those fantasy scores from other years to last season’s down output at RB? Well, the downward trend of RB scoring has accompanied a downward trend in workloads. So Elliott won’t need to get the ball nearly as much in 2016 to rank near the top of the league as he would have 10-20 years ago. And I stuck with just carries above to show that he can deliver strong fantasy value even if he doesn’t add a ton of receptions. The sample group includes varying profiles, from all-around workhorses to low-reception backs, TD guys and limited TD producers.
Does this mean Elliott’s a lock for top-5 production? Of course not. Nobody is. And injury can get in anyone’s way. But the rookie looks like as strong a candidate as any other RB you might consider in Round 1.
What won’t happen: Terrance Williams will make you feel comfy.
Williams will almost certainly outperform his ADP in terms of total fantasy points. He has finished his 3 pro seasons 44th, 53rd and 44th even among PPR receivers, yet still sits just 62nd in WR ADP in MFL10 drafting so far. That makes him a nice best-ball target.
But good luck extracting that value from him when you have to set your weekly lineup. Through 3 years, Williams has tallied just 6 total games of 5+ receptions. In 2014 -- with Dez Bryant and Tony Romo healthy and the Cowboys leaning heavily toward the run -- Williams surpassed 2 recpetions in a game only 4 times.
For his career, there have been 2 games in which he caught more than 4 balls and scored a TD. That means you’re inserting him into your lineup and then praying for a TD. He delivered 13 of those over 2013 and 2014, with Romo playing 15 games each year. So Williams certainly isn’t worthless. Just don’t draft him expecting to steal a weekly starter.
What might happen: Dez Bryant will blow up your team.
OK. Perhaps that’s an overstatement. We’re not really anti-Bryant around here. He does, after all, sit #7 in our WR rankings. But he also ranks 4th among all wideouts and 6th among all skill players in probability of losing time to injury this season, according to Sports Injury Predictor. Blame that on the foot fracture that knocked him out of the lineup twice last season and required follow-up surgery in January.
When on the field, he’s an undeniable beast. Bryant ranked just 12th in the league in targets in Dallas’ run-heavy 2014 offense, yet he finished 4th among wideouts in PPR points. From 2010 -- when Bryant entered the league -- through 2014, no other player caught as many TD passes as his 56.
So that’s what you’ll need to balance out for yourself: the position’s biggest TD threat vs. 1 of its biggest injury risks. The earlier you draft such a player, the more risk you incur. Decide how comfy you are with Bryant’s risk/reward before you’re on the clock.