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2014 Fantasy Outlooks: Dallas Cowboys

Senior Fantasy Writer
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There's already an ominous feel for the Cowboys this year based on what's happened this offseason. An already bad defense seemingly got worse.

The Cowboys lost top pass rushers in DeMarcus Ware and Jason Hatcher as free agents. And standout middle linebacker Sean Lee suffered a torn ACL in May. Those players cannot be replaced.

One of the byproducts of those injuries is that the bad defense leads to good offense. And there is plenty of firepower for the Cowboys to put up plenty of points, especially with Scott Linehan now calling plays.

Dallas has the No. 8 Fantasy quarterback from 2013 in Tony Romo, the No. 7 running back in DeMarco Murray, the No. 6 receiver in Dez Bryant and the No. 5 tight end in Jason Witten. Add in a potential breakout receiver in Terrance Williams, and the Cowboys can attack opposing defenses in a variety of ways.

That's good news for Fantasy owners, and this is an offense you should gravitate to on Draft Day. The defense might not be good, but there is the potential for a lot of shootouts, which leads to happy owners at the end of the season.

First-round talent ... DeMarco Murray

Even though Murray had a career year in 2013 and finished No. 7 in Fantasy points at his position, owners are skeptical he can do it again. He's considered injury prone, and rightfully so. Murray missed nine games in his first two seasons, and he even was out for two games last year with a knee injury.

But in 14 games, Murray set career highs in carries (217), rushing yards (1,121), rushing touchdowns (nine), receptions (53), receiving yards (350) and receiving touchdowns (one). And he should improve this season with Linehan.

Linehan, who was the offensive coordinator in Detroit, got Reggie Bush and Joique Bell to finish Top 20 in Fantasy points last year, with the duo combining for more than 100 catches. The Cowboys are saying Murray isn't expected to come off the field much, and that should lead to another Top 10 finish in Fantasy points at his position, if not higher.

Murray will probably fall to Round 2 in the majority of leagues, which is great value. But don't hesitate to draft him toward the end of Round 1 if you're not sold on Montee Ball or don't want to draft Calvin Johnson, Jimmy Graham or Peyton Manning. He proved himself last season and should be great again.

QB worth waiting for ... Tony Romo

No one really wants Romo as their Fantasy quarterback. He's not someone you covet on Draft Day. And that's a mistake. Is he Manning, Drew Brees or Aaron Rodgers? Not exactly. But his track record speaks for itself.

Romo has been a Top 10 Fantasy quarterback in four of the past five years, including three in a row. He was No. 8 in Fantasy points last year in a standard league with 3,828 passing yards, 31 touchdowns and 10 interceptions on 64 percent completions. And he should improve this year.

With Linehan calling plays, and a defense that could be record-breaking bad, Romo could be asked to do a lot of heavy lifting. If his back is OK after surgery in December -- all reports are positive -- he should play at a high level.

My draft strategy is to always wait on a quarterback. I'll let someone else reach for a quarterback in the first three rounds, and I'll hold off as long as possible to get a quarterback as late as possible.

Ideally, I'll end up with Matthew Stafford, Colin Kaepernick or Matt Ryan this season. If I miss on that trio, Romo headlines the next tier because Andrew Luck is typically gone. And I'm happy to get Romo if he falls in my lap, likely in Round 7 or later.

Everyone has their different feeling on drafting a quarterback -- I've said for years it's the most personal decision you'll make -- but I prefer to stockpile running backs and receivers early and take a quarterback late. And Romo, more often than not, produces great results.

Poised for a breakout ... Terrance Williams

2013 Touches Leaders
711 total touches
DeMarco Murray 270 (217 car., 53 rec.) 38.0%
Dez Bryant 94 (1 car., 93 rec.) 13.2%
Jason Witten 73 rec. 10.3%
Joseph Randle 62 (54 car., 8 rec.) 8.7%
Terrance Williams 47 (3 car., 44 rec.) 6.6%
All Others 165 23.1%

Williams hits a lot of the checkmarks you look for in a receiver with upside. Talent? Check. Pass-heavy offense? Check. Single coverage all game? Check. Good quarterback? Check.

Williams should be considered a No. 3 Fantasy receiver on Draft Day with the chance to be a weekly starter. With Romo calling plays in Linehan's offense -- and playing opposite Bryant and Witten -- Williams could have plenty of big weeks. And he showed that last season.

With Miles Austin out with hamstring problems, Williams had a four-game scoring streak from Weeks 5-8. For the season, Williams had 44 catches for 736 yards and five touchdowns, but he could be 60 catches, 1,000 yards and eight touchdowns.

You'd rather draft Williams as a No. 4 Fantasy receiver, but either way target him with a mid-round pick. He has the chance for a big year, and he's a potential difference maker in your Fantasy league in 2014.

Schedule analysis

We're going to find out early on if the passing game in Dallas is for real with some tough matchups for Romo and Co. The Cowboys play five of their first six games against teams that were Top 8 in Fantasy points allowed to opposing quarterbacks (San Francisco, Tennessee, St. Louis, New Orleans and Seattle). Only Houston in Week 5 was outside of the Top 8 of that group, but the Texans shouldn't be easy with the addition of Jadeveon Clowney. The Seahawks game is also on the road, so this could be a rough start. Still, the Cowboys are a tough test offensively for their opponents as well, so it'll be interesting to see how it unfolds.

Training camp battles

Who's the No. 2 running back? There really aren't any position battles for the Cowboys. Barring Kyle Orton deciding not to retire, Brandon Weeden is the No. 2 quarterback, Cole Beasley is the No. 3 receiver behind Bryant and Williams, and Gavin Escobar is the No. 2 tight end. Lance Dunbar should be the No. 2 running back, but Joseph Randle held the role last season. The Cowboys also took a flier on Ryan Williams, but Dunbar is the one to handcuff to Murray. And in deep leagues, he could be worth a look on his own given Murray's injury history.

Bold prediction

Romo's best season was 2007 when he passed for 4,211 yards, 36 touchdowns and 19 interceptions, and he added two rushing touchdowns. He was No. 2 in Fantasy points that year, but we're expecting another career campaign in 2014.

With Linehan and this defense, Romo is going to be asked to throw so much he should post monster stats. Just look at Matthew Stafford the past three seasons and how much he threw the ball -- with Linehan calling plays and a bad defense.

Stafford was fourth, first and first in pass attempts the past three years. He was No. 7 in Fantasy points last season, No. 11 in 2012 and No. 4 in 2011. Romo is going to challenge for the pass-attempts lead, and that should lead to a career year if Bryant, Witten and Williams stay healthy.

Injury report

Tony Romo (back), probable for start of training camp. ... Sean Lee (ACL), out for season

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Player News
Saints tight end Jimmy Graham to avoid surgery on shoulder
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(5:34 pm ET) Saints tight end Jimmy Graham said Friday he will avoid surgery on his shoulder after testing it at the Pro Bowl. 

"I’ve been doing rehab and I’m going to start back on my rehab Monday and really there’s going to be no surgery," Graham told SiriusXM radio. "I’m just going to do rehab, strengthen the area. That’s what’s best — not having to take six months off and try to heal up with a surgery, but now have those six months to work on all things I need to to try and hopefully get to a place like (the Super Bowl) next year."

Graham, who had 85 catches for 889 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2014, fought off the injury for most of the season. He was still unsure about having surgery before the Pro Bowl last week.

"It was something that really needed some rest and unfortunately it wasn’t able to get that during the season," he said. "It happened early and then you have about 10 straight weeks of trying to make it to the game. Now after having about three or four weeks and last week kind of testing it at the Pro Bowl, it feels great."


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(4:26 pm ET) Vikings veteran wideout Greg Jennings said during a SiriusXM NFL Radio interview on Friday that embattled running back Adrian Peterson is wanted back by everyone in the organization, per ESPN.

"I don't know if he'll be back. I can't answer that question," Jennings said. "But what I do know is that if he does come back, he'd be accepted with open arms. As an organization from the Wilfs on down, we all want him back. So, I mean, it's a touchy subject and he's been the franchise player -- face of that team -- for eight years. So it will be a loss, a huge loss, if we can't get him back, and that's the nature of this business."

In November, Peterson was suspended by the league without pay for the rest of the season, making him ineligible for reinstatement until at least April 15. The move came after Peterson pleaded no contest to recklessly injuring his 4-year-old son last May. He is under contract with the Vikings for next season, and is set to earn $12.75 million.

It's unclear at this point if Jennings has talked to Zygi and Mark Wilf about the Peterson situation. What is clear is that the team is not allowed to communicate with Peterson during his suspension.


Eagles' Maclin believes contract will take care of itself
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(3:08 pm ET) Eagles wide receiver Jeremy Maclin believes he will be back in Philadelphia in next season. His representatives and the Eagles are in the process of negotiating a new contract for the 27-year-old, who will become a free agent in March unless he is re-signed.

"I'm excited about what the future holds," Maclin said on Friday. "Once again, both sides have made it known what we want to do. I think it will take care of itself."

He could be franchise tagged if a deal is not signed. The tag number for wide receivers is yet to be determined.

Maclin had 85 catches in 2014 for 1,318 yards and 10 touchdowns in Philadelphia.


Bears sign LB DeDe Lattimore to two-year contract extension
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(3:03 pm ET) The Bears have signed linebacker DeDe Lattimore to a two-year contract extension. He appeared in 10 games as a rookie in 2014, recording five special teams tackles.

Jaguars' Khan 'very optimistic' about WR Blackmon being reinstated
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(2:46 pm ET) Jaguars owner Shahid Khan said Friday he is "very optimistic" about wide receiver Justin Blackmon, who missed the 2014 season after being suspended indefinitely for a third violation of the league's substance abuse policy, being reinstated to the NFL.

"I think he's paid his dues and I think he's got his life together," Khan said, per The Florida Times-Union.


NFLPA president Eric Winston: New conduct policy 'violates CBA'
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(2:43 pm ET) After the union field a grievance last week against the NFL over changes to the NFL personal conduct policy, Players Association president Eric Winston said Thursday the new policy "violates the CBA in several ways and we're going to be grieving this as far as we can."

NFL owners unanimously approved the changes in December.

"We have an agreement with the league and they have an agreement with us," Winston said, per the Associated Press. "We're going to hold them to that agreement. Many aspects of this policy fall outside of the CBA and we're going to continue fighting it going forward."

Following former Ravens running back Ray Rice's domestic violence case and Vikings running back Adrian Peterson's child abuse case, a more extensive list of prohibited conduct was included in the policy, as well as criteria for paid leave for anyone charged with a violent crime. A suspension of six games without pay for violations involving assault, sexual assault, battery, domestic violence, child abuse and other forms of family violence will be in effect.

"The league's revised conduct policy was the product of a tremendous amount of analysis and work and is based on input from a broad and diverse group of experts within and outside of football, including current players, former players, and the NFL Players Association," the league said in a statement last week.

"We and the public firmly believe that all NFL personnel should be held accountable to a stronger, more effective conduct policy. Clearly, the union does not share that belief."


Eric Decker 'pushing' for Demaryius Thomas to sign with Jets
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(2:38 pm ET) Broncos wide receiver Demaryius Thomas is set to become a free agent in March, unless he agrees to a contract extension or Denver uses the franchise tag on him. If he does become a free agent, former teammate Eric Decker hopes Thomas would consider joining him on the Jets roster.

Decker spent a few days in Arizona this week with Thomas filming a commercial.

“I’ve been pushing for the entire year now,” Decker said in a telephone interview with The New York Post. “It was just another opportunity to talk to him about it. It’s going to be interesting to see what happens. I think it would be tough for Denver to let him go. So whether they franchise-tag him here in the next month or give him a long-term deal, he’s just one of those premier players in this league.

"If he happens to make it to free agency, I would love to sign him because playing alongside him for four years and especially the last two years made it a lot of fun and made it a lot easier. He’s just one of the great players in this league.”

Thomas recorded a career-best 1,619 receiving yards in 2014. It was his third straight season of 1,000-plus receiving yards. He also had at least 10 touchdowns for a third straight season.


49ers CEO York: 'Defenses are not going to want to play against us'
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(2:32 pm ET) 49ers CEO Jed York confirmed the promotion of quarterbacks coach Geep Chryst to offensive coordinator during an interview with NFL Network on Friday. York is particularly excited about Chryst, who has been the quarterbacks coach since 2011, continuing to work with quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

“With Kap, you got a guy in Geep Chryst who knows him better than anybody else,” York said, per CSNBayArea.com. “You have a great guy in (quarterbacks coach) Steve Logan who is coming to come in to work with him on fundamentals and allow us to put together a system that’s going to put Kap in the best position to make plays.

“How many quarterbacks in this league can run 90 yards for a touchdown? I can’t think of many. But you have to put Kap in a position where he can make those plays. And put Kap in a position where we can run the ball (and) we can throw the ball in ways that allow him to be successful and let him be the absolute stud that he can be on the field. And I think that’s what you’re going to see from us next year. Defenses are not going to want to play against us because you’re not going to know where we’re going to hit you.”


Bears' Bennett: Trestman will be 'excellent coordinator' for Ravens
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(12:34 pm ET) Marc Trestman lasted only two seasons as the Bears coach before losing his job. Bears tight end Martellus Bennett said on NFL Network on Friday that Trestman's demise in Chicago was plagued by his inability to control a locker room full of personalities.

"Trestman, I think, first off, the issue that he had, probably, was managing us all, all the different personalities," Bennett said. "There's a lot of big personalities (in the locker room). And I think, for a first-time head coach in the NFL, dealing with all the personalities that you have, I think that's hard when you got guys like me, you know, (Brandon) Marshall ... Lance Briggs on defense, (Charles) Tillman.

"There's so many guys with such outgoing personalities that managing those guys and bringing them all together is what a leader needs to do, you know? And that's one of the toughest things."

Although Trestman was fired in late December, he wasn't out of work for long, landing the job as the Ravens offensive coordinator after Gary Kubiak left to become the Broncos coach. Bennett believes Trestman will have success in his new role.

"Calling plays, he was excellent," Bennett said. "I think he's going to be an excellent coordinator for the Ravens.  Strategically, he was great. But on the field, guys just weren't executing.

"A lot of it comes back to the player preparation. If you're not preparing to a high level, then the coaches can only do so much; the game's not played on paper, it's played on grass. On paper, we look great. On grass, we looked bad."


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Blount and Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell were pulled over and arrested for pot possession in August, a day before a preseason game. Blount satisfied his penalty by working community service in Boston. He will not have to appear in court in Pittsburgh next week. 


 
 
 
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