Impact Analysis: Dallas Cowboys passing game

by Cory J. Bonini on March 5, 2009 @ 01:00:00 PDT

 


After weeks of what now can be perceived as posturing, the Dallas Cowboys finally pulled the plug on the "Terrell Owens Experiment." It lasted three seasons, totaled 38 touchdown receptions, spanned 3,587 yards of field, included two head coaches, experienced one quarterback change, two playoff appearances, no playoff wins and a tearful "That's my quarterback" press conference.

Everyone that follows football knows what kind of a divisive persona Owens can be in a locker room. We all remember his forced, drawn-out exodus from Philadelphia Eagles that included a very public feud with quarterback Donovan McNabb. All of this was preceded by another openly aired spat with - you guessed it - a quarterback, namely Jeff Garcia, while the two were members of the San Francisco 49ers.

Now that Owens is a free agent and cannot disrupt the Cowboys' locker room, where does this leave Dallas' passing game?

There is no doubt TO is an amazing player and Dallas' offense has lost some individual talent, but there's no reason they cannot produce quality fantasy numbers in 2009.

That was my quarterback

Cowboys signal caller Tony Romo won't have Owens chirping in his ear every two seconds about how he was open and deserved the ball. Instead, he can focus more on being a leader. Romo has a ton of talent and a world of upside, but he needs to learn how to be a better director. Fantasy owners don't necessarily care about that side of things, though, as long as he's throwing touchdown passes.

We have seen what Romo is capable of, but if he can tone down his number of interceptions he will cement himself in the top three or four quarterbacks in all of fantasy. Long story short, the Cowboys have themselves a quality quarterback that can sling the ball around the field.

Replacing TO

At receiver, the Cowboys now can feature Roy Williams as their No. 1 after trading the farm to acquire him from the Detroit Lions in 2008. Williams' best season came in 2006 under pass-happy offensive coordinator Mike Martz. The former Texas Longhorn standout caught 82 passes for 1,310 yards and seven touchdowns. He has freakish ability, huge hands and ideal size (6-foot-3, 211 pounds). Conversely, Williams has been inconsistent and oft-injured during his five-year NFL career. He hasn't yet put it all together for more than one season, but it's really tough to gauge just how good - or bad - he really is since the Lions were/are(/forever will be?) the epitome of ineptitude.

Surround Williams with talent at receiver, running back and, primarily, quarterback. Who knows, maybe he will show he is worth the first-round pick Detroit spent on him in 2004, along with the 2009 first-, third- and sixth-round choices Dallas used to acquire his services.

We have serious doubts that Williams will ever develop into a true No. 1 in the NFL, but he certainly has his chance to prove us wrong.

Presumably the No. 2 receiver will be Patrick Crayton, who was the No. 2 before Williams' arrival in 2008. Crayton has shown flashes of having what it takes to be a quality No. 2 NFL receiver, primarily of the possession mold, but he has also committed key blunders at times. Most notably, Crayton dropped several passes against the New York Giants in the 2008 NFC Divisional Round game, helping lead to a Dallas loss. That memory is etched into the minds of a lot of fans, when in reality Crayton has arguably the best hands on the team. His best statistical output came in 2007 as the No. 2 receiver opposite Owens; Crayton caught 50 passes for 697 yards (13.9 per catch) and seven touchdown passes.

Wideouts Miles Austin and Sam Hurd have both been given second-round tenders for 2009 as restricted free agents. Hurd, 6-foot-2, 205 pounds, has only 24 career receptions, so it's really tough to tell how that translates to a more pronounced role in the offense. He has good hands and has earned the nickname "Third-down Hurd" for coming up with big grabs in the clutch. Austin is a deep threat, as evidenced by his career average of 19.7 yards per catch. However, he has just 18 career grabs.

Isaiah Stanback (shoulder), a converted quarterback, caught two passes in 2008, the only two of his career. He has appeared in 10 games in the past two years and underwent shoulder surgery in January. His role for 2009 has yet to be defined, but it is likely that Stanback battles for the No. 4 job.

Tight end Jason Witten is Romo's favorite target. He has posted 177 receptions over the past two years, and Witten has found the end zone 11 times during the span. In 2007, the former Tennessee Volunteer caught 96 balls for 1,145 yards (11.9 per catch) and snagged seven touchdown passes. Look for much of the same in 2009. His numbers declined a bit in 2008, though he played part of the season with a fractured rib.

Second-year backup tight end Martellus Bennett, who angered the team by moonlighting as a rapper this offseason, caught 20 passes for 283 yards (14.2 per catch) and scored four times in his rookie year. Expect him to be more involved this season.

The others

The running back situation is looking more like a three-headed monster. Tailbacks Marion Barber III, Felix Jones and Tashard Choice are all expected to receive work in 2009; the team could shift into more of a conservative, ball-control style of offense going forward.

The offensive line is rock-solid, so run blocking and pass protection shouldn't be an issue.

The play-calling duties once again fall on offensive coordinator Jason Garrett. Can he replicate some of his 2007 magic, or will he look too predictable, much like in 2008? He was anointed as "boy genius" after just one year on the job, which was undoubtedly a premature label.

We don't expect Dallas to make a splash in the free-agent market, but there really isn't much to splash into these days. Look for someone to be drafted, probably during the early second day. Nevertheless, counting on a rookie receiver to become an immediate contributor is ultimately too risky.

Fantasy football outlook

The Cowboys will have to make up 152 targets sent Owens' way in 2008, but we're sure they can manage by spreading the ball amongst some of their younger players. Several of these young players will need to step up for the Cowboys to be as potent on offense as they were in 2007, most notably Crayton, Hurd and Austin.

  • Romo: There is no reason to believe that Romo is anything worse than a midrange No. 1 fantasy quarterback. Even with the loss of Owens, Romo has enough weapons to be an effective fantasy option.
  • Williams: He should be viewed as a decent No. 2 fantasy receiver. He could post strong No. 1 numbers if all goes well, but it's really risky to count on that given his past struggles and injury history.
  • Crayton: The potential to be a strong No. 3 fantasy receiver is there. Crayton has more value in point-per-reception formats and shouldn't be considered as anything more than a mediocre No. 4 receiver on draft day, assuming he locks up the starting job opposite Williams.
  • Hurd: Hurd will battle Austin for the slot role. Until more is known about this situation, Hurd should be left for your fantasy waiver wire. He could wind up being a low-end No. 5 fantasy option if he wins the slot job.
  • Austin: Austin will battle Hurd for the slot role. Until more is known about this situation, Austin should be left for your fantasy waiver wire. He could wind up being a low-end No. 5 fantasy option if he wins the slot job.
  • Witten: He remains a No. 1 fantasy tight end, if not the No. 1 option at the position. Witten does it all - catches, racks up yardage, scores touchdowns - he has more value in leagues that reward for receptions.
  • Bennett: While he isn't worth drafting in single-year formats, full-retention keeper leaguers may want to target Bennett for future depth. He could contribute somewhere around his 2008 totals, but it's tough to count on him for anything more.

The loss of Owens will probably be felt early on as the team's younger players start to gel, but there is enough veteran leadership on this team to help mentor said players and mold them into quality fantasy options for you squad.

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About Cory J. Bonini

Cory is KFFL's General Manager. In late 2002, he joined the KFFL staff as a research analyst and has been involved in fantasy sports since 1996. A member of the Fantasy Sports Trade Association, as well as Fantasy Sports Writers Association, Bonini has been featured in print, on radio and on scores of websites. Bonini co-hosted Big Lead Sports on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio from 2011 to 2012.

Bonini was recognized with the 2010 Best Article in Print Award from the FSWA and was a finalist for the same award in 2011. In '11, he finished first overall in the FSWA NFL experts challenge that featured 60 of the industry's best competitors.

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