Dallas Cowboys Fantasy Football 2017 Preview: Can Elliott Repeat Breakout Season?

Wednesday August 2nd, 2017

The Cowboys and turmoil go together like macaroni and cheese, like Siegfried and Roy, like assault and battery.

As of this writing, the Cowboys were awaiting a decision by the league office on whether star running back Ezekiel Elliott would be suspended for an alleged domestic violence incident in 2016. Elliott is cultivating a reputation as something of an enfant terrible. In addition to the assault accusation, Elliott was videotaped exposing a woman’s breast earlier this year during a St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Dallas, and he was allegedly involved in a Dallas bar fight in July. Elliott is facing no criminal charges as of now, but the NFL can suspend him even if he isn’t charged.

The league’s domestic violence policy now mandates a six-game suspension for a first-time offense. But without charges, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has the leeway to impose a less severe penalty. Or, he could impose no penalty at all. My best layman’s guess is that Goodell will suspend Elliott for one or two games to put him on notice. That’s the assumption I’m making in determining where to rank Elliott.

Running Backs

PLAYER ADP FITZ RANKING ADVICE
Ezekiel Elliott RB3 RB4 Cuidado!
Darren McFadden RB55 RB59 Insurance, anyone?

Elliott won the NFL rushing title in a cakewalk last year, outrushing second-place finisher Jordan Howard by 318 yards. Elliott had a league high 322 carries and averaged 5.1 yards per carry and 108.7 yards per game. His 16 total touchdowns ranked third behind only David Johnson and LeGarrette Blount. Zeke had 32 catches for 363 yards and a touchdown, and it seems as if there’s room for growth in that area since he was targeted only 40 times last year (although he might be hard-pressed to match his 9.1 yards per target from last year).

With the Cowboys unlikely to repeat their 13-3 record and their +115 scoring margin, the game scripts won’t be as favorable for Elliott, and probably he won’t average more than 20 carries a game again. It’s also slightly troubling that the Cowboys have lost two starters from their terrific offensive line: Doug Free and Ronald Leary. And, oh yeah, there’s the possible suspension.

Before the prospect of a suspension arose, I ranked Elliott third overall, behind Le’Veon Bell and David Johnson. Assuming that Elliott will get a one- or two-game suspension, I now rank him RB4, with LeSean McCoy ahead of him, and ninth overall. I have Zeke behind the three other running backs and also behind WRs Antonio Brown, Odell Beckham Jr., Julio Jones, Mike Evans and A.J. Green.

When blackjack dealers draw a face-up ace, they’re required to offer players insurance. Dealers are also required to offer insurance when they draw a face-up Ezekiel Elliott football card, and players who accept are given a Darren McFadden card.

McFadden’s ADP has crept up to RB55 based on a possible Elliott suspension. But if Elliott is indeed suspended, McFadden’s ADP could climb from the 13th round to the 10th or 11th, at which point the value proposition starts to get a little dubious for a soon-to-be-30 running back who played only three games last season and has had a star-crossed career. I won’t slam Elliott buyers who grab McFadden as a handcuff, but I engage in handcuffing as often as I take insurance at the blackjack table, which is to say never.

Alfred Morris is still on the Cowboys’ depth chart, along with recently signed ex-Bronco Ronnie Hillman. One or the other might make the roster, but not both. Word out of Dallas is that the Cowboys see Rod Smith, a useful special teams contributor, as their No. 3 running back.

Quarterbacks

PLAYER ADP FITZ RANKING ADVICE
Dak Prescott QB14 QB10 Target

I find it sort of curious that some fantasy writers are slightly down on Dak Prescott because they think he won’t be as efficient as he was in 2016. Well, duh. Prescott ranked third in the league in passer rating, ahead of Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees. He ranked fourth in both completion percentage and yardage per attempt. He threw 23 touchdown passes and only four interceptions. And he did all of that as a rookie. There’s no way in holy hell he’s going to be that efficient again.

But I think there’s an excellent chance that Prescott attempts more passes than he attempted in 2016 – possibly a lot more. He finished 23rd in pass attempts last season and would have finished several spots lower if some of his peers hadn’t lost games to injury or suspension. Prescott averaged just 28.7 pass attempts per game last season. For sake of comparison, Roger Staubach averaged 28.8 pass attempt per game in 1979, his final season as the Cowboys’ starter. Dallas was the run-heaviest team in the league last year, which is a luxury that comes with going 13-3. If things don’t go as well in 2017, Prescott could be forced to take to the air far more often, and the bump in volume could offset the inevitable decrease in efficiency. Dak’s running ability is a nice bonus, too. I’m not sure if he’ll be able to match the six TD runs he had last season, but it’s worth noting that he ran for 37 touchdowns over his final three seasons at Mississippi State.

I’m going to do most of my quarterback shopping in the middle-class QB tier this year, targeting the best values in the QB10-QB20 range. Dak is going to be one of my favorite targets.

Wide Receivers

PLAYER ADP FITZ RANKING ADVICE
Dez Bryant WR8 WR8 Don’t reach
Cole Beasley WR64 WR60 Consider in PPR

Dez Bryant didn’t fully click with Prescott last September, then missed three games in October due to a knee injury. In the first nine games after his return, Bryant had seven TD catches and seven games with 70 or more receiving yards. Bryant’s bona fides are beyond question. Based on talent alone, he’s one of the five or six best receivers in the game. But even if the Cowboys pass more this season, they still aren’t going to be pass-heavy, so Bryant isn’t going to get as many targets as he was getting three or four years ago. And like some of the other top receivers in the NFC East, Bryant’s schedule is laden with shutdown cornerbacks. Bryant’s ADP is WR8. That’s where I have him, too, but if I move him in the weeks to come, it’s more likely to be down than up.

As run-centric as the Cowboys were last season, slot man Cole Beasley still managed to catch 75 passes. Beasley has a career average of 10.5 yards per catch and has limited TD potential, but he’s a quality asset in PPR leagues and is at least rosterable in standard leagues. It was sort of weird that the Cowboys took a Beasley knockoff, Oklahoma’s Ryan Switzer, in the fourth round of this year’s draft. But Switzer isn’t a threat to Beasley’s job. The Switzer selection was more of an acknowledgement of the importance of Beasley’s role in the Dallas offense and a move to cover the team’s backside in case Beasley were to go down.

Terrance Williams is the rare starting NFL wide receiver whose fantasy value is virtually nil. Even when Dez Bryant has missed time due to injuries over the last two years, Williams hasn’t increased his production enough to become a desirable asset in fantasy leagues. But, uh ... he’s a heck of a blocker.

Tight Ends

PLAYER ADP FITZ RANKING ADVICE
Jason Witten TE20 TE14 Buy on the cheap

God bless Jason Witten. His 90-catch, 1,000-yard seasons are in the rearview mirror, but he’s 35 and still grinding out 70-catch, 700-yard seasons. The big plays just aren’t there anymore: Witten has scored three touchdowns and averaged under 10.0 yards per catch in each of the last two seasons. But somehow, he’s still getting open. Witten’s 95 targets last year ranked seventh among tight ends.

With an ADP of TE20, Witten is being passed over by drafters looking for the next big thing at tight end. In drafts where I punt the TE position, Witten is going to be my late-round target, since I know he can provide decent reception and yardage volume and will be available in the latter rounds, allowing me to plow draft capital into other positions.

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