Cowboys' fantasy questions for the offseason

Posted Jan. 30, 2012 @ 2:15 p.m.
Posted By William Del Pilar

Eighth in a series

The Cowboys remain solid for fantasy owners at the QB and TE positions, though TE Jason Witten's value is sure to take a hit with the emerging WR corps. Tony Romo remains an elite fantasy QB when healthy.

At the RB position, whom do you target, Felix Jones or DeMarco Murray?

What many don't realize about Murray is that he was injury-prone in college and, despite an outstanding seven-game stretch, he ended the season on injured reserve with a fractured ankle. It happened during the fantasy playoffs in Week 14, helping to send many owners to quick exits. From Week Six to Week 13, he averaged 23.4 utilizations for 136.1 yards from scrimmage and 0.3 TDs per game. Outstanding fantasy numbers for any back.

Jones is a quality back who can't stay healthy, making him a potential Darren Sproles clone in the best scenario but more likely being used in a third-down or change-of-pace role. Using him in that capacity could help him stay healthy for a full season, helping fantasy owners in the long run. Jones left owners in the lurch with a subpar performance in Week 16 (4-24-0) after helping owners advance to the championship game. In Week 14 (137 yards from scrimmage) and Week 15 (131 yards from scrimmage) he showed he can post big numbers. He quickly wears down when asked to carry the load, as Week 16 showed. With only one TD all season, he ended the season averaging 14.25 utilizations for 66.3 yards from scrimmage and 0.1 TDs per game.  

Murray should start as the primary RB with a shift to a time-share as the season wears on. That makes Murray an early middle-round pick and Jones an early late-round selection.

What will the WR breakdown be?

Tony Romo has shown the ability to move and spread the ball around and with a receiving corps as deep as they may have, this position could be a nightmare for fantasy owners.  

Miles Austin will return as the No. 1 but missed six games, and despite scoring three TDs in his final four games, he did not surpass 63 yards in that span. To make it worse, he went 4-40-1 in Week 16. He ended the season with a per-game average of 4.3 catches for 57.9 yards and 0.7 TDs on 4.6 targets. These numbers are going to make him an early middle-round selection between injury concerns and two other receivers of quality to compete with for targets.

Dez Bryant has the raw talent to be elite but reportedly still has to improve as a route runner. However, he's entering his third season in the same offense and should take the next step. There are high expectations, and it's never too early to begin talk of outplaying an old contract, so all signs should point to him having a blockbuster season. However, at age 23, many believe he has maturity issues based on his past actions. He has the talent and ended the season with a per-game average of 4.2 catches for 61.9 yards and 0.6 TDs on 6.9 targets. If he can overcome his maturity issues, watch out as he has upside based on talent.

Right now, Laurent Robinson is a free agent who wants to stay in Dallas. He ended the season with 11 TDs and three games over 100 yards, along with a per-game average of 3.9 catches for 61.3 yards and 0.8 TDs on five targets. Those are quality numbers from a source that was unexpected when the season started. If he does return, his numbers will suffer as long as Bryant and Austin are the starters. Remember, he was a starter while Austin was out.

Look for an Austin-Bryant starting duo, with Robinson playing in multiple sets. Robinson has enough value to be a No. 3 fantasy receiver. Austin will be a No. 2 fantasy WR alongside Bryant. There aren't enough footballs to go around, so don't overvalue them on draft day. They should not be candidates for early rounds but somewhere in the middle based on league size, roster requirement and rules. Austin's the safe pick, with Bryant having the most upside and Robinson having value if he drops in the draft.

Can TE Jason Witten return to fantasy elite prominence?

Witten is becoming a product of not enough footballs to go around. Combine that with the team using him to block, and his best days may be behind him. His diminished value coincided with Laurent Robinson emerging in the second half of the season. He ended with a per-game average of 4.9 catches for 58.9 yards and 0.3 TDs on 7.3 targets. Because of injuries and so many other viable targets in the second half, Witten did lead all receivers in targets with 117, but there's no doubt Robinson's 80 targets cut into his.

Look at Witten as a solid No. 2 fantasy tight end if you're conservative, because many will overvalue him. You can't fall into that trap going into draft day. If one of the receiving corps suffers an injury, he has upside, so don't assume he's done. It's not always the sexy pick that wins championships.

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