Juggernaut Index, No. 21: Cowboys offer Zeke, Dak, rogues' gallery of receivers

·Fantasy Analyst
Ezekiel Elliott, by himself, can only elevate a team so high in this fantasy index. Dak helps a bit, too. (AP Photo/Ron Jenkins, File)
Ezekiel Elliott, by himself, can only elevate a team so high in this fantasy index. Dak helps a bit, too. (AP Photo/Ron Jenkins, File)

Ezekiel Elliott will be the third or fourth overall pick in a typical fantasy draft, and deservedly so. Elliott is an explosive, powerful back who runs behind an elite offensive line. He’s averaged an astonishing 129.9 scrimmage yards per game over his two NFL seasons. Here’s a routine day at the office for Zeke. He’s great, no question.

But after Elliott is selected in the first round of your draft, there’s going to be a loooooonnnng wait before a second Dallas skill player is selected. We’re talking 100-plus picks. An hour will pass — maybe two.

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The fantasy community simply isn’t buying any other element of the Cowboys’ offense. Not the quarterback, not the receivers, not the defense. None of us are aggressively pursuing any Cowboys who aren’t Zeke Elliott. (OK, we’re still semi-cool with Dan Bailey, but that’s it.)

When you look beyond this team’s exceptional running game, all you find is a junior varsity receiving corps and a clock-butcher of a head coach. Dak Prescott has finished as a top-ten fantasy QB in back-to-back seasons, but this year he’ll be throwing to a collection of No. 3 wideouts and unknown tight ends. Jason Witten has retired and Dez Bryant was dumped; those two combined for 220 targets last season. This team’s passing offense is suddenly talent-starved.

Let’s meet the Cowboys’ receivers

When Prescott drops back to pass, these are the weapons he’ll have at his disposal:

Allen Hurns – Hurns signed a two-year deal with Dallas in March, then was reportedly a featured receiver in spring practices. He has size (6-foot-3) and separation ability, plus he has a 1000-yard, 10-TD season on his resume. Hurns is the strongest candidate to fill something like a No. 1 role in Dallas. It’s worth noting, however, that Jacksonville kicked him to the curb after he was overtaken by Keelan Cole and Dede Westbrook.

Cole Beasley – Beasley is a fun-size receiver (5-foot-8) just one year removed from a 75-catch, 833-yard campaign in Prescott’s rookie season. It’s not crazy to forecast 60-plus receptions from him, assuming good health. The Cowboys have experimented with using Beasley outside, which doesn’t seem like the best possible alignment. But desperate times call for desperate formations. He has a shot to be a prime beneficiary of Witten’s absence.

Michael Gallup – We know the Colorado State rookie will have an opening week role, because the team owner has told us it will happen. Gallup caught 100 balls for 1413 yards in his final collegiate season, dominating Mountain West defenders. He wins with suddenness, strong hands and physicality, but not necessarily with high-end speed (4.51 40-yard dash). There’s little question that Gallup offers upside, considering Dallas’ dearth of receiving talent. He’s certainly a reasonable lottery ticket at his late ADP (152.4).

Allen Hurns and Michael Gallup are two of the more important new faces on the Cowboys’ roster for 2018. (AP Photo/Ron Jenkins)
Allen Hurns and Michael Gallup are two of the more important new faces on the Cowboys’ roster for 2018. (AP Photo/Ron Jenkins)

Terrance Williams – He’s had a complicated offseason, including a legal entanglement and surgery on a broken foot. Williams has not been a big-play receiver during the Dak era; his average yards per reception dipped from 16.2 in 2015 to 10.7 last year. But he’s caught 97 of his 139 targets over the past two seasons and he never misses a game.

Beyond those four wideouts, we find … well, not much. Deonte Thompson signed a one-year deal with the Cowboys, his fourth franchise in six seasons. He caught 38 balls for Buffalo and Chicago last year. Tavon Austin was also added to the mix, likely to play a receiver/running back hybrid role. Austin is a versatile player, by which we mean he can do a lot of things not very well. Dallas is threatening to give him far more work than can be justified via logic, so we’ll need to monitor his preseason usage.

As for the Witten replacement plan … um … ugh:

Geoff Swaim is a former seventh-rounder who’s caught nine passes in his three years in Dallas. That’s nine more receptions than any other tight end on this roster has managed in the NFL. Rico Gathers is a former preseason hero now in danger of not making the team’s final roster. Blake Jarwin is a second-year player from Oklahoma State who wasn’t a particularly active receiver at the collegiate level (41 REC in three seasons); he appeared in one game last year, catching nothing. But the front office likes him. Dalton Schultz is a gigantic rookie fourth-rounder from Stanford, drafted largely for his run-blocking.

Unless you’re involved in a 20-team league or a fantasy format that requires you to start two tight ends, you don’t need to know any of the names in the preceding paragraph.

So how good can it possibly get for Dak Prescott, with so few weapons?

Again, Prescott has a pair of top-ten positional finishes on his fantasy resume. He’s a proven commodity, a quality pro, and his rushing ability gives him a nice floor in our game. He’s run for a dozen touchdowns over the past two seasons, averaging 5.6 YPC. However, Prescott also passed for less than 200 yards in eight of his 16 games last year. Dallas had the league’s No. 26 passing offense with Witten and Bryant. It’s hard to believe this team’s passing game will improve with so many new and unheralded/unimpressive receivers on the field.

Whether by choice or by scheme, Prescott has ranked near the bottom of the league in deep attempts according to Player Profiler‘s data. He took just 2.9 deep shots per game last season, finishing ahead of only Mitchell Trubisky and Brian Hoyer. (For comparison’s sake, Deshaun Watson led all passers with 6.9 and Ben Roethlisberger was second at 6.0.) Basically, we’re dealing with a risk-averse passing attack and a substandard group of receivers. If Prescott can simply match last year’s numbers (207.8 YPG, 22 TDs, 6 rush TDs) in this year’s offense, it would be an achievement.

So, yeah. How ’bout them Cowboys? Zeke remains the foundation of this offense, but he’s the only every-week, must-start fantasy asset on the roster.

2017 Offensive Stats & Ranks

Points per game – 22.1 (14th in NFL)
Pass YPG – 196.3 (26)
Rush YPG – 135.6 (2)
Yards per play – 5.3 (15)
Plays per game – 62.8 (18)

Previous Juggernaut Index entries: 32) Buffalo, 31) Miami, 30) NY Jets, 29) Baltimore, 28) Oakland, 27) Cleveland, 26) Indianapolis, 25) Washington, 24) Chicago, 23) Tennessee, 22) Jacksonville, 21) Dallas

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