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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
Bills move Corey Graham to safety
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(2:01 am ET) The Bills have moved cornerback Corey Graham to safety, the Buffalo News reports.

Graham said that he and the team have discussed the move all offseason and decided to give the position change a try on Tuesday when the team held its first workout of OTAs.

"He’s got that unique ability where he can do both things," coach Rex Ryan said. "So let’s see what we have out there. And this is no slam on Duke or on Rambo or on Meeks or any of those guys, but this is us doing what’s best for the team. And if that means we feel good about [Graham] playing safety, then that’s where he’ll be."

Graham is enthusiastic about playing the safety position full-time.

"I want to try to really learn it and see where it goes, see how much my grasp is, see how I’m playing at it, see where it can take me," he said. "I look forward to it. It’s a challenge for me, but I’m actually very excited about it."

Graham recorded 84 total tackles last season, his first in Buffalo, while intercepting two passes.


Vikings' Bridgewater 'extremely comfortable' with leadership role
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(5/27/2015) Vikings second-year quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is embracing his role as leader of the offense, the Star Tribune reports.

"I’m a young guy still on the team, but guys are pushing me forward to say something in the huddle, or break the team down, or break the offense down," Bridgewater said. "That just gives you that confidence in yourself, confidence in your leadership and I’ve been extremely comfortable doing that so far."

Coach Mike Zimmer is satsfied with the work Bridgewater has done during the offseason.

"It’s hard to never not be pleased with Teddy because he’s such a hard worker," Zimmer said. "We wanted him to get bigger and stronger; he looks a little bit bigger to me. He’s always worked real hard. The leadership things are starting to come better. I think he’s been doing a good job the two days we’ve been out here against the defense."

Bridgewater made 12 starts in his rookie season and played 13 games in all, racking up 2,919 yards, 14 touchdowns and 12 interceptions while completing 64.4 percent of his passes.


Broncos WR Emmanuel Sanders hoping to reach 1,000 yards
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(5/27/2015) Broncos wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders believes the new offensive scheme in Denver will effect his numbers, accoridng to the team's website.

Sanders is working with new offensive coordinator Rick Dennison and coach Gary Kubiak to install the team's new offense and noted it's very different from last year's spread attack.

"You talk about going from a no-huddle offense to an offense that's huddling up, to an offense that is predicated off running a football and then throwing it. It's different," Sanders said. 

"It's a totally different set up, but I tell you what, the more and more I'm in it," said Sanders. "Because we can get the run game going and just use my vertical speed on cross routes and all these different combinations of routes is based off the play action, then I think the offense will be successful with Peyton Manning at the helm."

Sanders, who totaled 1,404 yards and nine touchdowns in 2014, doesn't think he'll accomplish the same numbers.

"Of course obviously it's not going to be one of those offenses, well I'm praying that it is, but obviously it's not going to be one of those offenses where you catch it and you're going to have two receivers catching over 100 passes," said Sanders. "Hopefully, my goal is really to try to get a 1,000 yards to just help this team win ball games."


Cowboys rookie La'el Collins taking reps at RT in OTAs
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(5/27/2015) Cowboys rookie offensive lineman La'el Collins started offseason team activities on Wednesday taking reps at right tackle, according to the Dallas Morning News.

Collins, who was signed as an undrafted free agent, could also see time at left guard. But the rookie is taking his first reps with the team at right tackle with Darrion Weems while Doug Free recovers from ankle surgery.

"We think he has the physical ability to play a couple of different spots," coach Jason Garrett said. "He was a tackle for most of his career in college but did play guard. We see him as a guy who can maybe do both of those things as he goes.

"The big thing for him is to try to get him acclimated as quickly as we can. So right now he's going to play right tackle for us. He and Darrion Weems are competing at that spot in Doug Free's absence and we'll just see how that unfolds." 


Vikings' Adrian Peterson on absence from OTAs: 'It's business'
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(5/27/2015) Vikings running back Adrian Peterson said in a statement on Wednesday that his absence from OTAs has "nothing to do with wanting to be traded," ESPN reports.

"The reason I'm not attending OTAs has nothing to do with wanting to be traded. It's about securing my future with the Vikings. It's business, not personal and I understand that firsthand. Go Vikings."

It was reported earlier Wednesday that coach Mike Zimmer said that Peterson could "either play for us or not play." The running back has expressed frustration with team management for not showing him support during his legal case for child abuse.


Report: Falcons' Dezmen Southward undergoes knee surgery
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(5/27/2015) Falcons defensive backs Dezmen Southward underwent a minor-knee operation Wednesday, reports the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Southward did not attend Tuesday's OTA and it is not known how long he'll be sidelined.


Julius Thomas trying to fit into Jaguars' offense
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(5/27/2015) Jaguars tight end Julius Thomas said after Wednesday's organized team activity that he intends to make it work with quarterback Blake Bortles, reports The Florida Times-Union.

"There is no 'Here's me coming in, and Blake's going to get on my page.' I'm going to be on Blake's page," Thomas said. "Whatever he expects, that's what I am going to do. He's the quarterback. He's the one in control of that huddle, and I like catching passes so I will make sure I do exactly what he wants."

With Thomas entering his first season with the Jaguars, he said it will take time to develop a rapport with Bortles.

"I think that getting good chemistry with a quarterback probably takes a couple of thousand passes," Thomas said.


Cowboys RB Darren McFadden not concerned with playing time
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(5/27/2015) With the Cowboys just beginning their organized team activities this week, running back Darren McFadden said he just wants to concentrate on becoming familiar with the team, reports the team's official website.

"For me, I'm just going out there grinding," he said. "However the coaches put me out there – whether it's first team or second team. When it comes time for them to make a decision, it's totally up to them. I'm just trying to get that playbook down and take advantage of this opportunity."

McFadden is competing with Joseph Randle to be the first-team running back, and he said he just wants to work hard and not worry about how many repetitions he's receiving with the first team.

"Once you've been in a place so long like Oakland, you can get set in your ways," McFadden said Wednesday, after his second OTA practice with the Cowboys. "Coming out here and being around guys that work so hard, it just brings out the best in you. It's something I look forward to."


Chiefs' Mike Catapano on his health: I feel better than ever
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(5/27/2015) After missing the entire 2014 season with a gastrointestinal virus, Chiefs defensive end Mike Catapano was able to participate in the team's OTA on Wednesday, reports The Kansas City Star.

"Every time I step on the field now it's with purpose and with extra vigor that I never really had," Catapano said. "It feels great. I feel better than ever."

Catapano played in 15 games during his rookie season in 2013 and he totaled four tackles and one sack. He said he's ready to surpass that in 2015.

"I'm ready to show that I offer a lot to this team. I'm ready to step up in big situations and starting situations," Catapano said. "I just want to keep getting better every day… and play to the best of my abilities."


Broncos' Manning, Sanders keeping up with Thomas during holdout
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(5/27/2015) Broncos wide receiver Demaryius Thomas is holding out of offseason workouts while he continues to negotiate a long-term deal with the team, but teammates Emmanuel Sanders and Peyton Manning have been keeping up with the star receiver, the Denver Post reports.

"One thing a lot of people don’t realize is when you’re playing on a one-year deal, there’s a lot of things going through your head," Sanders said. "As much as you guys want to say, ‘Don’t think about it,' of course it’s going to cross your mind because you’re talking about a lot of money at stake. When you’re playing these one-year deals, it’s a lot of stress on you. No matter how much you don’t want it to be, it’s going to happen. We’re all human."

Manning would like to have Thomas in workouts but understands the business aspects of his decision.

"I keep up with Demaryius. He’s my buddy," Manning said. "They got that business side of it to work out, but he’s been a great teammate to me, been a great friend to me since I’ve been here in Denver, so I keep up with him. Obviously want him to get back here as soon as possible, but we want what’s best for him, and he certainly deserves what’s best for him."

Thomas has started 16 games for three straight season, topping 90 receptions, 1,400 yards and 10 touchdowns in each.


 
 
 
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