Fantasy Football 2014 draft prep: Dallas Cowboys
QB Brandon Weeden, G Uche Nwaneri, DE Jeremy Mincey, DT Henry Melton, DT Terrell McClain, ILB Rolando McClain, ILB Will Herring, S Danny McCray.
Early Draft Picks:
G/OT Zack Martin, DE Demarcus Lawrence, LB Anthony Hitchens, WR Devin Street.
QB Kyle Orton, RB Phillip Tanner, WR Miles Austin, G Brian Waters, C Phil Costa, DE DeMarcus Ware, DE Everette Brown, DT DeMarcus Ware, OLB Ernie Sims.
2014 Dallas Cowboys Offense:
Tony Romo takes a ton of flak for his team constantly failing to live up to expectations, but it’s usually not warranted. Romo is coming off a terrific season in which he threw 31 touchdowns compared to just 10 interceptions. He may have led Dallas into the playoffs, but he suffered a back injury and had to miss the finale in which Kyle Orton nearly led the team to victory. However, Romo is coming off back surgery – his second in as many years – and at 34, he may not be the same quarterback he once was.
With that in mind, Jerry Jones had to make sure his franchise signal-caller will be protected as well as possible. That would explain why he eschewed a defensive player at No. 16 overall in the 2014 NFL Draft and opted for Notre Dame lineman Zack Martin instead. Martin can play every position up front except for center, though he has short arms, so he might be better off at guard. That’s exactly where Dallas needs him right now though, as right guard Ronald Leary did a poor job this past season. Martin will start there along with center Travis Frederick and left guard Mackenzy Bernadeau on the interior. Frederick was a reach in the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft. He struggled at times as a rookie, but had a solid season overall. Bernadeau is a mediocre blocker, but he’s not a liability.
Martin may eventually take over at right tackle, which is currently occupied by Doug Free. The 30-year-old has had some dreadful seasons in Dallas, but performed better than expected in 2013. He’s entering his contract season, so he’ll continue to start across from Pro Bowl left tackle Tyron Smith for now.
Given that his protection will be better, Romo could have a career year if his back holds up. Offensive coordinator Scott Linehan will utilize his pass-happy attack, and Romo has plenty of weapons at his disposal. Miles Austin is gone, but that’s actually a good thing because Dallas’ offense was more sluggish when he was on the field. His departure will allow Terrence Williams to be a full-time starter across from stud wideout Dez Bryant. Williams thrived as a third-round rookie this past season, catching 44 balls for 736 yards and five touchdowns. He’ll undoubtedly improve in 2014, giving Romo a pair of strong wideouts to throw to.
Romo will also have Jason Witten at his disposal once again. Romo has loved connecting with Witten over the years, but the big tight end is slowing down at the age of 32. He saw his receptions total drop from 110 to 73 this past season, and he’ll continue to decline as he transitions into his mid-30s. Dallas drafted Gavin Escobar in the second round last April to eventually replace Witten, but he won’t be doing that this season.
Having a healthy DeMarco Murray for most of the season was definitely a big help for Romo. Murray rushed for 1,124 yards on a 5.2 YPC clip and also caught 53 balls in 2013. It’s difficult to expect that once again, however, given that Murray has yet to play all 16 games in any season thus far. He even missed two contests last year, and the 14 starts happened to be a career-high. Dallas will use Lance Dunbar as a pass-catching, change-of-pace player to preserve the fragile Murray.
2014 Dallas Cowboys Defense:
The Cowboys nearly made some dubious history last season. They surrendered 6,645 total yards last season, which is the third-most ever allowed in NFL history. They finished behind only the 2012 Saints (7,042 yards) and 1981 Baltimore Colts (6,793). However, given what has transpired this offseason, it’s very possible that Dallas could eclipse that 7,042 figure.
Dallas, of course, lost future Hall of Famer DeMarcus Ware when it was forced to cut him because of salary-cap ramifications. Ware wasn’t at his best in 2013 because of nagging injuries – he tallied six sacks in 13 games – but he was still one of the top defenders on the roster. Anthony Spencer will be back to take his spot after playing just one contest last year, but he won’t be at 100 percent either, given that he’s coming off serious knee surgery. Spencer isn’t even a lock to be ready by Week 1, so it’s unlikely that he’ll duplicate the 11-sack campaign he enjoyed back in 2012. If Spencer can’t play well, the Cowboys will have to count on the likes of Jeremy Mincey, George Selvie and second-round rookie Demarcus Lawrence to get to the quarterback.
The best player on the Cowboys’ stop unit from 2013 is also gone. Jason Hatcher, who actually put together an exceptional season, signed with the Redskins this spring. Dallas brought in Henry Melton as a replacement, but the former Bear was dreadful last year. Perhaps Melton can rebound. If not, the defensive interior will be brutal, as the anemic Nick Hayden will once again be asked to start.
Making matters worse, Dallas received some devastating news this summer when it learned that Sean Lee would be out for the year with a torn ACL. Lee was arguably the second-best player on the defense last season, so he will also be sorely missed. The Cowboys will have to start fourth-round rookie Anthony Hitchens, who was widely considered a reach. Hitchens will be flanked by DeVonte Holloman, who was atrocious this past season, and Bruce Carter, who struggled in his transition from the 3-4 to the 4-3. Rolando McClain could push for a starting job, but he has been a huge bust.
The secondary is the strongest part of the Cowboy defense, which is sad considering the team allowed the third-most passing yards in the NFL this previous season. Part of the problem is that both starting cornerbacks have failed to live up to expectations. Brandon Carr, who signed a 5-year, $50.1 million contract in March 2012, has just been mediocre. Meanwhile, Morris Claiborne, chosen No. 6 overall that following April, has been even worse. Orlando Scandrick is a solid nickel at least, but he’s the only decent player Dallas has in its corner group.
The safety position isn’t in better shape. Barry Church is fine as one of the starters, but J.J. Wilcox, chosen in the third round of the 2013 NFL Draft, didn’t play very well as a rookie. All Dallas did in an attempt to improve this area was acquire Ahmad Dixon in the seventh round this past May. It’s safe to say that he won’t be making much of an impact anytime soon.
2014 Dallas Cowboys Schedule and Intangibles:
Jerry Jones opened up his fancy new stadium with its giant video screen in 2009. It all looked great – until the players took the field. In the five years at Cowboys Stadium, the host is just 23-18, compared to 19-22 on the road.
Undrafted rookie Dan Bailey came out of nowhere in 2011 to perform as one of the league’s top kickers. He was sharp again last season, hitting 28-of-30 tries, including 6-of-7 from 50-plus. Bailey was awarded with a 6-year, $22.5 million extension this offseason.
Punter Chris Jones was only in the middle of the pack in terms of net average, but he finished in the top 10 in terms of attempts placed inside the 20.
Dallas scored once on special teams – a punt return by Dwayne Harris. The team outgained the opposition on both punt and kickoff returns.
Four of the Cowboys’ first six games are against the 49ers, Rams, Saints and Seahawks, so they could be in a hole early. The rest of their schedule gets easier after that though, thanks to the NFC East’s ineptitude.
2014 Dallas Cowboys Analysis: Everyone always jokes about the Cowboys finishing 8-8 every year. Well, they’ll need a miracle to get up to eight victories in 2014. The third-worst defense of all time will be even worse this season. Tony Romo is coming off his second back surgery in as many years. DeMarco Murray is unlikely to play in as many games again. Plus, Jason Garrett is once again bound to cost his team several wins. Dallas is atrocious, and as a consequence, will one of the veteran teams to bottom out this year, much like Houston in 2013.