I used to think fantasy sports were stupid – started and fueled by baseball stat geeks who couldn’t get a date. But, NFL fantasy football has exploded over the last several years and now anyone who considers themselves a football fan participates in a league in some way. I resisted until a few years ago when my older brothers decided to form a family league. As the youngest brother, I have made a career of beating them at just about anything so I thought I could add fantasy football to the list. At about the same time, my co-workers decided to form a league for a little “friendly” competition. I was totally unprepared for how all-encompassing it would become.
September 18, 2011; San Francisco, CA; Mandatory Credit: Jason O. Watson-US PRESSWIRE
What were once vast “deserts” of sports action if the Cowboys had a bye or their game was not being televised transformed into every NFL game being meaningful – especially if I or my opponent or someone ahead of me in the standings had any players on the teams involved. Between researching players for the draft, the draft itself, then scouring the waiver wire each week for that diamond in the rough, my weekends and any moment of spare time became the property of fantasy football. If you have any competitive instinct at all (pretty much everyone short of maybe Gandhi), it becomes very addictive. Not in a “steal money from your family and lose your job” sort of way, but addictive nonetheless. It helps to get your wife or girlfriend involved (but not both – just kidding honey), so it becomes something you can do together (translated it means she loves you enough to let you obsess and pretend to participate as you manage her team as well as your own).
Side note: I am categorically opposed to the “snake draft”. But, that is the subject of an entirely different (and longer) article.
For the record, I won our family league last year – convincingly. And, I ultimately helped manage the team that eventually won my work league when my own team was upset in the playoffs (any defeat of my team is an upset). But, the only Cowboys player I had on either my family or work teams was DeMarco Murray and when he went down and out with his season-ending ankle injury late in the season, it was almost my undoing. But, I overcame adversity just like the Cowboys will likely have to do this season.
So, I thought I would take a look at who the fantasy studs will be for the Cowboys this coming season based on the “experts”. (Please do not ever call me a fantasy expert as in my opinion that is a little like publicly admitting you have no life). Based on the NFL.com team of “experts” (sorry guys but congratulations on turning your obsession into some kind of a paying gig), here is where the Cowboys players rank at this stage of the preseason (for the complete list of rankings click here):
1. QB – Tony Romo: From a high of #3 by Dave Dameshek to a low of #9 by Jason Smith. Very respectable numbers although I’m hoping Dameshek is closer to right. The “elite 3” are Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, and Tom Brady typically with a slew of 2nd tier QBs well below them which is where Romo often falls. He is the highest ranking QB in the NFC East. But, QBs earn points for passing yards and TD passes primarily – not wins. Tony has typically had very respectable numbers but doesn’t always deliver the “W”. I would love to see him light it up like the elites, but Jason Garrett is all about offensive balance. That means the Cowboys will try to run the ball about half the time. That typically spells lower than “elite” fantasy numbers. I don’t care if instead it generates wins. Being a Cowboys fan, I would gladly finish last in every fantasy league if it meant a return to glory for the ‘Boys.
2. RB – DeMarco Murray: A little surprising here to see Murray ranked at #10 already (high of #9, low of #13). He had a very promising rookie season cut short by injury and I truly think that if he stays healthy (and Vickers and the offensive line stays healthy), he has the talent to lead the league in rushing. But, he still has a lot to prove in his sophomore season and the same balance that dooms Romo to being in the 2nd tier of players likely keeps Murray there as well. However, if he becomes the red-zone first choice, he can pick up a ton of fantasy points with short TD runs. Would love to see that happen!
3. WR – Dez Bryant/Miles Austin: There’s been a lot of discussion so far this offseason about who the real #1 receiver will be in Dallas in 2012. Ironically, the Cowboys talented duo are ranked numbers 18 and 19 with Miles being ranked slightly higher. Based on historical numbers, Miles is still the #1 but both players have a lot to prove in 2012 after injury plagued seasons last year. If healthy, they are a dynamic tandem that keep defensive backs up at night. But, far too often last year, defenses kept them in check enough that a 3rd option – Laurent Robinson – became the open man in the red zone and capitalized with 11 touchdowns (Robinson was a fantasy steal last year as well as in the real NFL). At their equal best, these two will split the production of a clear #1 like a Calvin Johnson in Detroit. That will always leave them lacking in fantasy points.
December 17, 2011; Tampa, FL. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-US PRESSWIRE
4. TE – Jason Witten: Clearly, one of the best TEs in the NFL but never a force in fantasy because being Tony Romo’s favorite target, he is the one player most defenses try to take away first. So, a bit surprising to see him ranked as the #5 TE overall (as high as #3 by Dameshek but no lower than #5 by any other expert). As other players have developed around Witten in the last couple of seasons including running backs catching the ball out of the backfield he no longer has to carry the passing game like he once did. I love Witten’s heart and grit but he’s not one of the top 5 TEs I would draft in a fantasy league. In fact, I don’t draft a TE until the last few rounds. Let’s hope he proves these experts right (which by definition means I’m wrong).
5. K – Dan Bailey: Another bit of a surprise here as Bailey is ranked as the 4th best kicker overall – as high as #2 by Jason Smith. No question, he had an outstanding rookie season, won the kicking job outright, and made an inconsistent David Buehler expendable. The Cowboys offense will score points and the PATs will help pad his fantasy points, but here is one fan hoping that he rarely gets to kick a field goal as a result of our red zone execution being flawless! Regardless of where he ranks in fantasy, we now know we have a kicker that can deliver when called upon.
6. Defense: No surprise after a very weak 2011 that the Dallas defense ranks pretty low at #16 overall – behind both the Giants and the Eagles. But no question they’ve revamped their weakest point (secondary) and should be a much improved unit. You get big fantasy points for turnovers – interceptions and fumbles – and that is where the Cowboys have been almost invisible. That has to improve. I for one would have no problem taking the Cowboys D as my starting defense. Dave Dameshek again seems to be factoring in all the changes as he ranked the Cowboys #5 overall, but the rest of the panel had them at 16 or lower. I can’t wait to see what a full off season, a completely new secondary, and Sean Lee with another season under his belt and assuming a leadership role do for this squad. They could be very, very good if things gel as we hope.
The Cowboys are talented at a lot of positions – they don’t have the Rob Gronkowskis, Calvin Johnsons, or Maurice Jones Drew type players that tend to have multiple games where they are the primary target and score points in waves. That’s a good thing for the team but a bad recipe for fantasy football – and for opposing defenses trying to decide what to take away. Give me a 10 or 11 win season and a Super Bowl run and let the fantasy points fall where they may. (I rarely get the Cowboys players I would like to have any way in fantasy – which creates some potential conflicts of interest when my opponent does have them. I always want the Cowboys to win, but throw the ball to the other guy that my opponent doesn’t have! Or, run the ball in if they have Romo!).
It’s going to be a great season in both real football and in fantasy. We’ve never had a repeat winner in our leagues – this could be the year. I feel it! Go Cowboys!