Over the last two seasons, the Cowboys have a 22-10 record with one playoff berth. Their step back in success came on the offensive side of the ball. Dallas slipped to 14th in offensive yards and points scored (354), which was 68 fewer points than 2016 (421). Six games without Ezekiel Elliott didn’t help the Cowboys’ offensive cause. Jason Garrett returns for an eighth season as head coach with a 67-53 record and two playoff appearance.
Scott Linehan will run the offense for the fourth straight season. Over three years as a head coach in the NFL, Scott went 11-25 with the Rams. He has 18 seasons of experience as an offensive coordinator. Twice over the last four years, Dallas delivered two top five scoring seasons. 2018 will be especially challenging due to huge questions at the wide receiver position.
The Cowboys’ defense showed growth in defensive yards allowed in each of the last four years. They moved to 8th in yards allowed in 2017, but Dallas had regression in points allowed (332 – 13th) from 2016 (306). Rod Marinelli returns for a fifth season as defensive coordinator. He failed in his chance at being a head coach in the NFL (10-38).
The biggest loss in the offseason was WR Dez Bryant who remains unsigned. Dallas also released WR Brice Butler. The top replacement signed in the offseason was WR Allen Hurns who played his best ball (64/1031/10) in 2015 with Jaguars. The Cowboys added Deonte Thompson and Tavon Austin for WR depth.
Dallas moved on from RB Alfred Morris, P Sam Irwin-Hill, and FB Keith Smith while TE Jason Witten retired.
T Bryon Bell and G Jonathan Cooper will seek backup work elsewhere. Dallas added T Cameron Fleming to be the top option off the bench.
The Cowboys released CB Orlando Scandrick and CB Bene Benwikere. Scandrick has CB3 talent, but his cover skills showed a decline in 2017.
Dallas added DE Kony Ealy to their defense while losing LB Anthony Hitchens. Ealy struggled to defend the run last year while producing a career-low one sack with the Patriots as a rotational player. Hitchens played the best ball of his career in 2017 while setting a career high in tackles (84) with two defended passes.
In the first round, the Cowboys drafted LB Leighton Vander Esch. He comes with great vision and football instincts while expecting an edge player on all downs. His quickness and change of direction speed give him an edge in coverage. Vander Esch needs to add more strength in his upper body to widen his value to a defense.
Even with strength on the offensive line, Dallas invested G Connor Williams in the second round. Williams has a strong foundation in his technique which adds the most value in run blocking. A switch to guard will help his floor and ceiling, but Connor needs more fight in the trenches to become a winner on more plays.
The top out at WR for the Cowboys came in the third round with Michael Gallup. His scouting report gives him a sleek feel with strong hands and base skills in his route running. Gallup creates separation over the short areas of the field while having the second gear to beat a defenses deep. His next step is improving his release vs. press coverage.
In the fourth round, the Cowboys tried to add more pop in their pass rush with LB Dorance Armstrong. His speed and quickness should work well to attack the QB, but a strong blocker can stalemate him at the line of scrimmage while lacking the secondary moves to finish his pass rush. Armstrong needs to add more upper body strength while developing his skill set to help in the run game.
TE Dalton Schultz was the second choice in the fourth round. His skill set won’t replace the void created by the loss of Jason Witten. Schultz fits the mold of a blocking TE with late value in the passing game as a bailout option.
Dallas added QB Mike White to compete for the backup job. White has an NFL arm and size (6’5” and 224 lbs.) while needing to improve his reads and movements within the pocket. Mike is a project who may emerge in a couple of seasons.
In the sixth round, the Cowboys drafted LB Chris Covington. He looks the part of an upside linebacker while lacking vision and football instincts. Covington has a power skill set while needing to add more play strength. His best value will come against the run while attacking the line of scrimmage.
With their last two picks in the 2018 NFL Draft, Dallas focused on improving their depth at RB and WR with Cedric Wilson and Bo Scarbrough.
Wilson is a former QB who offers an athletic skill set. His route running has room for growth, but his release is a problem against press coverage. Cedric may develop into a deep threat while needing to get stronger with questionable hands.
Scarbrough has a power player, but he needs to add more strength to his upper body. Bo is a north/south runner with limited open field ability. Possible value in short yardage with a history of injuries.
Dallas finished second in the NFL in rushing yards (2,170) with 18 TDs and 12 runs over 20 yards. They averaged 30.0 rushes per game and 4.5 yards per carry.
The Cowboys fell to 26th in passing yards (3,141) with 22 TDs and 13 Ints. They gained only 6.7 yards per pass attempt with 34 passes over 20 yards. Their offensive line allowed 32 sacks and 81 QB hits.
LT Tyron Smith is a solid anchor on the offensive line after getting drafted ninth overall in 2011. He signed a massive $109 million contract in 2014 for eight seasons. Over the last two seasons, he missed six games with knee and back issues. When on the field, Tyron lost value in pass blocking while remaining an asset in the run game.
LG Connor Williams should move into the starting lineup after getting drafted in the first round. He’ll add value to the run game while needing to add strength to improve his success in pass protection.
C Travis Frederick is a great player at his position with high value in all areas. Dallas selected him in the second round in 2013. Over the last three years, Travis has been one of the best centers in the league.
RG Zack Martin has been a beast in pass protection while continuing to improve in the run game. Martin is a third player on this line that graded as an edge in all areas with four strong seasons on his resume being selected 16th overall in the 2014 NFL Draft.
RT La’el Collins moved from left guard to right tackle in 2017, but he failed to make an impact in all areas. His game needs the most improvement in pass protection. Collins has first-round talent, but his game hasn’t emerged at this point of his career.
The Cowboys have three elite players on the offensive line with talent at two other positions. They should grade as the top line in the game in run blocking while needing to improve in pass protection.
The above data shows the strength of schedule as far as rushing attempts (RATT), rushing yards (YDS), yards per attempt rushing (YA), rushing touchdowns (TDs), completions (COMP), passing attempts (PATT), passing yards (YDS), yards per attempt passing (YA), and passing touchdowns (TDS).
This information is based on 2017, which will work as our starting point for 2018. We’ll look at all the changes on offense on each team in the NFL plus the upgrades and downgrades on each team on the defensive side. We’ll update this table when we finish the research on all 32 teams.
2017 LG Average = the league average of all stats from all 32 teams in 2017.
2017 Results = this is the results for each team in the NFL.
2017 Adjustment is based on the 2017 league average and the 2017 results for each team, this number will show if each team is above or below the league average in each stat category and the basis for the strength of schedule.
Dallas has a neutral schedule for their rushing attack. They have four tough games (CAR, TEN, and PHI X 2) while expecting to have an edge on two other games vs. the Redskins.
The Cowboys have one poor matchup in the passing game against the Jaguars, which is offset by six favorable games (IND, DET, TB, TEN, and NYG X 2).
Dallas has one the few balanced offenses in the league, which gives Ezekiel Elliott a high-volume opportunity as long as game score doesn’t get out of line. The passing game is in transition with Dez Bryant out of the picture, and Jason Witten retired.
QB Dak Prescott – Over two seasons as the starting QB for the Cowboys, Prescott has a 22-10 record with one playoff appearance. In his second year in the NFL, Dak has regression his completion rate (62.9 – 67.8 in 2016) while making more mistakes (13 Ints – 4 in 2016). His ability run (57/357) and score rushing TDs (12 over 32 games in his career) helps raise his floor from week-to-week. Prescott is a winning game manager with borderline starting value. The change in receiving core does paint a lower ceiling in the passing game. I expect below league average passing attempts with about 25 TDs and 3,800 combined yards.
Other Options: Cooper Rush, Mike White, Dalton Strum
RB Ezekiel Elliott – The drama behind the Elliott six-game suspension was insane in 2017. The NFL proved their point by not caving on his suspension after it appeared that Elliott was going to be cleared. In the end, Ezekiel finished with 1,252 combined yards with nine TDs and 26 catches. He saw a decline in his yards per carry (5.1 in 2016 and 4.1 in 2017) while losing his big-play ability (five runs over 20 yards compared to 14 in 2016). He averaged 125 yards and 26.8 touches per game. His path put him on pace for 2,000+ yards with double TDs and close to 40 catches. In 2018, the Cowboys’ offense will flow through Elliott while expecting more growth in the passing game. The strength in his offensive line gives him a chance to regain his value in yards per rush. Pencil him in for 2,000 yards with a run at 15+ TDs and 50+ catches. The lack of receiving options may keep some Fantasy owners away while Ezekiel proves to be a rock-solid player from week-to-week.
RB Rod Smith – Over the last six games in 2017 with Ezekiel Elliott out of the picture, Smith had 55 touches for 313 yards with five TDs and 13 catches. He gained only 3.6 yards per rush while showing some explosiveness in the passing game highlighted by his success in Week 14 (5/113/1). Over four seasons at Ohio State, Smith gained only 643 combined yards with ten TDs and nine catches. Real tough to trust him as a handcuff to Elliott.
RB Bo Scarbrough – In his sophomore and junior seasons at Alabama, Scarbrough gained 1,539 yards with 19 TDs and 21 catches on 270 touches. His best season came in 2016 (834 combined yards with 11 TDs and four catches) while gaining 6.5 yards per rush. Power back with no upside in the passing game.
Other Options: Trey Williams, Jordan Chunn, Darius Jackson
WR Allen Hurns – Injuries crushed the Fantasy value of Hurns over the last two seasons. He’s missed 11 of the last 32 games with ankle and hamstring issues. His career started off better than expected in 2014 and 2015 when Allen caught 115 passes over 23 starts for 1,708 yards and 16 TDs on 202 targets. In 2015, he offered big play and scoring ability (64/1031/10) as the WR2 for the Jaguars. Over the first nine games last year, Hurns had 36 catches for 446 yards and two TDs on 51 targets with two playable games (6/82/1 and 5/101) in the Fantasy games. Allen can be a mismatch problem out of the slot if the Cowboys choose to use him in that role. The WR structure in Dallas will be in transition in 2018 leading to Hurns possibly being the top receiving option. Last year the WRs on the Cowboys caught 183 passes for 2,112 yards and 12 TDs on 309 targets. If healthy for games Allen projects to have a 60-catch opportunity for 800+ yards while expecting to lead the team in receiving TDs. I view him as WR4 in PPR leagues.
WR Michael Gallup – Over two seasons at Colorado State, Gallup caught 176 passes for 2,690 yards and 21 TDs. He looked more explosive in 2016 when Michael gained 16.7 yards per catch with 14 TDs, but he did set a career high in catches (100) and yards (1418) last year. Gallup needs to get strong to help his release in press coverage. His speed (4.51) and quickness can’t match the best WRs in the NFL, but he has the mid-range gear to beat a defender to the ball while offering good hands. Michael has a knack for breaking tackles with open field moves to beat a defense for a long TD on a short pass. This season he’ll slide into the Dez Bryant role in the Cowboys’ offense while expecting a learning curve. His biggest challenge will be defeating better cornerbacks and handling the tough throws over the middle of the field. In 2018, Dallas should use him as an outside threat while trying to use his run after the catch ability on slants and screens. Possible 60+ catches with a chance to deliver some big games. Game score will be key to his upside and opportunity.
WR Terrance Williams – In May, Williams was out partying leading to an arrest for drunken driving that resulted in an accident. In the offseason, he had surgery to repair an issue in his right foot. Terrance never developed into a viable starting Fantasy WR despite showing growth in 2015 (52/840/3) and scoring ability (13 TDs) over his first 32 games in the NFL. Last year he set a career high in catches (53), but a career low in yards per catch (10.7) with no TDs. The change in the structure of the Cowboys’ WRs should help Williams make bigger plays, but Dak Prescott needs to improve his value in the deep passing game. As best, the fourth options in the passing game for the Cowboys behind Hurns, Gallup, and the RB position.
WR Cole Beasley – The lack of a TE in 2018 should work toward Beasley regaining some targets. His game showed growth in 2016 (75/833/5 on 98 targets), but Cole never found his rhythm last season. He had fewer than 35 yards receiving in 14 of his 15 games while only seeing over six targets in one game. He scored all four of his TDs in two games (Week 5 – 4/23/2 and Week 9 – 4/24/2). His biggest failure in 2018 was the sharp decline in his catch rate (57.1) compared to 76.5 in 2016, which looks to be a problem when he gained only 8.7 yards per catch. If Dallas decides to use Hurns out of the slot to keep their best three WRs on the field, Beasley will be found on the waiver wire in most leagues. Cole has a lot to prove this year, and he could lose his role/opportunity to Tavon Austin as well.
WR Tavon Austin – The change in the coaching staff of the Rams led to Austin losing any value in the passing game (14/47) thanks to Sammy Watkins, Cooper Kupp, and Robert Woods added to the roster. LA did give him 59 rushes leading to 270 yards and one TD. In his career, Tavon averages only 8.7 yards per catch, which fits more of a running back role in the passing game. Austin will be listed as a RB in some Fantasy formats in 2018, which may lead to him being more attractive. He’s a small player (5’8” and 179 lbs.) with his best asset being his quickness. His skill set will overlap Cole Beasley with weaker route running and hands. For Dallas, he’ll be a change of pace runner with some value out of the backfield in the passing game. Tough buy in Fantasyland unless he develops into the WR3 in the Cowboys’ offense.
Other Options: Deonte Thompson, Noah Brown, Cedrick Wilson, Lance Lenoir, K.D. Cannon
TE Rico Gathers – Gathers is a former basketball player with no experience playing football in his college career. Rico will be an interesting player, but it will take him some time to develop the techniques to have success at the pro level. He missed all of 2017 with a concussion injury while still waiting for his first NFL catch after getting drafted in the sixth round in 2016. Dallas doesn’t have a pass catching TE on their roster, which means Gathers may have the most upside in the passing game if he’s ready to handle NFL playing time. Player to follow this summer to see if the training camps reports are positive. In two games in the 2017 preseason, Rico caught seven passes for 106 yards and two TDs.
TE Dalton Schultz – Over three seasons at Stanford, Schutz caught 55 passes for 555 yards and five TDs. He’s a run-blocking type TE with no upside in the receiving game.
K Dan Bailey – This guy is one of the best kickers in the game. He’s made 88.2 percent of his career chances (186-for-211) with excellent success from 50 yards or longer (27-for-40). Dan averaged six attempts from long range over the last six years. Bailey missed his first two extra points in his career in 2017 pushing his mark to 97-for-99 since the NFL moved back the extra point mark in 2015. Last year Dan missed four games hamstring issue, which led to his worst season in the NFL (75 percent success rate on 20 field goals). As much as like his leg, Bailey plays in an offense that has success running the ball in for TDs in the red zone. Nice steady kicker with the leg to deliver a top 10 season if the Cowboys’ offense can regain its scoring ability.
Dallas has a league average schedule for their run defense in 2018. They have four games (DET, TB, and WAS X 2) vs. teams with risk running the ball. Their defense will be tested on the ground in five games (CAR, JAX, NO, and PHI X 2).
The Cowboys have three games (IND, CAR, and TB) with poor results passing the ball last year. Their pass defense has four tough games (DET, ATL, NO, and TB).
Dallas ranked seventh in the NFL against the run (1,664 yards) in 2017 while allowing seven rushing TDs. Opposing teams had seven runs over 20 yards.
Despite allowing 28 passing TDs with only ten Ints, the Cowboys finished 11th in passing yards allowed (3,425). Their defense delivered 38 sacks.
DE DeMarcus Lawrence has a jump in sacks (14.5) in 2017 while setting a career high in tackles (58). Lawrence played well against the run. Last year was his best year by far in the NFL after getting drafted in the second round in 2014. DE Tyrone Crawford played well in all areas last year, but his stat sheet (27 tackles and four sacks) had boring results.
In the first round in 2017, Dallas added DE Taco Charlton. His talent in college outweighed his production, which will come with more bulk and strength added. Taco needs to add an edge to his game to create more success against power defenders. Charlton has the quickness and physical attributes to offer upside rushing the quarterback while expecting to control his area of the field against the run. In his rookie season, Taco was on the field for 399 plays leading to 19 tackles and three sacks.
DT David Irving added productive snaps off the bench in a rotational role last year. He finished with seven sacks and 22 tackles while being a risk vs. the run. DT Maliek Collins struggles against the run while seeing his sack total (2.5) drop by 50 percent in 2017.
LB Sean Lee missed five games last year, but he still managed to get 101 tackles. Lee has no value rushing the QB while being an edge vs. the run and in pass coverage. LB Jaylon Smith missed the 2016 season due to a bad knee injury that came in January 2016. A year and a half later, Smith still isn’t 100 percent. Jaylon is an undersized linebacker (6’2” and 223 lbs.) with impact speed and quickness to add value in covering the whole field in the running game, attacking the QB, and in pass coverage. Over 16 games in 2017, he had 81 tackles and one sack while failing to make an impact in any area. LB Leighton Vander Esch is expected to start in his rookie season after the Cowboys drafted him in the first round. He brings excellent vision while expecting to improve the run defense.
S Jeff Heath set a career high in tackles (71), defended passes (5), and Ints (3) in his fifth season in the NFL. He does have some failure in run support. S Xavier Woods offers the most value going forward with some questions about his change of direction ability. In his rookie season, Woods was a neutral player in all areas. S Byron Jones played well in his third year in the league after getting drafted in the first round in 2015. Jones had 82 tackles, five defended passes, and an Int. He projects as an asset in all areas.
CB Jourdan Lewis handled himself well in his first year in the NFL after getting drafted in the third round. Jourdan will have the most success against second-tier WRs. He can play in press coverage, but he needs to cheat (hold) to maintain an edge. Woods is a playmaker when he plays deep in coverage where his game has the most value. He’ll add value against the run while still needing to improve his tackling skills. Last year he had 54 tackles, ten defended passes, and one Int. CB Chidobe Awuzie missed six games in 2017 with a shoulder injury after getting drafted in the second round. He has the movements and vision to handle WRs over the short areas of the field. Chidobe plays well in coverage with a fluid transition out of his backpedal. He gets into trouble in run support and when asked to play deep one-on-one coverage. He does his job more than make impact plays on the ball. Lewis is an undersized (5’10” and 188 lbs.) playmaker with more quickness than top-end speed.
The Cowboys defense has talent at all three levels with the biggest risk/question mark being the interior run defense. The experience by their young players in the secondary should lead to more growth in 2018. Dallas will get after the QB on the outside with excellent players at the linebacking position. The next step is creating more turnovers. Possible top 12 Fantasy defense with matchup value.
2018 NFL Team Outlooks