Thursday, Sep 5th
Monday, Sep 9th

NFC EAST

WRITTEN BY :: MIKE JOHNSON

DALLAS COWBOYS

Coaching/Philosophy/Scheme Changes::

  • Offense: Head coach Mike McCarthy will return for his fifth season with the Cowboys and is very involved with the Cowboys offense, who became one of the top passing games in the league last season after their bye week.
  • Defense: Dan Quinn has left town to become the head coach of the Commanders. He is replaced by former Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer as the Cowboys defensive coordinator.

Major Personnel Changes::

  • Dak Prescott returns as the Cowboys starting quarterback, coming off a career year in 2023 but entering the final year of his contract.
  • Tony Pollard has left town and Ezekiel Elliott is back. Rico Dowdle and Deuce Vaughn are currently the other top options for Dallas at the position.
  • Ceedee Lamb finished third in the NFL in offensive Player of the Year voting in 2023. He led all wide receivers in fantasy scoring and is primed for another massive year.
  • Brandin Cooks is the clear WR2 for Dallas, while TE Jake Ferguson should have a huge role as well.
  • After that, Jalen Tolbert and Kavontae Turpin should have opportunities now that Michael Gallup is out of town, and second-year tight end Luke Schoonmaker should also get some opportunities, with the potential to be a difference maker should Ferguson ever miss time.

Schedule::

  • Divisional Games (6)::
    • WAS x2, NYG x2, PHI x2
  • NFC South (4)::
    • @ CAR, @ ATL, vs. TB, vs. NO
  • AFC North (4)::
    • @ CLE, @ PIT, vs. BAL, vs. CIN
  • Other (3)::
    • @ SF, vs. DET, vs. HOU

Bull Case::

Dallas started last season staying true to Mike McCarthy’s word and focusing on building around their running game and defense. After a shaky start to the year, however, Dallas emerged from their Week 7 bye with a clear change in approach and simply let Dak Prescott cook. Dallas was near the top of the league in Pass Rate Over Expectation from Week 8 through the end of the season, while Dak Prescott led all QBs in fantasy scoring during that stretch, and Jake Ferguson was the TE6. Meanwhile, superstar wide receiver Ceedee Lamb was the top WR in the league for the entirety of the season. Dallas clearly embraced this identity, and despite a quick playoff exit, they are unlikely to wind things back in 2024 after having such a high degree of success.

The Cowboys defense was able to beat up on weaker opponents last year, but was exposed by stronger ones. They play a “first place” schedule this year, which should push them a bit more, especially since their defense is likely to take a step back due to losses in free agency and a change in defensive coordinator. A clear identity built around fast tempo and aggressive passing that should only be amplified due to their lack of investment in their running game will combine with a potentially less potent defense to make Dallas a hotbed for shootouts. Dallas also moved on from Michael Gallup, and his snaps should be replaced by younger, more explosive weapons on the perimeter. All the pieces are in place for the Cowboys offense to pick up right where they left off.

Bear Case::

A few areas of concern for the Cowboys::

  • The Cowboys have some elite talent in the passing game, but there is also some uncertainty around their top players as Dak Prescott and Ceedee Lamb enter the final year of their contracts, and Dallas has not mentioned contract extensions. These situations can sometimes deteriorate as the season draws closer and lead to “hold-ins”, disrupted chemistry, and increased chance for injury down the line. 
  • Dallas lost two starters on the offensive line, including Pro Bowl center Tyler Biadasz. Losing a center can be a big deal as they are in charge of a lot of communication and organization for the unit. They also lost all-pro tackle Tyron Smith. While they did draft two linemen in the first three rounds of the NFL Draft, sometimes it takes a bit for players at those positions to adjust.
  • Mike Zimmer’s defensive scheme is less aggressive and more “solid” than Dan Quinn’s. This will likely result in fewer takeaways (and resulting short fields for the Dallas offense) while also giving up fewer plays to Dallas opponents – meaning their drives will be longer and more drawn out. This could lead to a decrease in play volume and more tight, close games and less uptempo shootouts.

Expectations/Takeaways::

The Cowboys have the same coaching staff and the same key players on offense that they had in 2023 when they found a great deal of success in the second half of the year. We shouldn’t expect them to change much in their approach, as their offseason decisions have shown they aren’t prioritizing the running back position and will carry over last season’s approach::

  • Dak Prescott’s early ADP is one of the bigger head-scratchers in the industry, as he is being drafted in the 7th round as the QB9 despite leading the position once Dallas committed to an aggressive philosophy. He is a screaming “buy” at this point.
  • Ceedee Lamb is the top player in my rankings and should never make it past the 3rd pick under any circumstances.
  • In the Cowboys backfield, if their draft positions stay cheap, then all of Ezekiel Elliott, Rico Dowdle, and Deuce Vaughn deserve some consideration. I prefer Dowdle, especially if the signing of Elliott depresses his ADP.
  • Jake Ferguson scored double-digit PPR points in 8 of 12 games after the Cowboys bye, including a 37.3-point outburst against the Packers in their playoff game. He is the clear second option in an elite passing game with a lot of room for “profit” from his current 8th-round draft position.
  • After a slow start to his time in Dallas, Brandin Cooks also scored double-digit PPR points in 8 of 12 games after the Cowboys bye and had a game of 30+ points, showcasing his ceiling. The clear WR2 for an elite offense and a guy who still has it (last season was his highest yards per target since 2020), Cooks is a terrific pick at his current 12th-round draft cost.
  • One of Kavontae Turpin or Jalen Tolbert is going to have a big role for Dallas this season as their WR3. Whoever wins that job is going to post some usable Best Ball games. Tolbert is my favorite and is a priority 19th or 20th-round pick on teams that need to add WR depth.

NEW YORK GIANTS

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