After sitting out in 2019, Mike McCarthy takes over as head coach of the Dallas Cowboys. He had a successful 11-year run (114-61-1) with the Packers, leading to nine trips to the postseason and a Super Bowl win in 2010. Over his final two seasons with Green Bay, he went 11-16-1.
Dallas made the playoffs three times over the last six years while compiling a 56-40 record. Last year the Cowboys offense led the NFL in yards, which came after a disappointing finish in 2018 (22nd). They also scored 95 points (434 – 6th) more than the previous season (339).
Kellen Moore returns as the offensive coordinator. He went from backup QB with the Lions from 2012 to 2017 to the Cowboys QB coach in 2018. Moore starts the year at age 31, putting him on a path to a head coaching job if Dallas can repeat their success offensively and make a deep run in the playoffs.
Their defense slipped to 11th in points allowed (321) and ninth in yards allowed.
Mike Nolan earns his eighth job as a defensive coordinator over his 33 seasons as an NFL coach. In his last three seasons, he worked as the LB coach for Saints. Nolan struggled over his four seasons as the head coach for the 49ers.
The Cowboys lost top CB Byron Jones, who signed a big contract with the Dolphins in March. Jones plays well in coverage, but he rarely creates turnovers.
Their defense added S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, DT Gerald McCoy, and DT Dontari Poe. All three players expect to be in the starting lineup.
Clinton-Dix played well every year with success in both run support and pass coverage. McCoy has a long history of being a top run defender, but his value in the pass rush is trending backward. Poe projects as a rotational player with more upside defending the run than in providing sacks.
On defense, Dallas moved on from DE Robert Quinn, DT Maliek Collins, S Jeff Heath, DE Kerry Hyder, S Kavon Frazier and DL Christian Covington.
The offense lost WR Randall Cobb, TE Jason Witten, WR Tavon Austin, G Xavier Su’a-Filo, and T Cameron Fleming.
Cobb played well as a WR3 for the Cowboys while Witten helped move the chains.
In the first round, Dallas took a swing at WR CeeDee Lamb. His speed (4.5 forty) and strength (11 reps in the bench press at the NFL combined) fall short of the top wide receivers in this year’s class. Lamb may struggle against press coverage, but his feel for space and patience will create many wins at the line of scrimmage if tested. He plays with a variance in play speed, helping him get open when the ball is in the air. This style of play adds value to his game at the goal line.
Over the next three rounds, the Cowboys tried to upgrade the defensive side of the ball (CB Trevon Diggs, DT Neville Gallimore, and CB Reggie Robinson).
Diggs has upside as a press cover cornerback with playmaking skills. He’ll have risk in the deep passing game until he needs to improve his technique and reads on double moves. Diggs has a wide receiver background, which helps his defensive plan.
Gallimore can be quick off the snap with the ability to create early wins. He lacks the ideal base to gain an edge in leverage, leading to many stalemates and an idling motor. Gallimore shows value when he has an open field to run down ball carriers. His hands and power need work if he wants to earn more playing time at the next level.
Robinson brings an exciting combination of speed and strength with an eye for the ball. His transition in coverage in pass routes has risk at times due to his below-par change of direction quickness, falling to match top wide receivers.
Dallas added G Tyler Biadasz in the fourth round. His foundation skill set grades well while also offering plus hands and an excellent feel for his blocking assignments. Biadasz comes up short in pass protection and his ability to make run blocks outside his initial defender. More insurance than a viable starter.
In the fifth round, the Cowboys drafted LB Bradlee Anae. He plays with power, fight, and quickness, helping his value in the pass rush. Anae needs to improve when asked to hold his ground in run support. His pass-rushing moves have depth, but he doesn’t always make the right decision when reading the developing play.
The possible insurance card at quarterback came with the addition of Ben DiNucci in the seventh round. His arm isn’t ideal to start in the NFL while having a rhythm passer feel. DiNucci offers value in the run with better than expected accuracy on the move.
Dallas rose to fifth in the NFL in rushing yards (2,153) with 18 TDs and 11 runs over 20 yards. They averaged 28.1 rushes per game and 4.8 yards per carry.
The Cowboys climbed to third in passing yards (4,902) with 30 TDs and 11 Ints. They gained only 8.2 yards per pass attempt with 68 passes over 20 yards. Their offensive line allowed 23 sacks and 87 QB hits.
LT Tyron Smith
Over the last four seasons, Smith missed 13 games with knee, ankle, neck, and back issues. When on the field, he remains a top pass-blocking while having a winning resume as a run blocker. Smith has regressed in each of the past four years in the run game.
LG Connor Williams
After struggling in his rookie season, Williams tore his ACL in his left knee late in November of 2019. He did improve in pass protection with a slight uptick in run blocking. Williams has a strong foundation in his technique, which gives him the most upside 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.
C Tyler Biadasz
With Travis Frederick retiring due to an injury, the Cowboys have a void to fill at the center position. Biadasz has the best resume to seize the job. He’ll improve a quick-hitting run game even with a limited range. His next step is developing in pass protection.
RG Zack Martin
Martin has been a beast in pass protection in all six years in the NFL while also offering an excellent foundation in run blocking. The Cowboys drafted him in the first round in 2014.
RT La’el Collins
In 2019, Collins made the move from underachiever to an elite asset on the offensive line. He dominated in the run game while showing more growth in pass blocking.
This offensive line still has three top players, but the left guard and center positions look to be in transition in 2020. Dallas should run the ball well this year, with some regression expected in sacks allowed. Overall, the Cowboys still have a top ten offensive line.
The 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 2019, which will work as our starting point for 2020. 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.
2019 LG Average = the league average of all stats from all 32 teams in 2019.
2019 Results = this is the results for each team in the NFL.
2019 Adjustment is based on the 2019 league average and the 2019 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.
The Cowboys almost have a neutral schedule for their rushing offense. They have four excellent matchups (CLE, CIN, and WAS X 2) while expected to be tested in three other contests (BAL and PHI X 2).
On the passing side, Dallas has four unfavorable games (CLE, PIT, BAL, and SF). Their explosiveness throwing the ball should come against SEA, ARI, and NYG (2).
The Cowboys had surprising success throwing the ball in 2019, and they added another explosive wide receiver (CeeDee Lamb) in this year’s draft. Ezekiel Elliott gives them a top running back with more upside if Dallas can play from the lead in more games.
Here’s a look at the early projections for the Cowboys, which will be fluid all summer after taking in all injury updates and training camp news:
The Cowboys pushed their way to second in the league in passing yards (4,902) thanks to Prescott figuring out how to make plays in the deep passing game (68 completions over 68 yards – 3rd and 16 over 40 yards – 2nd).
He set career-highs in completions (388), passing attempts (596), passing yards (4,902), yards per pass attempt (8.2), and TDs (33). Prescott passed for over 300 yards in seven games with four of those showings resulting in 397 or more passing yards. He finished as the second-highest scoring quarterback in four-point passing TD leagues (399.80 fantasy points – 24.99 per game). Prescott finished with seven games with three TDs or more.
His next step is improving on the road (11 combined TDs – 22 at home). Dallas has a stud RB and WR1, and WR Michael Gallop (66/1107/6) is gaining momentum.
The Cowboys even added WR Cee Dee Lamb with the 17th overall pick in this year’s draft. At first glance, I thought Lamb might not have enough chances to make an impact in his rookie season, but the loss of WR Randall Cobb and TE Jason Witten opens up 118 catches based on 2019 stats.
After scoring six rushing TDs in each of his first three years, Prescott ended with three TDs on the ground last year.
I dropped his projections back slightly (4,997 combined yards with 33 TDs and 11 Ints. Prescott has an ADP of 52 in early June as the fourth quarterback drafted.
Dalton struggled to win games over his last four seasons (20-35-1), leading to him losing his starting job for the Bengals and searching for a new home in 2020. Over his first five years in the NFL, he has a winning record every season (50-26-1) while stumbling in the playoffs (0-4).
His completion rate (59.1) is fading along with weakness in his yards per pass attempt (6.7).
This year he'll give the Cowboys veteran experience off the bench and add insurance for Dak Prescott if his contract negotiations happen to hit an impasse.
Other options: Ben DiNucci, Clayton Thorson
The floor for the running back position in Dallas has been extremely high since Ezekiel Elliott arrived. The most significant area of question is the running back opportunity in the passing game.
In 2019, Dallas had a massive step forward in the value of their passing game, but their running backs had fewer catches (69), receiving yards (526), and targets (94) than in 2018 (88/640/3 on 110 targets).
Dak Prescott does steal rushing touchdowns, which lowers the overall ceiling of the Cowboys’ RBs in scoring as well.
Over his 56 games, Elliott gained 7,024 combined yards (125 YPG) with 48 TDs and 189 catches, which works out to about 21.0 fantasy points per game in PPR leagues.
Even with his great success, he’s still looking for a season with impact TDs paired with top tier catches for the RB position. His peak in TDs (16) came in 2016, his high total in combined yards (2,001) occurred in 2018, and he set his career-high in catches (77) in 2018.
Last year Elliott gained over 100 yards rushing in seven contests, but he also finished with fewer than 55 yards on the ground in five games. The Cowboys rarely featured him in the passing game, leading to ten weeks with 30 yards or fewer receiving. Elliott had over three catches in just six games.
Dak Prescott tends to steal some of his upside in rushing TDs (21 over four seasons), and Elliott doesn’t have as high of a floor in catches as the top pass-catching back in the league.
His Cowboys’ offense is trending upward, and he has all the tools to be a beast in all areas. Buy his steadiness while hoping for a career season—possible 2,100-plus combined yards with 20 TDs and 60 catches.
Even so, I set his initial projections at 1,794 combined yards with 16 TDs and 59 catches. Elliott should be a top-five fantasy selection in almost all drafts in 2020.
His higher ceiling comes from more scoring by Dallas and the Cowboys playing from the lead in more games.
Last summer, with RB Ezekiel Elliott holding out, the wise guys in the high-stakes market placed some massive bets on Pollard in August's fantasy drafts.
He played well off the bench in Week 3 (128 combined yards with a TD and three catches), but his next spike in stats didn’t come until Week 15 (143 combined yards with one TD and two catches).
Pollard came to the NFL with upside as a receiver and some impressive success in the return game. The Cowboys have a second weapon at RB, but they haven’t figured out how to get the best out of both options.
Memphis primarily used Pollard as a pass-catching back over the last two seasons with minimal chances in the run game.
In 2017, he gained a combined 766 yards on 66 touches with most of the damage coming in the passing game (36/536/4). Even so, Tony averaged 7.7 yards per rush and 14.9 yards per catch that year. In 2018, his touches pushed to 117, which delivered 1,010 combined yards with nine TDs and 39 catches.
His explosiveness (7.1 yards per carry and 11.7 yards per catch) is why the Cowboys were interested in him as a change of pace type RB.
Pollard has work to do in his route running along with questions in his pass protection skills. At the very least, he’ll improve the return game thanks to averaging 30.1 yards per kickoff in his college career with seven TDs.
A change in coaching staff gives Pollard to have further growth while being a high-end handcuff for Elliott. A possible 150 touches for 750 yards and over 30 catches without a starting job.
After flashing upside in his freshman season (819 combined yards with seven TDs and 15 catches on 148 touches), Dowdle wandered his way through his through the next three years (295 rushes for 1,403 yards with ten TDs plus 47 catches for 428 yards and two TDs) at South Carolina.
He missed four games in 2016 with a battle with a hernia issue that required surgery, a broken leg in 2017, and a couple of games last year with a knee issue.
Dowdle comes to the NFL with just below RB average speed (4.54 forth yard dash) with decent size (5"11" and 215 lbs.). He runs some patience while using his eyes and a feel to pick the right spot to turn up the jets.
When in the open field, Dowdle shows the ability to make defenders miss either with fight or wiggle. His vision plays up while owning a change-of-direction advantage. Dowdle's downside risk comes from carrying the ball loosely in the open field and his injury resume. The Cowboys signed him unrestricted free agent contract after this year's draft.
Other options: Jordan Chunn, Darius Anderson
Since adding Amari Cooper to the wide receiving core in 2018, the Cowboys production has risen dramatically. Last year their WRs had over a ten percent growth in catches (224) plus over 30 percent in receiving yards (3,475) and TDs (20) while seeing 50 more targets.
The Cowboys wide receivers accounted for 71 percent of their passing yards with an impressive jump in their yards per catch (15.51).
As good as Cooper has been in four of his five years in the NFL, his game continues to fade in December (69/1,090/9 – 54.3 percent catch rate) compared to September (87/1217/7), October (92/1,394/7), and November (103/1337/9).
In 2019, he was better at home (52/869/5) versus the road (27/320/3) since his games with over 100 yards receiving came at Dallas (6/106/1, 11/226/1, 5/106, and 11/147/1). Cooper killed fantasy teams in three other contests (1/3, 0/0, and 1/19).
Last year he didn’t miss a game, but Cooper did play through a foot issue. The addition of WR CeeDee Lamb does help his ability to see single coverage on more plays, but it also restricts his ceiling.
Cooper is a great player who needs to figure out how to perform at his best when the most important games are played in December.
His starting point for me in the projections is 80 catches for 1,177 yards and eight TDs. He projects as a WR2 in fantasy leagues with an ADP of 34.
After a breakthrough season (66/1107/6), Gallop looked poised for follow-through in 2020 thanks to the Cowboys developing into a top passing team in the league.
After drafting WR CeeDee Lamb in the first round in 2020, a fantasy owner is left scratching his head on his expected value this year.
Gallup produced five excellent games (7/158, 7/113/1, 9/148, 6/109, and 5/98/3) last season, pushing him to 24th in WR scoring (212.7) in PPR leagues.
My first thought was that Gallop would be over-drafted this year due to a third explosive wheel added to the passing game. After working through the initial projections and the losses and gains for the Cowboys’ passing game, I set his bar at 68 catches for 1,045 yards and 5.5 touchdowns.
Fantasy owners have him priced as backend WR3 in the early draft season with an ADP of 81.
Over three seasons at Oklahoma, Lamb caught 173 passes for 3,292 yards and 32 touchdowns while averaging 19.0 yards per catch. He improved every year, highlighted by his success in 2019 (62/1327/14). Over the last two seasons, he returned 41 punts as well for 397 yards.
Lamb has excellent hands while showing explosiveness in the open field. His route running needs some work, which I’m sure he’ll add to his bag of tricks at the next level. Even with the appearance of needing more bulk and strength, Lamb will break tackles with an uncanny feel to set up defenders with the ball in his hands.
Some may view him as a one-dimensional speed threat, but the depth of his game and skill set will reach a much higher level. I’m thinking of a smaller version of Randy Moss in the deep passing game with the foundation like Antonio Brown as a playmaker on the run.
I expect him to hit the ground running, and his opportunity looks better than expected with Randall Cobb (55/828/3) and Jason Witten (63/529/4) no longer in the offensive rotation.
Dallas has the talent at wide receiver to finish with each player gaining over 1,000 yards. I gave Lamb 61 catches for 986 receiving yards and 5.5 TDs out of the gate. Over summer, the coach-speak out of Dallas and his playing in training camp may very well lead to a bump in projections.
His ADP (101) in early June is favorable, but fantasy owners look to have a wide range (low – 38 and high – 149) of opinions on his 2020 value.
Other options: Cedrick Wilson, Ventell Bryant, Devin Smith, Noah Brown, Aaron Parker, Kendrick Rogers
With Jason Witten back in the fold last year, Dallas looked toward the tight end position much more often in 2019 (95/900/7 on 126 targets) compared to the previous two years (69/673/4) and (68/710/4). The only negative was a regression in their yards per catch (9.47).
Dallas may shift some of its tight end targets this year to the running back position in 2020.
Jarwin showed growth over the last two seasons as the TE2 for the Cowboys after riding the bench in his rookie season. Dallas thought enough of him to sign him to a three-year $24.5 million extension ($9.25 in guarantee money).
His best success in 2019 came in three games (3/39/1, 1/42/1, and 6/50). Jarwin gained 50 yards or fewer in all 16 games last year.
Last year the Cowboys completed 95 passes to the TE position for 900 yards and seven TDs on 126 targets. For him to be in play as a second TE in the fantasy market, Jarwin needs to secure 60 percent of the TE opportunity for Dallas. I set his bar at 51 catches for 561 yards and four TDs after the first run of the projections.
Other option: Dalton Schultz, Blake Bell, Cole Hikutini, Charlie Taumoepeau, Sean McKeon
There is no doubt that Zuerlein has a big leg (33-for-55 over 50 yards in his career), but he delivered two disappointing seasons in accuracy over the last five years (2015 – 66.7 and 2019 – 72.7).
Zuerlein missed six of his 11 kicks from 40-for-49 yards last season. In late-Match, he signed a three-year deal for $7.5 million with Dallas. The Cowboys created 89 scoring chances (49 TDs and 40 field goal attempts) in 2019. He has the looks of a top kicking option, but Zuerlein needs to put more balls through the uprights to live up to his draft expectations (ADP – 196 as the fourth kicker off the board).
Dallas will have the toughest time defending the run against the Ravens plus three other games (SEA, MIN, and SF) vs. teams that ran the ball well in 2019. They have five other matchups (LAR, ATL, PIT, WAS, and CIN) that struggled to run the ball last year.
Despite two matchups (LAR and ATL) to start the year against teams that had success throwing the ball well in 2019, the Cowboys have a top schedule for their pass defense. They face six teams (ARI, PIT, BAL, MIN, and WAS X 2) that ranked poorly in passing yards last season.
Dallas slipped to 11th in rushing yards allowed (1,656) with 15 TDs and nine runs over 20 yards. They allowed 4.1 yards per rush.
Their pass defense ranked 10th in yards allowed (3,576) with 21 TDs and seven Ints. Dallas allowed 6.8 yards per pass attempt with 39 sacks.
DE DeMarcus Lawrence
After two impressive seasons (122 combined tackles and 25 sacks), Lawrence struggled to make impact plays in 2019 (45 tackles and five sacks). He continues to be a top run defender while offering the foundation skill set to rush the quarterback. Lawrence still needs to improve his tackling skills.
DE Tyrone Crawford
Before 2019, Crawford averaged 31 tackles and 4.75 sacks over his previous seasons with just as much upside as downside in run support. A hip injury last year cost Crawford most of the past year.
DT Gerald McCoy
Over the last eight seasons, McCoy played well vs. the run while adding value in the pass rush. His best play came in 2013-2014, so look for him to maintain his skill rather than further improve.
DT Dontari Poe
Poe should work as a rotational player vs. the run this year. His value in the pass rush is fading, and Dallas has Trysten Hill waiting in the wings.
The Cowboys didn’t have a first-round draft pick in 2019. They drafted Hill in the second round. The Cowboys hope he develops into a run stopper in the middle of the offensive line with some value attacking the QB. Hill plays with fight, but he struggles with his commitment to the game and responding to authority. With a better plan and improved vision, Hill may outperform his draft value.
LB Sean Lee
At age 32, Lee played a full season for the first time in his career in 2019. He continues to have minimal value in the pass rush while offering fading value in the run game despite picking up 86 tackles. Dallas will now rotate him in on early downs vs. run.
LB Jaylen Smith
Smith had a breakthrough season in 2019, and he pushed his bar even higher last year (142 tackles, 2.5 sacks, one Int, and nine defended passes. His run defense is now elite while turning into a top player in the league in tackling.
LB Leighton Vander Esch
In his rookie season, Vander Esch was a force defending the run while offering minimal value in the pass rush. He made 140 tackles with seven defended passes and two Ints. Last year he missed seven games due to neck injury that required surgery while struggling to find his previous success in run support. The Cowboys drafted him in the first round in 2018.
CB Chidobe Awuzie
In his third year, Awuzie only made four starts while missing a pair of games. He allowed a high catch rate for the second straight season with receivers making many big plays. Awuzie tends to help the run defense. This year he’ll move into the starting lineup after the trade of Byron Jones.
CB Trevon Diggs
The Cowboys hope Diggs can make the jump from college prospect to a starting NFL cornerback in his rookie season. He’ll have a learning curve sure, which points to risk in deep coverage on some plays. Diggs should help in press coverage over the short areas of the field.
Woods set a career-high in tackles (77) while adding a pair of interceptions and five defended passes. He continues to improve in coverage while offering league average value in run support.
S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix
Since his move to safety, Clinton-Dix showed more upside in coverage while remaining an asset in run support. He’s a former first-round pick (2014) who upgrades the Cowboys secondary.
Team Defense Outlook
Dallas has multiple upside pieces to their defense. They do have questions at cornerback while lacking the talent to create turnovers in the secondary. The Cowboys need to find growth in their pass rush to help close the passing window by quarterbacks. Borderline top-12 fantasy defense.
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