Dallas Cowboys Fantasy Preview
At the end of the 2019 fantasy football season, one of the top offenses in the league was the Dallas Cowboys. They had a quarterback who finished as QB2 (Dak Prescott), a running back who finished as RB3 (Ezekiel Elliott), two top-24 wide receivers (Amari Cooper, 10th and Michael Gallup, 22nd) and a tight end who as finished TE11 (Jason Witten) in PPR leagues. However, despite a head coaching change in the offseason from Jason Garrett to Mike McCarthy, there is still a lot of optimism coming into this upcoming season. Especially considering that the offensive coordinator from 2019, Kellen Moore, is still with the there and in charge of play-calling.
Fast forward to 2020, and the Cowboy’s playmaker group has changed considerably. Jason Witten is now playing for the Las Vegas Raiders, Blake Jarwin signed a contract extension to take over as the starting tight end role and Randall Cobb signed with the Houston Texans in free agency. More importantly, the Cowboys selected wide receiver Ceedee Lamb in the first round of the NFL Draft.
Lamb, regarded as one of, if not the top wide receiver prospects in the entire class, helps bolster an already impressive offense for Dallas. But much has been made about Lamb’s arrival, especially talk around how it negatively impacts both Cooper and Gallup in regards to the fantasy football potential for the upcoming season. Though – is it hasty to think Lamb’s arrival makes that much of an impact so quickly? Let’s take a look.
Personnel Changes: Vets Out, Rookie In
The Cowboys have 190 vacated targets up-for-grabs with the departures of Witten (83), Cobb (83), and Austin (24). That accounts for just under 32% of Prescott’s 596 passing attempts. Outside of drafting Lamb, the only other addition the Cowboys made to their playmaking group was Blake Bell, who only saw 15 targets in 2019 with the Kansas City Chiefs.
There is no doubt Lamb is the biggest addition to the Cowboys offense, but the question is how big of an impact he will make to the team in his rookie season? Looking at his college statistics, Lamb was a big-time playmaker in his last two seasons at the University of Oklahoma. He accumulated 127 receptions, 2,485 receiving yards & 25 touchdowns on 184 targets. His junior season included a stat-line of 62 reception, 1,327 receiving yards, and 14 touchdowns on 94 targets over 13 games. In his three seasons at Oklahoma, Lamb only ever saw one season above a 20% target share (2019, 24.7%). But if you expanded this stat-line over 16 games, it would be 76 receptions, 1,633 yards, 8.6 touchdowns on 116 targets.
Even if the Cowboys gave Lamb a 25% target share of the 596 pass attempts last season, that would be 149 targets. And if we average it out with his 16-game pace from his 2019 season at Oklahoma (116), that would be 132.5 targets. Just to put it in perspective, neither Cooper nor Gallup saw more than a 20% target share in 2019. But if you look at the vacant wide receiver targets from Cobb (83) and Austin (24), that’s 107 vacant wide receiver targets alone. Roughly what Lamb’s high-end target projection would be anyway.
Going back to Cooper, and Gallup, their impressive 2019 seasons require some context as well. Gallup himself only played in 14 games as he underwent knee surgery early in the season due to a meniscus injury. He was off to an incredible start with 13 receptions & 226 receiving yards after the first two weeks before his knee surgery. So he was on pace for 104 receptions and 1,808 receiving yards before his knee injury. That isn’t a sustainable number, but it points to how valued Gallup is in their passing game, along with how well he was doing.
As for Cooper, he played all sixteen games but dealt with various injuries over the season and was never 100%. He suffered a foot/heel injury before the regular season started and also dealt with ankle, knee, and quadriceps injuries over the course of the season as well. He only played one series during week six and played only 56% of the snaps in week 11 due to injury. If you remove his game in week six (one catch for two yards on one target in one series), he would’ve had a 16.35 fantasy points-per-game average in PPR leagues, good for 6th amongst WR.
In regards to the offensive formation, both Cooper and Gallup are more of traditional outside receivers. Cooper only lined up at slot for 10.7% of his 2019 snaps, per Player Profiler. And Gallup similarly saw only 10.1% of his snaps came in the slot for 2019. But upon Lamb being drafted, he mentioned being open to playing more in the slot, per Bleacher Report’s Adam Wells. Lamb also has familiarity with playing the slot in college as he scored half of his 14 touchdowns in 2019 from the slot position and averaged 6.11 yards per slot route run (the most of any college football wide receiver in ’19), per Ringer’s Robert Mays. And as Mays also pointed out, the Cowboys played three-receiver sets 67% of the time, which was above the league average of 60% in 2019. In 2018, Mike McCarthy’s Packers played three-receiver sets 77% of the time, highest in the league that season.
So it seems more likely that we see Lamb play more in the slot for his rookie season sprinkled in with some snaps on the outside. And considering that Cobb played 91.9% of his 720 snaps (662) came from the slot, Lamb could seemingly step right into Cobb’s role. And 650-700 snaps is a lot for a rookie wide receiver, even for a first-round selection. So there wouldn’t necessarily need to be a role created for Lamb that takes away from any other receiver like Cooper and Gallup.
Tight End Youth Movement
Jason Witten shockingly will be playing for another team in 2020 and leaving behind 83 targets. Blake Jarwin was given a solid three-year, $24.5 million dollar contract extension with the intention of having him become the new starter. With Jarwin becoming the new starter, it would be unwise to expect him to absorb all (or even most) of Witten’s vacated targets. Jarwin saw 41 targets last season himself, and if you were to hypothetically have Jarwin receive all of those targets on top of his (124 total), he would’ve finished third behind Travis Kelce (136), and Zach Ertz (135).
It would be much more reasonable to see Jarwin receive around the same amount of targets as Witten did with perhaps a few more. Witten saw the 10th most targets of any tight end last season, so it’s not a low number by any means. And between Dalton Schultz and Bell, who saw 42 targets combined, it’s fair to expect to see around the same amount of targets. So between the assumption that Jarwin sees around an additional 40 targets to match Witten and that Schultz & Bell soak up 40-42 targets, that adds up to just about the 83 targets that Witten leaves on the table. So for looks in the passing game, I wouldn’t expect the number that the tight ends see in 2020 to be different than in 2019.
Elliott was once again amongst the leaders in targets at the running back position. He had the ninth most targets (71), which is actually down by a decent amount from his 2018 total of 95 and was fifth amongst running backs. What changed is the addition of the now second-year all-purpose running back Tony Pollard, who saw 20 targets in his rookie season.
What makes Pollard such a polarizing player going into his second season now is he actually led the Cowboys in average yards after the catch (9.0) and was first in the NFL in elusive rating (116.1) amongst all players with 100+ touches. And Pollard played a lot of slot receiver during his last season at the University of Memphis in 2018. So it’s very well possible that we see not only Pollard continue to steal looks in the passing game from Elliott but even see him steal snaps in the slot from Lamb as they continue to find ways to get the ball in Pollard’s hands.
Tony Pollard is No. 244 on the PFF Big Board
Pollard is more slot receiver than running back. He lined up in the slot on 419 of his 600 offensive snaps in 2018, catching 39-of-60 targets for 458 yards, 18 first downs and three touchdowns in the process.
— PFF DAL Cowboys (@PFF_Cowboys) April 27, 2019
In regards to Cooper and Lamb in fantasy football, ADP data shows that they are both being under-drafted compared to where they were on-pace or even finished last season. According to Fantasy Football Calculator, (data is from 06/30/2020 to 07/06/2020). Cooper is currently the 13th wide receiver taken in PPR redraft leagues while Gallup is WR32. Gallup is especially being undervalued after finishing with a 15.2 points-per-game average in PPR leagues, which is good for 18th amongst wide receivers in 2019. Cooper is currently being drafted behind wide receivers like Adam Thielen (WR64 in 2019 PPR leagues), Juju Smith-Schuster (WR65) & Odell Beckham Jr (WR25). And Gallup is being drafted wide receivers like T.Y. Hilton (WR57), A.J. Green (missed all of 2019 season) and Brandin Cooks (WR62).
All in all, from a 2020 viewpoint on Cooper, Gallup, and the Cowboys offense, don’t expect any significant changes to target distribution. Taking into account the injuries that both Cooper & Gallup also dealt with during the 2019 season, they both were extremely valuable fantasy football commodities, and that should remain the same for the upcoming year. Between Jarwin, Lamb, and Pollard, they are likely to be the biggest beneficiaries of the vacated targets while Cooper and Gallup shouldn’t see any changes to their roles and amount of targets thrown their way. If anything, you can expect to see more from them, and that makes them potentially even more valuable. Make sure to get them while you still can.