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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
Eagles WR Riley Cooper finds paydirt twice
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(8:15 pm ET) Eagles wide receiver Riley Cooper caught only five passes and made two of them count for six in Saturday's 27-24 defeat to Washington in Week 16.

Cooper came down with a 3-yard touchdown reception in the second quarter and a 16-yard grab in the end zone in the fourth quarter. He was targeted seven times and finished with five grabs for 53 yards and two scores. He has 53 catches for 540 yards and three touchdowns this season.

Cooper will look to end the regular season on a high note Week 17 against the Giants.


Report: Patriots' LeGarrette Blount (shoulder) won't play Sunday
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(8:11 pm ET) Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount, who entered Week 16 questionable with a shoulder injury, will not play Sunday against the Jets, according to Mike Reiss of ESPN on Saturday. If Blount does in fact sit out, Bill Belichick will likely roll with Jonas Gray and Shane Vereen for the majority of the load.

The Patriots remain a 10 1/2-point favorite on the road against the Jets.


Late INT proves to be costly for Mark Sanchez, Eagles
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(8:03 pm ET) Eagles quarterback Mark Sanchez threw a costly interception that may have ruined Philadelphia's postseason hopes in a Week 16 loss to Washington.

Sanchez had a chance to break a 24-all tie but was picked off by Bashaud Breeland with 1:36 remaining in the game. He also lost a fumble on the opening drive of the game. Sanchez hooked up with Riley Cooper for a 3-yard score in the second quarter and again for 16-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter.

He compiled 374 yards through the air while completing 37 of 50 pass attempts. He added two touchdowns and one interception, registering a 99.9 passer rating in a 27-24 defeat.

With the loss, the Eagles need to win their final game against the Giants and have Dallas lose the final two games of the season in order to make the postseason.


Redskins' Robert Griffin does just enough to secure win over Eagles
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(7:51 pm ET) Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III did not find the end zone, but was able to manage a 27-24 home victory over the Eagles in Week 16.

Griffin was picked off by Nate Allen in the fourth quarter on a pass intended for DeSean Jackson for his only blemish of the night. He completed 16 of 23 passes for 220 yards, registering an 81.8 passer rating. He was sacked twice and also rushed for 11 yards on five carries.

Griffin has combined for 456 yards with one touchdown and one interception through his last two starts. He'll look to end the season on a high note Week 17 against the Cowboys.


Seahawks waive RaShaun Allen, sign Keavon Milton
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(7:43 pm ET) The Seahawks announced a pair of roster moves on Saturday, per the team's official website. The team waived tight end RaShaun Allen and signed offensive lineman Keavon Milton from the practice squad to the 53-man active roster.

Chargers' Philip Rivers, Ladarius Green active Week 16
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(7:19 pm ET) Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers (chest, back) and tight end Ladarius Green (ankle, concussion) are active for Week 16's matchup with the 49ers.

Rivers missed practice Tuesday and Wednesday before having an "outstanding" day of practice Thursday and winding up listed as probable on the team's final injury report. Green was deemed questionable but will suit up, as will defensive tackle Corey Liuget (ankle), who also carried a questionable tag into Saturday's game.

The Chargers enter the road matchup as a 1-point underdog.


Chargers list Week 16 inactives vs. 49ers
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(7:15 pm ET) The Chargers have listed the following players as inactive for Saturday's Week 16 matchup against the 49ers: running back Ryan Mathews (ankle), wide receiver Keenan Allen (ankle, shoulder), nose tackle Ryan Carrethers (elbow), punter Mike Scifres, cornerback Greg Ducre, linebacker Cordarro Law and defensive end Damion Square.

Mathews and Allen were ruled out on the team's final Week 16 injury report, while Carrethers was deemed probable to play. However, the Chargers will have Philip Rivers (chest, back), who was ruled probable, as well as tight end Ladarius Green (ankle, concussion) and defensive tackle Corey Liuget (ankle), both of whom were questionable.

The Chargers are a 1-point underdog in San Francisco Saturday.


Redskins' Trent Williams makes brief exit due to shoulder issue
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(7:12 pm ET) Redskins tackle Trent Williams left Saturday's game against the Eagles in Week 16 after aggravating a right shoulder injury in the fourth quarter. Williams took a hit to the shoulder from Connor Barwin while blocking another defensive lineman. He was able to return with under four minutes remaining in the game.

49ers list Week 16 inactives vs. Chargers
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(7:10 pm ET) The 49ers have listed the following players as inactive for Saturday's Week 16 matchup against the Chargers: running back Carlos Hyde (ankle), wide receiver Steve Johnson (knee), cornerback Tramaine Brock (hamstring), linebacker Ahmad Brooks (thumb), quarterback Josh Johnson and guards Andrew Tiller and Joe Looney.

Hyde, Johnson and Brock were all ruled out for Saturday's game on the team's final report, but Brooks joins them on the inactive list after being deemed questionable. The team will have running back Frank Gore and wide receiver Michael Crabtree active for the game.

The 49ers are a 1-point favorite for the Saturday night showdown with the Chargers.


49ers' Frank Gore, Michael Crabtree active vs. Chargers
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(7:06 pm ET) 49ers running back Frank Gore (concussion) and wide receiver Michael Crabtree (knee) are active for Saturday's Week 16 matchup with the Chargers.

Both players were listed as questionable on the team's final injury report, though it was reported early Saturday that Gore would in fact suit up for the game. Crabtree has yet to miss a game this season.

Offensive tackle Anthony Davis (concussion) is also active after being listed as questionable. The team had several players listed as probable and all are active Saturday, including cornerbacks Perrish Cox (ankle) and Chris Culliver (knee), safety Bubba Ventrone (groin), linebacker Michael Wilhoite (hip), tackle Jonathan Martin (illness), center Marcus Martin (knee), tight end Kyle Nelson (back) and defensive linemen Justin Smith (back), Quinton Dial (knee) and Tony Jerod-Eddie (foot).


 
 
 
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