The Dallas Cowboys 2020 season was derailed in Week 5 after a devastating ankle injury was suffered by star quarterback Dak Prescott. The season had already gotten off to a rocky start with the defense allowing 180 points through the first five weeks, and they then lost their ability to try to score enough points to keep up. The offense sputtered the rest of the way with quarterback Andy Dalton struggling, running back Ezekiel Elliott playing through injuries, and a start mixed in from third-string quarterback Ben DiNucci resulted in a 6-10 season.
The offseason was expected to be an interesting one for the Cowboys as rumors swirled about the possible replacement of head coach Mike McCarthy, who had just finished his first year with the team. A defense that needed mending after a disastrous season under Mike Nolan ultimately led to his firing the week following the end of the season. Dan Quinn was hired as his replacement and brings much promise to a defense that desperately needs a spark. Getting Prescott back to form and fully healthy will make a massive difference in this team moving forward. Even with the defense giving up 180 points in the five games he played, they won two and scored 168. He is on pace to be ready for the start of the regular season and should allow the Cowboys some wiggle room to become comfortable with the new defense and keep them in plenty of games until things get ironed out.
Free Agency Impact
The Cowboys needed to retool the defense entering the 2021 defense. Bringing in Quinn as the defensive coordinator was the first step in that process. He will have them playing faster and harder than we saw last year, bringing in his roots from the Seattle Seahawks "Legion of Boom" defense before he left to become the head coach of the Atlanta Falcons. To that end, he brought over safety Keanu Neal to be an integral part of the secondary. Along with the re-signing of Jourdan Lewis, those were the majority of the moves made in the free-agency period.
There was a massive focus on keeping the band together rather than starting over, and it started and ended with Prescott. He was awarded a four-year, $160 million deal to remain the leader of the offense. The Cowboys learned that he is invaluable and essential to the growth and success of the Cowboys. The offense went from scoring just under 33 points with him to just over 21 points without him. Having a quarterback like Prescott opens up levels of the offense that cannot be reached without him. His mobility allows for option plays between him and Elliott. It opens up the integration of RPOs with some of the best route-runners in the NFL today in Amari Cooper and CeeDee Lamb. It opens up the ability to take the top off the defense utilizing the speed of Cooper and Lamb to go with the production of Michael Gallup. The entire offense revolves around Prescott, and with him back and fully healthy, they will be a force in 2021.
The draft is where the Cowboys went hard on the defensive side of the ball. They had 11 picks in the 2021 draft, eight of which, including the first six, were defensive players. The two most significant choices were linebackers Micah Parsons in the first round and Jabril Cox in the fourth round. Parsons' decision to opt out of the 2020 college football season probably prevented him from being a top-10 draft pick. He is a ferocious tackler and can cover a lot of ground in the open field to cover or chase down anyone. Cox is very similar coming from LSU. He played at the SEC level for only one year, started all 10 games, recorded 58 tackles, and had three interceptions. Between him and Parsons, the Cowboys' defense will be much faster and much more physical.
The main offensive pieces the Cowboys added were not until the middle to late rounds when they added tackle Josh Ball (fourth), wide receiver Simi Fehoko (fifth) and guard Matt Farniok (seventh). Ball is a massive fixture for a line that has become somewhat depleted over the last couple of seasons with the departure of Travis Frederick and some injury issues to both tackles. He will help shore up those spots as a nice rotational piece or a potential starter should he perform well in camp. The main element, though, is Fehoko. He is a 6-foot-4 wideout who ran a 4.37 40-yard dash. His speed and size will allow him to be versatile and line up in multiple positions on the field, giving him the ability to show what he can do. With Gallup's contract coming to an end and the Cowboys tight on cap space, it is very plausible to see Fehoko step into Gallup's role if the Cowboys decide to move on from him.
Dynasty Fantasy Football Players to Target
- Dak Prescott: Prescott is the perfect fantasy quarterback. He will throw for a lot of yards, and was just shy of 2,000 in his five games last year. He will run the ball, especially around the goal line, which he proved with three rushing touchdowns in one game last year. He will score many points and is one of the most valuable quarterbacks in fantasy football. At only 27 years old, there is no reason to fade him now, and he should be a top-five option at the position for the foreseeable future.
- CeeDee Lamb: In 2020, Lamb established himself as one of the premier young talents in the NFL. He was able to play in all 16 games as a rookie while amassing 935 yards despite a tumultuous year at quarterback for the Cowboys. With Prescott coming back, he will see even more work as a solidified second option at the wide receiver position. He just turned 22 in April and will be a threat to be in the top 10 of all receivers in 2021 and at least the next few years.
- Ezekiel Elliott: Incredibly, some are viewing Elliott as somewhat of a sleeper going into 2021, but here we are. Yes, 2021 was not his best year, and yes, he was banged up. However, it is hard for someone to stay healthy when the offensive line had zero continuity and quarterback play was subpar, so defenses could focus on stopping the run. He still racked up 1,317 yards from scrimmage with eight touchdowns while on a snap count. He will be 26 at the start of the 2021 season, but he still has a lot left in the tank. Elliott will be right back in the conversation as a top-five running back in 2021.
- Amari Cooper: One of the best route-runners in the NFL just turned 27 and has a lot of miles left. He has played every game the last two seasons and managed over 1,000 yards in each and a total of 13 touchdowns. The additions of Lamb and Gallup have freed him up immensely and taken some pressure off him, allowing him to do even more damage to defenses. With the return of Prescott and the enhanced ability to run the ball, Cooper will be in line for another big year.
- Michael Gallup: Gallup continues to be the overlooked option here, but the talent is immense. To shine the way he has mixed in with Cooper, Lamb and Elliott has been extraordinary. His production did dip last year after becoming the third option, but a lot of that can be attributed to the level of quarterback play. If he is not moved this year and stays mixed in with Cooper and Lamb, he will be a free agent after the 2021 season and will likely be in line for a substantial role on another team. He should be a WR3 this year with a very high upside in 2022 and beyond.
Fantasy Football Sleeper: Tony Pollard
Pollard showed a lot in his 2020 season with the increase in opportunities. He was utilized in the passing game more, receiving 40 targets, and had 129 touches for 627 scrimmage yards and five touchdowns. He showed he was a capable backup with some significant upside. If Elliott were to go down, Pollard would have the chance to emerge as a top 15-20 fantasy option at the position. With the presumed bounce-back year for Elliott, Pollard's opportunities will drop slightly, not making him worth more than a handcuff. Still, he will be a solid stash and well worth the roster spot to keep him in the event he is pressed into action, making him the most valuable sleeper on the Cowboys' offense.