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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
Cardinals' Larry Foote '50-50' on playing in 2015
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(4/26/2015) Though Larry Foote is on the Cardinals' coaching staff at the moment, he hasn't ruled out a potential return to the team

Speaking to the team's website, Foote said he's "50-50" about playing in 2015. He talked about the factors that could play into whether or not he returns to playing. 

“Draft, what happens with (suspended linebacker) Darryl Washington, stuff like that, how my knee feels (after offseason surgery),” Foote said. “I’ll sit down with (Bruce Arians) and the next couple of months are really going to be the deciding factor.”

If Foote doesn't play, he'll be the linebackers coach for Arizona's upcoming season. He's been adjusting to the role of being a coach this offseason. 

“I am starting to like coaching,” Foote said. “It’s a little tough in the office, eating M&Ms, snacking all day, drinking coffee. I started my diet a couple days ago.”


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(4/25/2015) What was promised by general manager Dave Gettleman is now official - the Panthers have picked up the fifth-year option on the rookie contract of standout linebacker Luke Kuechly, per the team website.

The two-time Pro Bowler has led the NFL in tackles in two of his three seasons and was named NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2013. He has racked up 473 tackles since 2012, the most in the NFL.


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(4/25/2015) Ravens tight end Dennis Pitta hopes to take the field in time for the 2015 season, but admits it's too early to determine if that goal can become a reality.

Pitta has undergone surgeries to repair a fractured and dislocated hip in each of the last two years.

"We still have some time to be able to assess where I'm at," Pitta told the Baltimore Sun. "I sure hope that I'll be on the field next year. That's my hope; that's my goal. We'll just see if I can get there."

Pitta has played in just seven games in the last two seasons combined.


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by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(4/25/2015) Eagles quarterback Mark Sanchez said he wasn't concerned that the team signed Tim Tebow, because the Eagles told him Tebow was just there to throw in camp.

"We needed another guy to throw while Sam's (Bradford) still recovering. So that's the reason (for the signing), at least as explained to me," Sanchez said, per CSN Philadelphia

The Eagles signed Tebow on Monday. He hasn't played in the NFL since getting cut by the Patriots at the end of training camp prior to the 2013 season. He spent last year as a television analyst for the SEC Network. 

Tebow and Sanchez were teammates on the Jets in 2012. Tebow's presence as a back-up created a quarterback controversy among fans and media that last ed throughout the season. 


Vikings CB Terence Newman has familiarity with Mike Zimmer
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(4/24/2015) Vikings cornerback Terence Newman won't have a steep learning curve now that he's with his new team. 

Newman played under Vikings coach Mike Zimmer when he was the defensive coordinator with the Cowboys. Drafted in 2003, Newman learned Zimmer's defense from his rookie season through 2006, before Zimmer left to take the same position with the Falcons. 

“I just know exactly what to expect from him as a coach, as well as everybody else in this locker room,” Newman told the Vikings' website. “You play your best football under him.”

In his career, Newman has recorded 741 tackles and 37 interceptions. Entering his 13th NFL year, Newman has already impressed his teammates with voluntary workouts underway. 

“I met with him and he seemed like a great guy,” cornerback Xavier Rhodes said. “Like he’s going to come in and teach us what we need to know about the technique of the game and about the defense because he’s been in it before, so he’s going to help us out a lot. He’s a big asset to this team and the defense.”


Chiefs pick up option on NT Dontari Poe
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(4/24/2015) The Chiefs have exercised their fifth-year option on two-time Pro Bowl nose tackle Dontari Poe, per NFL.com. He is set in Kansas City through 2016, when he will earn $6.146 million.

The 350-pound Poe has earned the money. He racked up six sacks and contributed to 46 tackles in 2014.


Lions GM Mayhew OK with James Ihedigbo skipping workouts
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(4/24/2015) Safety James Ihedigbo was the lone absence from voluntary workouts this week for the Lions. But general manager Martin Mayhew understands. After all, Ihedigbo's agent has stated that he would not work without a new contract.

"I look forward to talking with James," Mayhew told ESPN. "I understand what he's going through. I've been through that myself as a player, when I felt that a time in my career that I was underpaid and I had to deal with that.

"So I have empathy for him. I understand what he's going through and I look forward to sitting down and talking with him. I have great respect for him as a player, as a man. I've gotten to know him a little bit away from football and I understand how he feels."

Mayhew declined to discuss whether the Liins will rework Ihedigbo's contract.

The 31-year-old Ihedigbo contributed 71 tackles and two sacks with a career-high four interceptions in 2014 despite missing three games at the start of the year with a nerve injury. He earned Pro Bowl alternate status.


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(4/24/2015) Running back Chris Polk is now a free agent. 

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RB Bobby Rainey signs qualifying offer with Buccaneers
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(4/24/2015) The Buccaneers have announced that running back Bobby Rainey has signed a one-year qualifying offer the team extended to him before the free agency period. He was a restricted free agent and was given an opportunity to negotiate with other teams.

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by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(4/24/2015) As far as the Jaguars are concerned, Justin Blackmon will not be lining up at receiver for them this season. 

At least that's the approach Jacksonville is taking. Blackmon has been indefinitely suspended since Nov. 1 2013 for three violations of the substance-abuse policy under the old CBA.

"Our process hasn't changed," Caldwell said, via ESPN.com. "[We] plan to go without him, but if he emerges, he emerges, and he's going to go in with those top guys and compete with those other guys. Hopefully we're able to get some news, but if not we weren't planning on [having Blackmon]. We're just going to go [without him]."

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