It's a fresh start for the Cowboys following a disappointing 2008 season. The team will be playing its home games in a new stadium, and they'll be working without a certain outspoken receiver who was cut during the offseason. Creating team chemistry seemed to be a high priority for the Cowboys, as was improving their quarterback depth and defensive talent.
What's not changing is the rest of the offensive unit. Tony Romo has been a victim of three straight late-season meltdowns and is poised to take over as the unquestioned leader of the offense in an effort to lead the 'Boys to a Super Bowl. Roy Williams was a mid-season acquisition for the Cowboys, and he disappointed in 2008. However, he's spent the entire offseason getting to know the playbook and will be asked to be the lead receiver in the offense and work alongside tight end Jason Witten as Romo's best receiving options. The lead running back will still be Marion Barber, recovered from a toe injury that crippled his production late last season. He'll be joined by second-year rushers Felix Jones and Tashard Choice, both of whom proved themselves as worthy complements and replacements for Barber last year. The team hopes that with the versatility and explosiveness they have on staff, they won't miss what's-his-name.
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Defensively, the Cowboys parted ways with cornerback Pacman Jones, safety Roy L. Williams, defensive linemen Tank Johnson and Chris Canty and linebackers Kevin Burnett and Zach Thomas. They got a little bit younger, adding defensive tackle Igor Olshansky, linebacker Keith Brooking and strong safety Gerald Sensabaugh. But with no first-day draft picks and a dozen rookies picked between Rounds 3 and 7 on hand (seven on defense), the unit that stepped up for much of last year will have to pick up the slack again versus an improved NFC East.
Sleeper ... Martellus Bennett, TE
Bennett might not get the workload that teammate Jason Witten gets, but at 6-foot-6 and 265 pounds, he's down in the red zone with Witten quite a bit. In his maiden campaign, the gregarious, athletic Bennett scored on 20 percent of his receptions, a rare feat for any rookie who plays in all 16 games. The Cowboys lost a prime red-zone target in Terrell Owens and should consider Bennett to replace him in certain situations. Because of his size, he's a matchup nightmare for all of his opponents as he can leap for jump balls and out-muscle any defender along the way. And, because Witten and Roy Williams will be on the field with him, you can be certain that he won't see an opponent's best coverage. While he's unlikely to produce big stats every week, he should be the best No. 2 tight end in the NFL in 2009, and as such be a tremendous one-week replacement for those in standard leagues and a quality reserve for those in deeper leagues.
|Player||Draft Day value|
|Roy E. Williams|
Breakout ... Felix Jones, RB
Jones' rookie year got off to a sensational start as he scored three rushing touchdowns on just 30 carries with a kickoff return for a touchdown and 266 rushing yards (for an 8.9 yards per carry average!). But a hamstring pull was parlayed into a season-ending toe injury, and Jones saw action in just six games. The Cowboys remain in love with Jones and plan to use him even more this season, particularly in the wake of seeing Marion Barber get worn down after taking on much of the rushing workload last season. Jones should have no problem improving on his 2008 numbers so long as he stays healthy, and he's got potential for as many as 12 carries per game. We like him as a top-end reserve Fantasy running back even though he has the potential to deliver like a No. 1 if he were given the opportunity to play most downs.
Bust ... Tony Romo, QB
The Fantasy owners who still believe that Romo is a Top 3 option at quarterback will be in for a rude awakening this year. The offense that Romo will be running is expected to be toned down a bit and will cater to the running game. And why not? Marion Barber, Felix Jones and Tashard Choice all ran over opponents at various times last season. A good running game will take the pressure off of Romo, who will still throw plenty but not at the rate he did in 2008 (34.6 attempts per game). The reality is that Romo's receiving corps drops off with Owens no longer there. Not only have quarterbacks historically struggled given their varying circumstances in the immediate year following Owens' departure from their teams, but Owens drew significant coverage and was a big-bodied target for Romo to aim for regularly. Roy E. Williams is being asked to step up and take Owens' place, but with one 1,000-yard season under his belt and just 14 touchdowns over his last three seasons, it might be a lot to ask of him. The Cowboys' offensive line is a veteran one, which is to say that there's no promise that they'll stay healthy and up to par all year (it was a problem last year). Romo should come close to 4,000 yards, but there are too many questions about his touchdown potential to consider him an elite Fantasy passer. You're better off letting someone else reach for him before Round 5, or grabbing him at that point or later.
Training camp topics
As soon as you get over T.O. not being in Dallas, you'll realize that there are some compelling issues for the Cowboys on both sides of the ball. Offensively, replacing Owens isn't the issue as much as how the reps will be divided among the running backs and receivers. Roy Williams and Jason Witten are locks to be every-down players, but Patrick Crayton, Miles Austin, Sam Hurd and Martellus Bennett will all fight for as much playing time as they can get. We might see them tailored into packages that take their strengths into consideration (for example: Bennett in goal-line situations, Austin on passing downs). Will the talent on staff outweigh the loss of Owens over the course of the season?
Of course, the receivers won't be the only ones to help carry the offense. Speculation is building in Dallas that the Cowboys will be more run-based than in past years, and that only makes sense considering the power Marion Barber offers, the speed Felix Jones brings and the surprising versatility Tashard Choice has displayed. Two years ago, the Cowboys ran a tandem at running back where Barber worked as a third-down and goal-line back before working as the featured back last year. Barber should still start, but Jones will see plenty of work so long as he's healthy, and the Cowboys can't ignore what Choice did last season either. Seeing how their carries will shake out over the course of the preseason should be of interest to Fantasy owners, even though Barber is expected to be the most valuable Fantasy back.
The defense repeating its impressive feats from a year ago (minus the meltdown in Philadelphia), the starting kicking job between injured incumbent Nick Folk and rookie David Buehler and a slew of second-day selections from the draft will also be under the microscope.
Are you ready for the 2009 Fantasy season? If not, we're here for you. Send us an e-mail at DMFantasyFootball@cbs.com. We'll respond to as many as we can.