Before jumping into fantasy, I want to take a moment and just say what a loss it is that Robin Williams is no longer a soul on this earth. Poets, musicians, actors, and artists are the brave souls in this world that have the courage to not only travel inside one self, but to put it on display for all to see. As we gaze, we see reflections of ourselves, people we want to become, hidden fears we all have. In the case of Robin Williams, we were allowed to live vicariously through his characters. The many masks he wore on stage reflected all of us. We were better for it, with a laugh, sometimes with a tear; we made connections in this world through him. There were days we all had, that he made better. Our world is a little darker today without him in it.
Rest in peace Robin, we thank you.
Turning back to the world of fantasy, we are going to plow into the cowboys, much like the offenses of the NFC East will undoubtedly do to Dallas in 2014. Statistically, no other team gave up more yards than the Cowboys in 2013. They gave up 415.3 yards per game. To put this in some sort of perspective, Seattle was #1 in this category only giving up 273.6 yards per game. This year, it is not looking much better. The biggest lost to the D was undoubtedly DeMarcus Ware. He was lost to free agency as well as Jason Hatcher. In the preseason so far, the numbers keep dwindling for the Dallas defense. Orlando Scandrick is suspended for four games for a banned substance. Sean Lee is out for the season with a torn ACL. Demarcus Lawrence has a broken foot, his anticipated return is week four. Finally, Anthony Spencer has undergone knee surgery. The team is hopeful he returns for the start of the season. So, how does this impact fantasy? Well, even without such losses, you were not going to draft their defense anyway. But, for one, it should help any NFC East offensive weapon you happen to draft. Two, this should mean Dallas will be involved in high scoring sagas on the field. Dallas will have to step up offensively if they hope to contend. Romo will have to put the team on his surgically repaired back and lead the passing game in many a shoot out.
Alright, if you share Dawgmatica’s concern about Romo’s upcoming season, please raise your hand.
Romo is a big question mark going into 2014. Not only that, he enjoyed the 2nd easiest passing schedule in 2013. This year, they have the hardest, #32. That is a big shift. Pyro picks the 34 year old QB as a bust candidate this year. Statistically, he has been declining in several categories. His completion percentage is down for the 4th straight year. Plus, he is not throwing it as far. His yards are down per attempt and per completion. The fact that they have a terrible defense will make Romo force balls that should not be thrown. He should see an increase in INTs as he will undoubtedly be feeling the pressure to come from behind. Let some other schmuck take a chance on Romo this year. I have said this before and I will say it again, you cannot trust ADPs when it comes to QBs. Most leagues draft a quarterback far earlier than any ADP will show. Although I do not trust ADPs for quarterbacks as far as the round is concerned, it will give you an idea of the order in which they may go. For example, as of mid-August, Romo has been going ahead of guys like Russell Wilson, Philip Rivers, and Ryan Tannehill, all of whom Pyro likes more than Romo. I would have no problem starting any of these guys (except Romo of course). Just make sure that you have two of the same caliber QB. If you draft a Tannehill, make sure you also have a Cutler or a Kapernick in order to play the matchups.
Look, the odds are fairly high that Romo is going to miss some time this year. He had major back surgery last year and is still discussing how it has affected him. Although Dallas is trying to limit his reps in the preseason, the writing is on the wall, it is a concern in Jerry’s house. The concern is so real, Pyro has picked Brandon Weeden as a possible deep sleeper. Primarily, it is just the opportunity that we like. Once he gets in there, he will have some major offensive weapons to rely on. He is entering his third year, playing his first two in Cleveland. He has a career completion rate of 55.87% and has thrown more interceptions (26) than touchdowns (23). Weeden looked decent in the first preseason game. The second preseason game he looked more like the Brandon Weeden of old. Look, Dawg thinks it is not a matter of if, but when Romo goes down, Weeden will be the QB for the Cowboys. He has a plethora of weapons and could be a nice surprise in the new offense, if he can just stop being… well, Brandon Weeden.
Here’s the thing, Dallas could possibly have the league’s worst defense this year. If they want to stay in games, they are going to need to put up points. In the off season, Dallas made a move that could help in that category. Scott Linehan came over from Detroit to call the plays in Dallas. In my book, this bumps up Demarco Murray, especially in a PPR format. Last year in Detriot, Linehan utilized two backs in the passing game: Reggie Bush and Joique Bell. Together, they were targeted 149 times out of the backfield and collectively caught 107 passes. Dallas is one of the rare teams that still incorporate a one back system. Murray is the bell cow in that offense. If he sees such numbers, he could easily lead all backs for receptions. This honor went to Pierre Thomas, who caught 77 passes in 2013. Now that Linehan is in Dallas, Murray’s numbers will increase. Last year he was targeted 66 times and caught 53. He totaled 350 receiving yards and caught a touchdown. I could easily see Murray nearing 70 catches this year. Not only is he going to be a monster in PPR, his is a powerful runner. He averaged 5.13 yards per carry last year. He racked up 1,121 yards rushing and 9 TDs in the running game in just 14 outings. Although they have a tough passing schedule, Dallas comes in with the 11th easiest rushing schedule for 2014. Murray has a surprising amount of tread on the tires. In 3 years in the NFL, he has only amassed 542 carries. The down side is the reason why. Murray has been injured every year so far. The guy has only played in 37 games. 2014 could be his best year to date. He certainly has incentive to do so. This is a contract year for Murray. Another factor going for their running attack is the offensive line. They could easily be one of the top three this year. With a top quality offensive line, plus the fact they will be forced to put up points in order to combat their woeful defense, this could spell big fantasy numbers for Demarco Murray.
But, before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s face it, Murray is not dependably. Chances are, he is going to miss some games. In which case, Lance Dunbar is currently the guy to own. Last year he only toted the rock a total of 30 times. He did average an impressive 5 yards a carry. I put him in the Knile Davis, Ka’Deem Carey category. These guys back up bell cow running backs. Their fantasy relevance is tied to the health of the guy in front of them. However, I will say that out of all those situations, I think Dunbar has the highest probability of seeing the field. In other words, Murray is the most susceptible to injury. If you own Murray, and you look around at the end of the 13th round (his current ADP in 12 team leagues as of mid-August) and don’t like the talent at the other positions, then why not back him up with Dunbar.
In only the deepest of leagues would I look any further down the line for a Cowboys running back. Dallas has Joseph Randle and Ryan Williams. Williams, although currently 4th on the depth chart, has looked impressive in the first two preseason games. Williams was highly touted coming out of Virginia Tech. He was drafted by Arizona, but in three eligible NFL season, the dude has played a total of five games. If we were just looking at talent, I like him over Randle. But, I just do not trust his ability to stay on the field.
Linehan’s approach to the offense will certainly help the passing game. Again, they are fighting the hardest passing schedule, #30 for the wide receiver, and tied for 18th at the tight end spot. There has been some speculation that Linehan might just allow Dez to make that leap into tier I category. Dez is the X factor in the new offense.
Many are expecting Linehan to turn him into a Calvin Johnson. Bryant certainly has the physical skills to do it. Plus, similar to Murray, it is a contract year for Dez. If you look for positive trends, just look at his last two seasons. He has averaged at least 12 fantasy points the last two years. He has had at least 12 TDs in both seasons and put up over 1,200 yards in each year, with at least 92 receptions in both. Dez finished the year as the 6th best fantasy WR. He was certainly trending nicely at the end. In fact, during the last 3 weeks, no other wide receiver had more points than Dez Bryant (50.5). Collectively, Pyro rates him as a tier II WR. Remember, the collective tiers are now available on version 4 of the draft kit.
If Dez does have an elite year, than you can bet Terrance Williams will finish higher than his ADP. As of mid-August, Williams is going in the middle of round 7 in 12 team leagues. The better he does, the less teams will be able to double Dez. Likewise, the more prolific Dez becomes, the more opportunity Williams will be afforded. Stagg Party is highest on Williams as he has him ranked in tier VII (#s 26-33) for wide receivers as of version 4 of the draft kit.
If the NFL had walk up music, Jason Witten’s 2014 tune would be none other than “End of the Line” by the Traveling Wilburys. Chances are, his career is there, in fantasy terms at least.
Pyro has pegged Witten as a bust candidate. If you caught an NFL game with Witten in his rookie season, you could have also traveled to the theater to see Finding Nemo, Kill Bill vol. 1, and Bad Boys II. Look, if we are taking a detour to watch a clip, it sure as hell is not going to have Martin Lawrence or a damn talking fish.
Witten has been known as a PPR guy, but last year he only caught 73 balls. That was his lowest total since 2006. Witten is not used much in the red zone. The guy’s career average is only 4 touchdowns per year. The tight end position is incredibly deep this year, including Gavin Escobar, who is also a Cowboy. There is a good chance Witten does not land in the top 12. There are too many young guys that are poised to do what Jordan Cameron did last year. The fact is, there is not much of a difference between tight ends once you get past the first 6 or 7. While there are plenty of young guys who might just break into that rank, you can bet Witten will not. Give me a guy who has a similar floor to the rest of the pack but might just have a high ceiling. While that may describe several of those 2nd or 3rd year guys, it no longer applies to Witten.