Last season the Dallas Cowboys entered the season without their best wide receiver, Dez Bryant, and Hall of Fame tight end, Jason Witten. While Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott were still there, the team found it a touch difficult to generate offense, especially pass offense, in the early going. By the first week in November, the Cowboys found themselves at 3–5, slowly slipping out of the playoff picture.
But soon the offense got a lift, as the Cowboys traded for Oakland Raiders’ receiver Amari Cooper. Cooper turned out to be the boost the pass offense needed, playing in nine games for the Cowboys and giving them a legitimate WR1. Cooper had 76 targets in nine starts, grabbing 53 receptions for 725 yards and six TDs. The Cowboys went 7–1 in the final eight games, finishing 10–6 to win the NFC East. The Cowboys won their first playoff game before falling in the NFC Divisional Round to the Los Angeles Rams.
With a full season of Cooper, the return of Witten and a few other pieces, the question is if the Cowboys can replicate the feat in 2019.
The Cowboys’ biggest change comes to its offense, where offensive coordinator Scott Linehan stepped down and Kellen Moore was brought in to take his place. Moore, 29, doesn’t bring much experience as a coach, but he has experience with the Cowboys. As recently as 2017, Moore was Prescott’s backup. In that way, he’s following the same path as Cowboys’ coach Jason Garrett, who was once the team’s backup quarterback before jumping into coaching.
In terms of personnel, the Cowboys bid farewell to Cole Beasley, who was their most consistent receiver over 16 games last season. He had 65 receptions for 672 yards and three TDs on 87 targets. Now he’ll be filling the slot role for the Bills. Meanwhile, the Cowboys brought in former Packers’ receiver Randall Cobb to give some depth, and welcome back Witten from a one year retirement. He should step in to start with Geoff Swaim moving on to Jacksonville.
Defensively, the Cowboys saw Datone Jones, Caraun Reid and Damien Wilson leave in free agency. But the team brought in defensive tackle Christian Covington from Houston and Kerry Hyder from Detroit. They also signed safety George Iloka from the Vikings to bolster the secondary. Lacking a first round pick, the Cowboys made moves on the second and third day. Their top pick was second round defensive tackle Trysten Hill from UCF, while they grabbed guard Connor McGovern and RB Tony Pollard to boost the offensive depth.
Last season Prescott threw for 3,885 yards and 22 TDs against just eight INTs, and he rushed for 305 yards and six more TDs. That was good enough to make him QB10. With a full season of Cooper, the addition of Cobb and the return of Witten, the Cowboys’ pass offense is looking better than it did to start last season. With his ability to run, Prescott will remain a borderline QB1.
The Cowboys biggest weapon is Elliott, and that likely won’t change. In 2018, he rushed for 1,434 yards and six TDs, catching 77 passes for 567 yards and three TDs on 95 targets. And that was in just 15 games. That was good enough to make him RB5 in PPR, and he should remain an easy Top 5 pick at the position if he plays a full season. It should be noted that Zeke is still not in camp as of the release of this preview. There is still plenty of time for him to re-join the team, but this is a situation worth monitoring. If Zeke were to miss any of the regular season, a number of players could have value but it’s hard to imagine any other back on the Cowboys roster — newly signed Alfred Morris or Pollard — would be able to just step right into that level of production.
The biggest questions likely come at receiver. Cooper is the most attractive target based on his 2018 performance, but where could he land. A good measure might be his work in Oakland in 2016, where he had 132 targets for 83 receptions, 1,153 yards and five TDs. The hope would be more TD production in Dallas, which could put him in WR1 range. Beyond that is Cobb, the Cowboys’ free agent, and second-year pro Michael Gallup. Neither costs much draft capital, but I feel like there is potential for Cobb, if healthy, to return value. For a more in-depth take, read this profile. For now, it’s hard to count on Gallup or Cobb as more than a WR4 with upside.
The Cowboys also welcome back Witten, giving them stability at TE. In his last full season in 2017, Witten had 87 targets, turning them into 63 receptions for 560 yards and five TDs. It’s easy to see him in the range of 45–55 receptions, around 500 yards with three to five TDs. Given the relative boom-bust nature of the position, that makes him an attractive end of draft pickup. He is currently going 224 overall, TE 26 in PPR, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him easily best that standing.
There are a lot of variables in the NFC East. The Eagles have gone to the playoffs each of the last two years and figure to be in the hunt this year as well, while the Giants and Redskins appear to have a wide variety of potential outcomes. The Cowboys come into 2019 in better shape than a year ago, and I think they should be in the hunt for an NFC East crown and a return to the playoffs.
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