Juggernaut Index, No. 5: The Dallas Cowboys

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Jerry Jones, man of the people (AP Photo/LM Otero)

Jerry Jones & friends

Jerry Jones, man of the people (AP Photo/LM Otero)

According to various reports, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones was thisclose to selecting Johnny Manziel in the first round on draft night, but he was eventually subdued by underlings using flex-cuffs and animal tranquilizers.

Or maybe he was convinced through logic and thoughtful debate and reas—

Well, no. This is Jerry [profane] Jones. He was almost certainly cuffed and drugged. Otherwise, there's no way he would have allowed Manziel to land outside Big D. As Jones himself recently said of the Cowboys, "We're the glitz and the glamor of the NFL."

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Yeah, OK. I'm gonna guess that if you asked 1,000 NFL fans to play word association and then said "Dallas Cowboys," the most common response would be "mediocrity."

This team has finished 8-8 in three consecutive seasons, failing to qualify for the playoffs during the Jason Garrett era. But sure: "Glitz and glamor." Sounds like a reasonable plan, Jer.

Tony Romo remains the unrivaled starter at quarterback in Dallas, and, believe it or not, that isn't a bad thing. He has definitely not been the problem. Over the past three years, Romo has averaged 274.8 yards per game, he's thrown 90 touchdown passes, completed 65.3 percent of his throws, and he's led 13 game-winning drives. Are those a bum's stats? No, obviously not.

Tony Romo, rehabbed and ready (AP Photo/Brandon Wade)
Tony Romo, rehabbed and ready (AP Photo/Brandon Wade)

But still, a remarkable number of NFL observers seem to hold Romo responsible for issues that are beyond his control. The Cowboys fielded the NFL's worst defense last season, by a mile (415.3 YPG), yet the team nonetheless finished with a +7 point differential.

Fantasy-wise, the only serious concern with Romo is his recovery from back surgery — the injury and associated rehab were worrisome — but his preseason performance has been reassuring (14-for-23, 167 yards, TD). He's again a relative bargain in drafts, the eleventh QB off the board in Yahoo leagues (ADP 77.3). In a healthy season, he'll give you 4000-plus yards and 30 scores. He's a proven commodity, now at the controls of a passer-friendly Scott Linehan system. Also, Dallas' defense will likely be atrocious again, so Romo will be involved in shootouts all year.

Dez Bryant is a Round 1 wide receiver, physically dominant and nearly impossible to cover. He's delivered back-to-back seasons with 90 catches, 1200-plus yards and 12 or more TDs, and his ceiling is much higher. With the Cowboys' offense presumably playing catch-up much of the year, this team could easily put the ball in the air 620-650 times. If that happens, Dez has a clear shot to lead his position in fantasy production — and in that scenario, the supporting receivers should be useful, too.

Terrance Williams will start opposite Bryant, and he has talent enough to take advantage of favorable coverage situations. Williams hauled in 44 balls on 74 targets as a rookie, gaining 734 yards and crossing the goal line five times. Expect a modest uptick in all areas this season, assuming good health. (Think 60-880-8, not 75-1000-10.) Williams isn't yet a finished product, but he has size and obvious talent, plus he's tied to a fantasy-friendly offense. Cole Beasley should see plenty of time in the slot this year, but it's tough to see a path for him to standard-league fantasy value. Fifth-round rookie Devin Street isn't exactly a must-own player in dynasty, and his only path to serious snaps is via injuries.

Jason Witten is ... well, c'mon, he's Jason Witten. The last time he finished a season ranked outside the top-8 fantasy tight ends was 1973, when he was serving in Vietnam. He finished ninth that year. Witten is as reliable as any tight end in the game — true, he's not on Graham or Gronk's level, but he's a rock. He always gives you 16 games, he always gives you 70-plus catches. Oddly, touchdowns haven't necessarily been plentiful for Witten, but he managed eight spikes last season. There's little doubt he'll deliver starting-quality stats in 2014, though he lacks the breakout factor of Ertz or Reed.

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DeMarco Murray, all smiles (AP Photo/Gus Ruelas)
DeMarco Murray, all smiles (AP Photo/Gus Ruelas)

DeMarco Murray is, stylistically, one of my favorite NFL running backs. He's violent and punishing, with little regard for his own safety. He also has a weird habit of collapsing after running 35-or-so yards, which makes him endearingly vulnerable. Murray is my guy, is what I'm saying. He was awfully good last season over his 14 games, gaining 1471 scrimmage yards, breaking the plane 10 times and averaging 5.2 yards per tote. Murray is versatile enough to survive basically any run/pass mix (53 receptions), so no huge worries there. We already know, based on Linehan's Detroit days, that the Dallas RBs will see plenty of screens.

I won't try to convince you that DeMarco doesn't present elevated injury risk, but the man is healthy right now. If you draft him, just be aware that you'll need a reliable back off the bench. I view Murray as a top-20 overall player with top-10 upside. Some of you cowards can't handle injury worries, though, so you'll leave him alone. And that's just fine. More shares for me.

Lance Dunbar has generated buzz as perhaps something more than a handcuff, as fantasy owners guess at Linehan's usage plan for the backfield. I'd guess we're unlikely to see a Joique Bell/Reggie Bush-style split here, because ... well, because Murray is so damn good. But Dunbar will certainly see the field in a rotational role. He's a flier for me, not a flex. Joseph Randle looks like the No. 3 back, though Ryan Williams has challenged. But, again, Dunbar is the clear No. 2.

If it's time to discuss the Dallas defense, then we might as well wrap this thing up. The Cowboys' D looks worse than last year's version, and last year's version was terrible. Do not draft this group; do not stream them.

Here's a fun fact about the Dallas defense, for those who play matchups: Last year, this unit allowed the most fantasy points to opposing RBs, the second-most to QBs, the sixth-most to WRs and the fourth-most to TEs. Start everyone against them, always.

2013 team stats: 27.4 PPG (NFL rank 5), 264.1 pass YPG (14), 33 pass TDs (3), 94.0 rush YPG (24), 21.0 rush attempts per game (31), 36.6 pass attempts per game (13)

Previous Juggernaut Index entries: 32. Oakland, 31. Miami, 30. Jacksonville, 29. NY Jets, 28. Tennessee, 27. Cleveland, 26. Baltimore, 25. Carolina, 24. Buffalo, 23. Tampa Bay, 22. St. Louis, 21. NY Giants, 20. Kansas City, 19. Houston, 18. Arizona, 17. Minnesota, 16. Pittsburgh, 15. San Diego, 14. San Francisco, 13. Atlanta, 12. Cincinnati, 11. Washington, 10. New England, 9. Indianapolis, 8. New Orleans, 7. Seattle, 6. Philadelphia

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