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2012 Fantasy outlooks: Dallas Cowboys

Senior Fantasy Writer
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The years might roll by, but the expectations for the Cowboys remain the same: Put up a ton of yardage, score a ton of points and get to the Super Bowl.

In this case, two out of three is bad as the Cowboys have lacked playoff wins -- just one since 1996. It's enough to drive a Dallas fan crazy.

But Fantasy fans can appreciate the offense under the guidance of Jason Garrett. Since he rode into town in 2007, the Cowboys have finished in the Top 13 in total yards every season and have averaged just over 24 points per game. With Tony Romo leading the charge for the majority of that time, there's no reason to believe the offense will slow down now. In fact, it might be ready to become even more explosive thanks to a breakout from 2011.

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Not since Marion Barber's golden years have the Cowboys had a running back Fantasy owners have been hot for like DeMarco Murray. He ran roughshod over the Rams in his first game with meaningful playing time last season and held down the starting job until he broke his ankle against the Giants in Week 14 and missed the rest of the season. But Murray is healthy now and has participated in all of the Cowboys' offseason workouts without incident. His ability to not only run inside and outside but catch the ball makes him a tremendous difference maker that the Cowboys haven't had in a singular back since Emmitt Smith.

The hope is that Murray can provide enough of a problem for defenses to keep their passing attack strong. Miles Austin, Dez Bryant and Jason Witten all will reprise their roles as receiving options for Romo, with the No. 3 receiver job wide open after 2011 breakout sensation Laurent Robinson signed with the Jaguars. Combined, their offense could be among the best in the NFC, and that means big points for Fantasy owners.

Defensively, Cowboys fans and haters alike have to give credit where it's due after Dallas made moves to shore up its biggest weakness: The secondary. The Cowboys moved up in the draft to take lockdown cornerback Morris Claiborne after shelling out big bucks for Chiefs cornerback Brandon Carr and not-quite-as-big-bucks for Jets safety Brodney Pool in free agency. Retaining pass rusher Anthony Spencer and adding Dan Connor to bulk up the linebacking corps led by DeMarcus Ware won't hurt either.

Look, if the Cowboys have won one playoff game since '96 and have produced a solid offense since Jason Garrett arrived, then the defense hasn't been doing things right. Now's the time for the defense to step up, and if it does, the Cowboys can make that third aforementioned expectation a reality.

Fantasy Value Chart
Player Draft Day value Estimated round
Quarterbacks
Tony Romo 4
Running Backs
DeMarco Murray 2
Felix Jones 10
Wide Receivers
Dez Bryant 5
Miles Austin 5
Danny Coale ND
Tight Ends
Jason Witten 6
Kickers/Defense
Dan Bailey 14
Cowboys DST 14
ND - not expected to get drafted

Handcuff him ... DeMarco Murray, running back
This is the most obvious point that can be made about a Cowboys player: Murray is to the injury report what barbeque sauce is to ribs. Murray had multiple knee and hamstring issues in college -- all late-season injuries -- and picked up a hamstring strain in training camp last summer to go with the broken ankle suffered last December. So while he's an unbelievably talented player with five games over 100 total yards as a rookie, he's also one who could break down by the time the Fantasy playoffs roll around. Picking up Felix Jones with a mid-to-late pick on Draft Day is a must if you spend an early-round pick on Murray.

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Bounce-back candidate ... Miles Austin, wide receiver
Austin averaged 57.9 yards per game in 2011 after averaging 65.0 yards per game in 2010 and 82.5 in 2009. That kind of decline is enough to make any Fantasy owner queasy, but Austin has recanted for his past production, saying he came into camp last year out of shape and that it led to the hamstring problems he had last season. By default his numbers will be better this season if only because he'll play in more games and should be in the shape he wants to be in. Not having a third receiver like Robinson to cut into his production won't hurt either. He's also been a steady target of Cowboys quarterbacks ever since bursting on the scene in 2009, averaging 7.5 per game and scoring at least seven touchdowns in each of his last three seasons. Even with Bryant expected to play big in his third year, Austin should be a safer pick in 2012 as a good No. 2 Fantasy option with the potential to play like a No. 1.

Keeper-league target ... Danny Coale, wide receiver
We'd be more excited about Coale if he didn't break his foot in spring OTAs, but the fact remains that the short, shifty receiver will be in the running for the No. 3 receiver job with the Cowboys this summer. Assuming he's healed up in time for camp, he'll be a contender for the job. Coale hauled in 157 passes for 2,541 yards in just 53 collegiate games, and his route running and hands are considered excellent. His speed is an issue, but for a slot receiver in the Cowboys' diverse offense, he'll never see more than a single nickelback in coverage anyway and can beat them. The idea of drafting Coale for beyond 2012 is a good one.

Schedule breakdown

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17
@NYG @SEA TB CHI bye @BAL @CAR NYG @ATL @PHI CLE WAS PHI @CIN PIT NO @WAS

There could be trouble for the Cowboys to begin the year; they might be 1-4 after six weeks. In fact, seven of their eight road games will be challenging for them. An interesting wrinkle: They play five home games between Weeks 11 and 16, but at least three could be losses with the Eagles, Steelers and Saints coming to town. Expect their defense to yield a lot of points (more than the 21.7 points per game they allowed last year).

Training camp topics

2011 Touches Leaders
Player Touches
DeMarco Murray 164 carries, 26 catches
Felix Jones 127 carries, 33 catches
Jason Witten 79 catches
Dez Bryant 63 catches, 1 carry
Laurent Robinson 54 catches

Coale was highlighted as a good long-term prospect for dynasty- and keeper-league owners, but he's just one name in the mix for the No. 3 receiver job. He's a lock for the roster as the team invested a draft pick in him, but players like Kevin Ogletree, Raymond Radway, Dwayne Harris and Andre Holmes will fight for that playing time. Radway's a curious name -- he caught six passes for 91 yards and a touchdown last preseason before breaking his leg and missing all of 2011. Whoever can separate from the pack and claim the gig is worth at least monitoring for the start of the season. Heck, if Laurent Robinson could go from street free agent to Dallas superstar, who's to say one of these guys can't?

The development of Bryant is another issue worth watching this summer. Bryant has the muscle and speed that can make a receiver great, but not the stats to go with it. Through two hyped-up seasons he has yet to register 1,000 yards and while he did score nine times in 2011, he had more than 50 yards to go with it in five games and more than 100 yards zero times. In fact, he has just one 100-yard game in 27 career games. Questions about his conditioning and late-game focus were brought up this offseason by team owner Jerry Jones; coaches and teammates have come to Bryant's defense but anything he can do to alleviate concerns about either issue will only make him more appealing for Fantasy purposes. It wouldn't be a surprise to see him end up as Dallas' most productive wide receiver.

Other minor questions will make up the rest of the Cowboys' training camp quiz but none have significant Fantasy purpose. Will Felix Jones see enough snaps to feel comfortable in a limited role? Who will be the backup tight end behind Witten? How quickly will new backup quarterback Kyle Orton pick up the Cowboys offense?

Really, this season should come down to the defense and whether or not Rob Ryan's crew can get to the quarterback and create some plays in the defensive backfield. If they can, the Cowboys should win some games and put pressure on their NFC East rivals for the division crown. If they can't, Romo will find himself in a bunch of high-scoring games and could top the five 300-yard games he had in 2011. Whether or not you're a Cowboys fan will determine which side you want the defense's play to come out on.

Injury update

DeMarco Murray (ankle; probable for the start of training camp) ... Felix Jones (shoulder; probable for the start of training camp) ... Danny Coale (foot; questionable for the start of training camp).

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us via Twitter @CBSFantasyFB . You can also follow Dave at @daverichard and on Facebook .

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Player News
Packers' Davon House unlikely to return in regular season
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12:03 am ET) Packers cornerback Davon House is expected to miss the remainder of the regular season while recovering from an injury to his right shoulder blade, the Journal Sentinel reports.

"I have the mind-set, I'll be back tomorrow," House said. "Will I be back tomorrow, most likely not. I can't give a time frame. Hopefully, sooner than later. Talking to Doc (team physician Patrick McKenzie), we're going to take it week by week, day by day. But they said my improvement is where we want it to be. The good news was that I was able to start running today, which was great."

House may be able to return during the postseason, so the team has decided not to place him on injured reserve at this time.


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(12/18/2014) Jaguars defensive tackle Roy Miller will require surgery on his meniscus injury, the Florida Times-Union reports.

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(12/18/2014) Titans kicker Ryan Succop hit both his field goals Week 16 against the Jaguars.

Succop was tested early, but managed to convert on a 50 yard attempt. Things got easier late in the contest, as Succop hit from 23 yards. He added one extra point. Succop will look for more Week 17 against the Colts. 


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(12/18/2014) Titans running back Leon Washington made an impact Week 16 against the Jaguars.

Washington wasn't a huge factor in the running the game, gaining 11 yards on four carries. He excelled in the passing game, however. Washington hauled in seven catches, gaining 62 yards. He finished second on the team in receiving for the game. Washington was the only player on the team to score, pulling down an 8 yard touchdown pass on the team's first drive. 

He'll look for more Week 17 against the Colts. 


Titans WR Kendall Wright leads the way Week 16
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12/18/2014) Titans wideout Kendall Wright led the team in receiving Week 16.

Wright came into the game questionable due to a broken hand, but was able to excel despite the issue. He only hauled in four passes, but was able to connect on some deep passes. In the fourth quarter, Wright pulled down a 39 yard reception. He finished with 73 yards on five targets.

Wright will look for more Week 17 against the Colts. 


Titans RB Shonn Greene receives seven carries Week 16
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12/18/2014) Titans running back Shonn Greene carried the ball just seven times Week 16 against the Jaguars.

Greene took a backseat to Bishop Sankey during the contest, though neither did all that much on the ground. Greene gained 28 yards, good for a 4.0 yards per carry average. Greene was not involved in the passing game, and did not receive a target.

He'll look for more Week 17 against the Colts. 


Titans RB Bishop Sankey fails to do much Week 16
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12/18/2014) Titans running back Bishop Sankey failed to do much Week 16 against the Jaguars.

Sankey led all Titans runners, carrying the ball 14 times for 44 yards. He was held to just 3.1 yards per carry. Sankey had a hard time breaking anything loose, with his longest carry going for just 8 yards. He wasn't all that involved in the passing game either, coming up with one reception for 9 yards.

Sankey will hope for more Week 17 against the Colts. 


Titans QB Charlie Whitehurst tosses one score on Thursday
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12/18/2014) Titans quarterback Charlie Whitehurst tossed one touchdown on Thursday against the Jaguars.

Whitehurst completed 24 of 35 passes for 287 yards and a touchdown. He did not turn the ball over during the contest. Whitehurst looked to attack Jacksonville down the field, averaging 8.2 yards per completion. This sometimes came back to bite him, as he wound up taking four sacks. Whitehurst's only score came on the team's first drive. On the 13th play of the drive, Whitehurst found running back Leon Washington for the 8 yard score. Whitehurst also picked up 12 rushing yards on three attempts.

Depending on the team's injury situation at quarterback, Whitehurst may be in line to start next week against the Colts.


Jaguars K Josh Scobee scores three points vs. Titans
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12/18/2014) Jaguars kicker Josh Scobee was limited to just three extra points in his team's 21-13 win over the Titans in Week 16.

It was the third time this season Scobee wasn't called upon to attempt a field goal. Thursday's win marked just the second time this season Scobee kicked three extra points in a game. He'll travel to Houston to face the Texans in Week 17.


Jaguars WRs quiet in Week 16 win vs. Titans
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12/18/2014) Jaguars wide receivers Marqise Lee led his team with four receptions and 65 yards in his team's 21-13 win over the Titans in Week 16.

The Jaguars managed to pick up just 124 receiving yards on the day and Lee was responsible for more than half of that total while seeing six targets. Allen Hurns was also targeted six times, picking up 26 yards on three receptions. Cecil Shorts caught just two of his seven targets for 15 yards but also completed a nine-yard pass.

Tight end Marcedes Lewis managed just six yards on two receptions but did secure the team's only receiving touchdown on a four-yard strike at the end of the first half. The Jaguars will hit the road to face the Texans in the season finale next Sunday.


 
 
 
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