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2021 Franchise Focus: Dallas Cowboys

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2021 Franchise Focus: Dallas Cowboys

Everything went wrong for the Cowboys in 2020.

Breakout candidate TE Blake Jarwin tore his ACL in Week 1. QB Dak Prescott suffered a gruesome ankle injury in Week 5. The defense was on an historically awful pace. The once-great offensive line suffered multiple injuries as its key stars got older. RB Ezekiel Elliott was one of the least efficient backs in the entire sport.

The hope for the Cowboys in 2021 still rests with the loaded offense, though there will obviously be some trepidation with Prescott returning from injury and this line getting a year older. But the 1-2-3 receiving group of Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb, and Michael Gallup might be the league’s best, and Prescott’s already back on the field as he looks to be ready for Week 1.

The defense might still be a major problem, but you know what? We love that for fantasy.

Dallas Cowboys Franchise Focus Companion Podcast

The Basics

Team FuturesOdds
Season Win Total (O/U)9.5 (+105/-133)
NFC East+125
Playoffs (Y/N)-150/+120
NFC Championship+1300
Super Bowl+2500

Season Prop Movement

  • Win Total: 9.5 (+110) in late March to 9.5 (+105)

  • Super Bowl: +3000 in early February to +2500

Premium FREE 2021 Betting Preview from Tom Brolley found here.

Key Offseason Moves

AdditionsDraftDepartures
Carlos Watkins (DE)Micah Parsons (LB)Andy Dalton (QB, Chi)
Keanu Neal (LB)Kelvin Joseph (CB)Cameron Erving (OT, Car)
Damontae Kazee (S)Osa Odighizuwa (DT)Aldon Smith (DE, Sea)
Jayron Kearse (S)Chauncey Golston (DE)Tyrone Crawford (DE, retired)
Tarrell Basham (OLB)Nashon Wright (CB)Sean Lee (LB, retired)
Brent Urban (DE)Jabril Cox (LB)Chidobe Awuzie (CB, Cin)
Ty Nsekhe (OT)Josh Ball (OT)Xavier Woods (S, Min)
Jeremy Sprinkle (TE)Simi Fehoko (WR)Blake Bell (TE, KC)
Joe Thomas (LB, Hou)

Scott Barrett’s Fantasy Strength of Schedule

Quarterback: 6th-toughest (-0.38)

Running Back: 9th-toughest (-0.49)

Wide Receivers: the toughest (-1.49)

Tight Ends: 8th-toughest (-0.21)

Pace and Tendencies

Pace (seconds in between plays): 22.5 (1st)

Plays per game: 74.0 (2nd)

When the game is within a score — Pass: 63% (1st) | Run: 37% (32nd)

When the team is ahead — Pass: 43% (24th) | Run: 57% (9th)

When the team is behind — Pass: 67% (5th) | Run: 33% (28th)

(All of these tendencies are when Dak Prescott was healthy in Week 1-5.)

Before Prescott’s season ended in Week 5, the Cowboys offense was white hot and set up perfectly to win fantasy leagues. Over the first five games, Prescott was the QB2, Ezekiel Elliott was the RB2, while Amari Cooper was WR9 and CeeDee Lamb was WR11 in total fantasy points. Now, new HC Mike McCarthy and OC Kellen Moore certainly showed that they wanted to pass to win and get away from the Cowboys’ previously run-heavy ways, but there is a heap of context needed here. Dallas’ defense was awful to start the year, giving up 20, 39, 38, 49, and 34 points in Week 1-5. As a result, their offense was constantly playing catch up and found themselves down on the scoreboard on a whopping 80% of their offensive snaps. For reference, no team trailed more often over the course of the season than the Jaguars (79%). Will Dallas’ defense be that bad again in 2021? That’s not likely after the team spent all offseason adding talent on that side of the ball. Still, make no mistake: This is a pass-first team. One of the main tendencies that I look at beyond game script is what team’s do on early downs (1st and 2nd). What play-callers lean on in these situations is a great barometer of their overall philosophy, and Dallas went 64% pass-heavy on early-downs in Week 1-5 which led the league. That’s a stark contrast from 2019 in Jason Garrett’s final season as HC when the 8-8 Cowboys called an early-down pass on just 53% of their plays (ranking 21st). In 2018, Dallas went exactly 50% pass/50% run on early downs, ranking a lowly 25th in pass rate. Their new staff knows you have to pass to win in today’s NFL and have wisely made this Dak Prescott’s team.

Key Statistics

  • In Weeks 1-5, before Dak Prescott broke his ankle, the Cowboys ranked third-best in yards gained (41.3) and ninth-best in points scored (2.66) on a per drive basis.

  • Without Prescott? Dallas fell to sixth-worst in both yards gained (29.0) and points scored (1.80) per drive.

  • Prescott’s target distribution was… Amari Cooper (52), CeeDee Lamb (37), Ezekiel Elliott (32), Dalton Schultz (31), and Michael Gallup (25).

  • When Prescott was healthy, Gallup’s average depth of target downfield was 17.6 yards (fifth-highest among WRs in this span).

  • Lamb had at least five receptions in every game during Week 1-5. He had five such games over the remainder of the season.

  • Lamb averaged 86.6 yards per game in Prescott’s starts, which would have ranked third-best behind Justin Jefferson (87.5) and Odell Beckham (108.8) for most all-time by a rookie WR.

  • In his career, Amari Cooper has averaged 16.6 fantasy points per game with Prescott and 12.9 FPG with all of his other quarterbacks.

  • On the flipside, Prescott has averaged 307.5 yards per game when Cooper is on the field and just 214.9 YPG without him.

  • What happened with Ezekiel Elliott last year? Well, his splits were drastic once Prescott was lost for the season. In Week 1-5, Zeke averaged 23.1 fantasy points per game (which would have ranked him as the RB3 behind Kamara and Cook over the full season).

  • In Week 6-17, Zeke averaged just 11.8 FPG (which would have ranked as the RB30).

  • Zeke scored just two TDs over his final 10 games without Prescott. Why? The Cowboys averaged just 3.2 red-zone drives per game in Week 6-17, which was eighth-fewest.

  • In Week 1-5, Dallas averaged 4.1 red-zone drives per game (sixth-most).

Huber’s Scheme Notes

Offensive

Five weeks into last season, the Cowboys may have sat with a 2-3 record, but the offense was most definitely not to blame. That’s when the devastating ankle injury to their cornerstone player, Dak Prescott, made all of their heel kicking on a long-term extension seem ridiculous. Without Prescott, the offense was no longer able to mask the utter despair on Dallas’ defense. One thing is for sure, now that Prescott’s future with the team is secure, OC Kellen Moore’s offense will truly be one of the most feared groups for years to come. For some reason, that reality has yet to set in with the fantasy community. A healthy Prescott should have far reaching implications for every one of the Cowboys’ skill positions whether we like it or not.

How good was Prescott early last season? If not for his injury, we’d literally be discussing his 2020 season alongside that of the annual entry from Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen’s breakout campaign. Should we consider him deserving of being compared to those elite talents? With CeeDee Lamb, Amari Cooper, and Michael Gallup at wideout, combined with Blake Jarwin and Dalton Schultz attached, Prescott is armed to the teeth with every bit of the weaponry he needs within Moore’s modern Air Raid interpretation. But we have the luxury of knowing the absolute heights of Prescott’s ceiling, unattached to the true level of monster season within this offense that should be skyrocketing his price. Prescott is similar to Allen in that he is a skilled ball carrier. But, unlike Allen (more akin to Mahomes), Prescott is far less coverage scheme-dependent. The sky is truly the limit.

Another player the community has fallen asleep on in terms of true RB1 upside is Ezekiel Elliott. When Prescott went down, already without La’el Collins, he was followed by Tyron Smith, and, later, Zack Martin. Perhaps Elliott’s production would have endured the loss of one of those studs, the combined toll just proved to be too much. Should we hold that against Elliott? Absolutely not. Every single one of those players are of vital importance to the entire offense, let alone the results for Elliott. Yet, here we are, Eliiott is being criminally overlooked in redrafts and BestBall10s. With Prescott at the helm and Martin, Smith, and Collins all healthy, on the field to provide their elite zone blocking, Elliott is a serious candidate for a career year.

Defensive

Nobody should be surprised to see Jerry Jones devote the entirety of his free agent dollars and draft capital on the defense. And outward signs point to Jones as having done an excellent job with his choices. Each of his first six draft selections have the potential of providing immediate returns. That’s especially true for Micah Parsons, who adds an explosive element to the defense unlike anything in recent franchise memory. But the true wildcard will be Kelvin Joseph. If he can immediately emerge, this defense could come together far quicker than anyone is expecting.

Everything this season will come down to the secondary. Will Trevon Diggs take that definitive sophomore step toward becoming a feared, lockdown CB1 in a defense featuring far more man coverage? As already alluded to, will Joseph prove that his ‘20 breakout at Kentucky was no fluke, providing this defense with the quality balance on the outside it has so desperately lacked? When we dig into the expectations at safety, we find the area where Jones may have failed to cover all of his bases. Make no mistake, Keanu Neal was a truly outstanding addition, one of the free agent steals of the entire offseason. Strong safety is in absolutely skilled hands. But the Cowboys also allowed Xavier Woods to walk his way over to Minnesota. Do not discount his loss. Woods was without a doubt one of the top-five coverage free safeties on a per-snap basis last season.

For Dallas’ sake, Donovan Wilson had better be the answer at free safety or the entire defense could fall apart. After fielding split safety-heavy schemes last year, new DC Dan Quinn is likely to install a rotation featuring the tried-and-true Cover 3, Cover 1, and Cover 0 formula. Neal will be permitted to roam the box to the point of essentially adding a fourth LB, giving opposing run games fits. However, these are schemes that require an elite/nearly elite free safety to employ. Judging from last season, Wilson, a former sixth-round selection, just may prove Jones’ genius if he’s able to take another step forward. If not, fans will watch another promising season go down the drain. Depending on the cohesiveness of the group, ground games could struggle against the Cowboys. But, for the reason already explained, we might end up targeting the Cowboys’ D with our QBs and receivers.

Projected Fantasy Contributors

Dak Prescott (Proj: QB4 | ADP: 48 | Pos ADP: QB5)

We all know what kind of season Prescott was having before his gruesome Week 5 ankle injury in 2020. He was averaging 28.5 FPG over that stretch, which would have easily ranked him #1 over the full season. He ranked as a top-5 fantasy QB three times in five games, which tied him with Kirk Cousins for 11th among QBs (Cousins started 16 games). He was on pace for 5939 passing yards, which would have shattered the single-season NFL record. His 717 pass attempt pace would have ranked #2. Yet the Cowboys were losing because of an abominable defense, and the hope for Dallas is Prescott doesn’t have to shoulder nearly that much of a load in 2021 as he comes back from injury (Dallas’ entire off-season was basically dedicated to improving the defense through both free agency and the draft). Still, this defense doesn’t project to be a top-10 unit exactly, and Prescott’s receiving group — Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb, Michael Gallup, and a talented TE room — might be the best in the NFL. The offensive line, which had horrific injury luck in 2020, should be in better shape in 2021 (though their two best linemen, Tyron Smith and Zack Martin, are both over 30). It’s almost certain Prescott’s pass attempts will go down, given the historic pace he was on. The defense should be better too. The Cowboys might also want to curb Prescott’s running given he was hurt on a run, and his mobility might not be back to 100%. But throwing the ball is what carried Dak last year — with him healthy, the Cowboys ranked third-best in yards gained (41.3) and ninth-best in points scored (2.66) on a per drive basis. Without him, Dallas fell to sixth-worst in both yards gained (29.0) and points scored (1.80) per drive. He’s been an extremely efficient fantasy contributor for his entire career thus far, and all the news about his progression back from the injury is positive right now. His receiving corps is loaded. The defense, though hopefully improved, still isn’t what one would consider “good.” At an ADP of QB5 in the fifth round, Prescott is a very defensible pick, and a potential league-winning one if most things click here.

Ezekiel Elliott (Proj: RB5 | ADP: 6 | Pos ADP: RB6)

Elliott had a very disappointing 2020 season, posting career-lows in rushing yardage (979), yards per carry (4.0), yards per reception (6.5), and touchdowns (8). He tied a career-high with 6 fumbles. He still finished as the overall RB9 in total PPR scoring, but was the RB13 among players who suited up 10 times or more with 15.2 FPG, also a career-worst finish. While Elliott had some issues with fumbles and a lack of elusiveness while Dak Prescott was healthy, however, it’s clear that Prescott’s injury had a titanic impact on Elliott’s season and this offense in general. Through Week 5, Elliott averaged 22.7 FPG and was the overall RB5 (would have been RB3 over the full season). He scored 6 of his 8 TDs in games Prescott started, despite Dallas going 64% pass-heavy when the game was within a score in Weeks 1-5, which was the highest rate in the league during that span (Elliott’s 32 targets with Prescott were third on the team behind Amari Cooper and CeeDee Lamb). After Prescott went down, Elliott’s season went in the toilet. He averaged just 11.5 FPG the rest of the way, tied with Salvon Ahmed and just ahead of Wayne Gallman (would have been RB30 over the full season). Zeke scored just two TDs over his final 10 games without Prescott. Why? The Cowboys averaged just 3.2 red-zone drives per game in Week 6-17, which was eighth-fewest. In Weeks 1-5, Dallas averaged 4.1 red-zone drives per game (sixth-most).But Dallas also started cutting back on Zeke’s snaps after Prescott went down. He never left the field when Prescott was healthy (87% snap rate; highest among RBs) but that dipped considerably once Andy Dalton took over (64% snap rate; 10th-highest). Part of that might have been the club just feeling Tony Pollard was more effective, with Zeke nursing a nagging hamstring injury — among the 53 RBs that had 100 or more touches on the season, Pollard ranked third-best in missed tackles forced per touch while Zeke ranked 42nd (per PFF). But again, this offense was just completely broken after Dak went down, and Zeke is a primo bounce-back candidate in 2021. In addition to Prescott being back, pure luck might boost Elliott in the touchdown department. Among the 26 RBs with 10+ carries inside the five yard line, Zeke’s 19% TD rate on those carries ranked 26th. If you use the average inside the five TD rate of those 26 RBs (41%), then Zeke should have scored 10.7 TDs on his 26 goal line attempts. He’s also been making a greater focus on his conditioning, something both Prescott and Zeke is a complicated player to break down given the nature of how years of bell-cow touches wear on even the best at the RB position and the fact that everything went wrong for the Cowboys last year, but betting on him to bounce back in a better situation is completely reasonable at a mid-1st-round ADP.

Tony Pollard (Proj: RB48 | ADP: 112 | Pos ADP: RB42)

Pollard had the biggest role of his two-year career in 2020 for the woeful Cowboys, receiving 141 opportunities (carries plus targets) in 16 games, and given Ezekiel Elliott’s struggles, he’s become a very “hip” Zero-RB pick in 2021. However, let’s not act like Pollard was significantly better than Elliott in 2020. In 16 games last season, he posted 101/435/4 rushing (4.2 YPC) and 28/193/1 receiving on 40 targets (70%, 5.6 YPR) and averaged a below-par 7.6 FPG. Per SIS, Pollard’s positive carry rate of 39.6% actually was lower than Elliott’s at 40.2%. That said, there are multiple things in Pollard’s favor that justify the intrigue. First of all, when Elliott missed Week 15 with a nagging hamstring injury, Pollard finished as the overall RB1 at 31.2 FP, easily the best fantasy performance by a Cowboy RB in 2020. Among the 53 RBs that had 100 or more touches on the season, Pollard ranked third-best in missed tackles forced per touch while Zeke ranked 42nd (per PFF). And per SIS again, Pollard’s “boom” play percentage was 10.9%, compared to just 4.1% for Elliott (Elliott’s “bust” play percentage of 4.9% was lower than Pollard’s 5.9%, however). But like Elliott, it was a tale of two seasons for Pollard. When Dak Prescott was active in Weeks 1-5, Elliott scored 22.7 FPG to Pollard’s measly 4.6 FPG (Elliott played 87.3% of the snaps over this span, to just 16.1% for Pollard). When both Elliott and Pollard were active without Prescott (excluding Week 15), Elliott scored 11.5 FPG to Pollard’s 6.7 FPG (Elliott played 64.3% of the snaps over this span, while Pollard rose to 35.6%). A more explosive back with clear jets and elusiveness, Pollard’s “big play” potential clearly benefitted from a more limited role, and he took the bull by the horns with his 18-touch, 132-yard, 2-TD performance when functioning as Dallas’ lead back in Week 15. But it’s hard to tell if his increased snap share in the second half of last year was simply because of Zeke’s nagging hammy, an offense scraping for something that worked, or merely a coaching staff showing more faith in Pollard. Like Zeke, you can spin any narrative you want for Pollard given everything that was going on for the Cowboys. Given that, his 10th-round ADP — with clear league-winning potential if Zeke just isn’t the same player — is a sound Zero-RB investment. Just be prepared to pay more than for the typical “handcuff.”

Amari Cooper (Proj: WR12 | ADP: 42 | Pos ADP: WR16)

Even with Dak Prescott (ankle) missing 11 games, Cooper’s 2020 campaign was still fine, posting 92/1114/5 (12.1 YPR) on 130 targets (70.8%). He ranked as the overall WR15 in PPR fantasy points, and the WR22 in FPG (14.8). He played all 16 games despite dealing with a bum ankle, and in general was the “least disappointing” Cowboy in a season that was a disaster from start to finish. That said, Cooper is going to be very glad Prescott is back. His 52 targets with Prescott at QB (10.4 per game) were by far the most of any Cowboy receiver (he saw just 78 targets in 11+ games without Prescott). Cooper was the overall WR8 and averaged 17.8 FPG in games with Prescott; he was the overall WR23 and averaged 13.4 FPG without him. And for his career, Cooper averages 16.6 FPG with Prescott and 12.9 FPG with any other QB. (Coincidentally, Cooper is a good influence on Prescott, as well — Prescott averages 214.9 passing YPG without Cooper and 307.5 YPG with him.) While Prescott being back from his ankle is a good thing, Cooper is having issues of his own — he had a cleanup procedure back in January, but as of publication is still having some lingering side effects and may have had a setback in spring. It’s possible he won’t be ready for training camp, so his ADP of WR16 isn’t necessarily a sure thing to last, especially given Cooper’s reputation for disappearing acts against tough shadow coverage (not necessarily an unearned reputation). If Cooper is able to participate during camp — which must be monitored — his chemistry with Prescott is more than enough to pay off this ADP, even with the expected ascension of CeeDee Lamb (who is routinely being drafted ahead of Cooper) and continued presence of Michael Gallup.

CeeDee Lamb (Proj: WR17 | ADP: 33 | Pos ADP: WR12)

Lamb was less productive than Amari Cooper as a rookie, but his line of 74/935/5 on 111 targets (66.7%, 12.6 YPR) in an offense that was much less than the sum of its parts after Dak Prescott went down has fantasy players extremely excited. With Prescott healthy from Weeks 1-5, Lamb averaged 17.1 FPG, just 0.7 FPG behind Cooper and good enough for 11th among all WRs over that span (it would have been good for a tie with fellow rookie Justin Jefferson for 9th on the full season). Lamb had at least five receptions in every game during Week 1-5. He had five such games over the remainder of the season. He was second on the Cowboys in targets during Prescott’s five starts — 37 — behind only Cooper’s 52. He also averaged 86.6 yards per game in Prescott’s starts, which would have ranked third-best behind Jefferson (87.5) and Odell Beckham (108.8) for most all-time by a rookie WR. Like the rest of the Cowboys’ offense, Lamb’s production went in the tank when Dak went down, averaging 11.6 FPG without him in the lineup. The question for 2021, beyond if Prescott will stay healthy enough for this offense to reach its potential, is if Lamb will stick in his comfortable slot-only role — per SIS, he ran 437 of his 480 routes from the slot in 2020 (91.0%). Only JuJu Smith-Schuster, Keelan Cole, and Tyler Lockett ran more total slot routes. The Cowboys were moving Lamb and Michael Gallup around more during spring sessions, and while Lamb is more than capable of producing from the outside, it’s possible he’s more volatile if he’s running a lower percentage of his routes from inside, where he sees more favorable matchups. All considered, it’s more than fair to be bullish on Lamb. But just be aware how much you’ll have to pay up to get him — he’s going nearly a full round ahead of Cooper on average, so he’d have to maintain that early-season pace with Prescott (or surpass it) to pay off that ADP. This should remain a pass-heavy attack, though, and there’s no reason to think that Lamb — with his first-round pedigree — was a fluke in his rookie season.

Michael Gallup (Proj: WR36 | ADP: 109 | Pos ADP: WR47)

Look, even when a passing game is on an historic pace like the Cowboys’ 2020 attack was before Dak Prescott went down with a nasty ankle injury, someone is going to have to disappoint. There’s only one ball to go around, after all. Pigeonholed as the Cowboys’ deep threat, Gallup posted 59/843/5 on 105 targets last season (56.2%, 14.3 YPR). His 10.8 FPG made him more of a bench type of receiver, as he averaged about as much production as guys like Tim Patrick, Laviska Shenault, and Christian Kirk. But in true deep-threat fashion, Gallup was an extreme boom-or-bust player. He had three finishes as a top-12 weekly WR (including one as a top-5 finish) … but didn’t have any finishes between WR13-24. He finished three more times from WR25-36… and had nine finishes outside the top 50 at WR. And while his floor and ceiling both would have been higher with Prescott in there the whole year, his production fluctuated the least of any of Dallas’ top-three WRs, averaging 11.6 FPG with Prescott in the lineup and 10.5 without him. When Prescott was healthy, Gallup’s average depth of target downfield was 17.6 yards (fifth-highest among WRs in this span). It was just 10.3 without Prescott in the lineup, still the highest among the “big three” but only 0.5 ahead of CeeDee Lamb over that span. News from Cowboys OTAs suggests Gallup and Lamb could be more interchangeable this year in terms of alignment, including Gallup lining up more on the slot and that would be good news for Gallup increasing his consistency, and could be a reason to be wary of Lamb’s ever-increasing cost. We’re a little bit more optimistic on Gallup than his ADP suggests, and especially best-ball drafters should look to invest cheaply in this receiving corps — both Amari Cooper and Lamb are almost always off the board in the first four rounds of drafts. But if one guy is going to suffer in this loaded receiving corps, all the evidence suggests it will be Gallup.

Blake Jarwin (Proj: TE19 | ADP: 175 | Pos ADP: TE22)

Jarwin caught just one pass for 12 yards in 2020 before tearing his ACL in Week 1, an unfortunate harbinger of things to come for a lost season in Dallas. Jarwin was coming off a solid 2019 campaign in which he posted 31/365/3 in a rotational role, and was hyped as the star of Dallas’ 2020 training camp — that was something the Cowboys anticipated, having signed Jarwin to a three-year, $24 million extension last March. Instead, his injury opened the door for the less talented but still solid Dalton Schultz to put together a decent season. But Jarwin, who worked out in OTAs, is expected to be ready for training camp and could well be primed for a post-hype campaign. Simply a more explosive mover than Schultz, Jarwin has more upside as a receiver and could be a very interesting red-zone option for Dak Prescott this year. However, not only is he coming off an injury, but the old adage holds true here — there’s only one football, and the Cowboys might have the league’s best WR trio and a loaded backfield. His ADP as a low-end TE2 is very fair given the upside and potential for inconsistency.

Dalton Schultz (Proj: TE51 | ADP: 328 | Pos ADP: TE47)

Schultz was one of the few pleasant surprises for the Cowboys in a terrible 2020 season. Taking over for the injured Blake Jarwin, he became a reliable intermediate option for Dak Prescott and, later, Andy Dalton. Schultz played in all 16 games and posted 63/615/4 receiving on 89 targets (9.8 YPR, 70.8%). He ranked as the TE11 in overall fantasy points, though his 9.2 FPG ranked him just 16th at the position. Schultz had six top-12 weeks at the TE position, including two top-5 weeks. However, both of those top-5 weeks — the two best games of Schultz’s career — came with Prescott still healthy, posting 9/88/1 on 10 targets against the Falcons in Week 2 and 4/72/1 on 8 targets against the Browns in Week 4. Still, it was an impressive year from a guy who came into the season with 13 catches in 27 career games, including just 1 catch in 16 games in 2019, when he was used mostly as a special teamer. He’s less talented and much less athletic than the presumed healthy Jarwin, but Schultz established himself as someone who is pretty reliable if he’s needed, and one would have to imagine he at least gets a chance to battle Jarwin for the starting job here. He’s barely being drafted in all but the deepest leagues, so his situation should be monitored given how he produced when called upon last year.

Hansen’s Final Points

The vibes are good so far in 2021, so Dak Prescott is a pretty easy call this year: he’s going to be good. Those who prefer to wait on QB can let him pass, but if you’re “stuck” in the fifth or especially the sixth round and don’t love the non-QBs on the board, I’m more than fine with either Dak or Lamar Jackson. The main concern I have is the long-term health of their OL, but they are all healthy heading into the season, and they do have some decent depth. Their schedule also isn’t amazing, but they have so much talent at the skill positions that there are truly no intimidating matchups for the Cowboys, who should have to keep throwing (not as much as last September, of course) due to their improved but still shaky defense.

It’s a little disconcerting how Ezekiel Elliott failed to help the team in a tough spot without Dak Prescott, and in fact he may have made things worse with less efficient running and his fumbling. So I’ve been calling him a front-runner, which is rarely good. But if you’re a front-runner, and things are going well, then you’re fine — and we all fully expect things to go well in Dallas. Perhaps Zeke’s skills are starting to erode already, but even a 10-15% drop-off there should be negligible in such a great situation, and Zeke has paid more attention this year to his conditioning and the like. Zeke is typically the sixth player off the board this year, and we have him at five, so we have few qualms with taking him early.

While his ceiling has always been underwhelming, there’s a lot to like about Amari Cooper’s floor, especially playing with Dak Prescott, as outlined above. There is a chance that Cooper winds up seeing shadow coverage from a large group of quality corners on their schedule, but the plan is to move their WRs around a little more, and Cooper does line up fairly often (about 25% of the time) in the slot, so I’m not that worried about his matchups. Cooper does need to show us in training camp that his ankle is good-to-go for the upcoming season, but if so I will feel good about Cooper at his ADP. That’s key because Cooper’s price tag this year is encouraging, since he’s being drafted after CeeDee Lamb in the 40-45 range. I even think there’s a decent chance Cooper can be had in the fifth round of a 12-team league this year, which I’ll sign up for all day long.

As expected, the rookie CeeDee Lamb last year benefited from lining up inside for Dallas, and he certainly did well playing that slot. Lamb averaged 17.1 FPG, just 0.7 FPG behind Amari Cooper, and he was 11th among all WRs over that span, so I understand why he’s going off the board so early this year at 35 overall and at WR13. Still, that’s a little rich for a player who is still developing and broadening his game. To that point, as outlined above, there is a question as to whether or not he’ll dominate the slot snaps like last year. Lamb could easily produce on the outside, but we really haven’t seen that yet, so he may be more of a projection this year than some think. Lamb is the real deal, so you’ll be okay if you take him in the late third round, but there’s little value in selecting him if you’re worried about maximizing your picks. Cooper and even Michael Gallup may be better fantasy picks, considering their cost.

He was locked in as their boundary receiver last year, and also as their deep threat, so Michael Gallup was volatile, as we expected. But he did continue to put some good NFL tape out there and has really settled in as a very nice young player in this league. That said, if Dallas really does plan on moving him around more this year, Gallup is intriguing because he’s affordable 100+ picks into a draft as about the 40th-45th WR taken. Obviously, he’s better in Best Ball formats. Gallup isn’t a must-have in this crowded receiver room, and he will likely continue to be a little inconsistent, but by season’s end I’d bet his ROI looks good in the final year of his rookie deal. He’s a good bet to earn a nice free agent payday from another team in 2022, so motivation will not be a problem.

It would have been fascinating to see what Blake Jarwin could have done in this pass-happy offense last year, but we’ll never know. And since Dalton Schultz was pretty damn good last year and should stay involved, we may never have a handle on Jarwin’s upside. We do know he was looking good before his injury in 2020’s training camp, and that he’s clicked with Dak Prescott in the past in the middle of the field. Jarwin worked out in OTAs and is expected to be ready for training camp, and he does have upside if he can get lucky with TDs (he did have a 3-TD game with Dak three years ago). Like Gallup, there’s a lot to like, but he’s not a must-have. But if you’re looking for a TE2 with upside 170+ picks into a draft, Jarwin’s not a bad choice.

He was a nice surprise last year, but unless they give him a legit chance to beat Blake Jarwin out, which can’t be ruled out, Dalton Schultz is only someone to look at on the Waiver Wire if there are more injury problems with Jarwin. If healthy, Jarwin will likely be the guy, as he was heading into last year.