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Reassessing the Cowboys Offense without Romo

Tony Romo is injured...again. How will the Dallas Cowboys fare without their veteran passer?

Tony Romo Breaks His Back – Revisiting the Cowboys Fantasy Outlook

Tony Romo took what looked like an innocuous hit from Cliff Avril on the third play of the preseason game versus the Seahawks and was removed from the game for precautionary reasons. Initial reports were encouraging, with Romo, the team and beat writers all suggesting it was a minor injury to his back and no cause for concern as far as the start of the regular season. Unfortunately, a follow-up MRI on Saturday revealed a broken bone in Romo’s back.

ESPN’s Ed Werder reported that Romo will not need surgery, and that the team expects him to play later in the season. Dr. David Chao believes the injury poses no long-term risk.

Regardless of what happens in a few months, the Dallas Cowboys will be without their Pro Bowl passer for the start of the season. What this means for the rest of the offense really comes down to how much you think of Dak PrescottYou have to genuinely believe that Prescott is a meaningful step up from last year’s backups. Let’s remember how bad Dallas’ offense was without Romo in 2015:

  • 15.8 points per game
  • 24.3 points allowed
  • 334 total yards
  • 209 passing yards
  • 125 rushing yards
  • 2.3 turnovers

Let’s also acknowledge that Dez Bryant was a shell of his usual self in 2015, but appears in Pro Bowl form (provided this week’s concussion proves minor). With fantasy drafts underway, here are some quick thoughts on how this injury development alters the prospects for Dallas’ key players:

Quarterback

Tony Romo – Was QB16, Is Undraftable

Romo was coming off the board as a mid-round QB2, which offered great value if he stayed healthy. Romo has been a Top 10 fantasy passer consistently throughout his career (on a per game basis) and would have reprised that value this year with a compelling supporting case. He’s not worth drafting now but could be a season-changing mid-year waiver claim if his rehab process goes according to plan.

Dak Prescott – Was Undrafted, Is A Late Round Flier

How quickly things can change. A few weeks ago Prescott was a raw but talented rookie that would be groomed slowly and given a chance to eventually push for a starting job in a few years once Tony Romo's career had come to an end. Then, an injury to Kellen Moore forced Prescott into the #2 role and he thrived all preseason. He was so electric Dallas opted against signing a veteran quarterback to replace Moore. Now, Prescott appears set to be the Cowboys starting quarterback far sooner than many hoped. While his preseason play has been illuminating, it's important to remember he's been seeing plain vanilla defense schemes. He has promise, but Prescott will not execute the offense nearly as well as Romo can. Prescott isn’t worth drafting ahead of the likes of Robert Griffin III or Ryan Fitzpatrick, but his supporting cast and dual-threat skill set does warrant a flier over ‘starters’ like Brock Osweiler, Jared Goff or Blaine Gabbert.

Possible Outside Options – Dallas is going to have to bring someone in either as Prescott’s backup or to compete for the job after a few weeks of learning the system.

  1. Josh McCown (Cleveland Backup) – The Cowboys expressed interest in Josh McCown after Kellen Moore’s injury, but cooled off on the pursuit once Prescott started balling in the preseason. If the Browns are willing to move McCown, those talks could come to fruition a few weeks later than we expected.
  2. Geno Smith (New York Jets Backup) – The Jets have given no indication Smith is on the trade block, but Ryan Fitzpatrick is the present, Bryce Petty has pushed Smith for backup duties and Christian Hackenberg is the future. Smith is young enough and has above average physical gifts to appeal to Jerry Jones’ scouting eye.
  3. Colin Kaepernick (San Francisco Backup) – If Chip Kelly truly favors Blaine Gabbert over Colin Kaepernick, it’s not much of a leap to think he would part ways with the former starter for the right price.

Running Back

Ezekiel Elliott – Was A Top Three Running Back, Is A Solid Fantasy RB1

Some have advocated for Elliott as the #1 fantasy running back, and while I wouldn’t make that choice now, I still don’t think the situation is dire enough to discount Elliott as a mid-1st round draft pick. Dallas still has the league’s best offensive line and the team is going to HAVE to rely on the ground game if it has any hope of success. Let’s be clear, Romo’s injury does add volatility into Elliott’s expected value. There will be games where Dallas’ porous defense combined with erratic passing make it hard to give Elliott a heavy workload. But as we saw from the likes of Todd Gurley last year or Adrian Peterson in many seasons, certain running backs can transcend game script.

Alfred Morris – Was RB54, Is RB40 (High Priority Handcuff)

Morris has been the story in Dallas this preseason, as he’s looked terrific running with the first team while Elliott sat with a mild hamstring injury. Morris was the handcuff (for those who like to draft handcuffs) before the Romo injury, but what’s changed now is the importance of rostering him. Dallas has literally no choice but to try to win games with a simplified, run-heavy offense. They may not always succeed in that effort, but when they do Morris could see enough work to justify a flex spot in deeper leagues.

Darren McFadden – Was RB62, Is Undraftable

McFadden hasn’t played in the preseason and his role as the backup had already fallen by the wayside. Dallas will probably need to carry three quarterbacks on the active roster now and that means either McFadden or Darius Jackson will not make the 53-man roster. McFadden probably makes the cut, but as the 3rd stringer he’s not worth rostering in redraft leagues.

Wide Receiver

Dez Bryant – Was WR6, Is A Low End Fantasy WR1

Dez Bryant had erased any doubts about his return to form after two preseason games. But a concussion in practice followed by Romo’s back injury once again raise the risk of relying on Bryant as your fantasy cornerstone. Bryant’s ADP is WR6 but I’ve seen him go as high as WR4 in recent drafts. Now, it’s hard to justify drafting Dez ahead of Allen Robinson (WR7), Jordy Nelson (WR8), Brandon Marshall (WR9) and Mike Evans (WR10). I wouldn’t completely remove Bryant from your draft board because he has shown chemistry with Prescott in preseason game action.

Terrance Williams – Was WR62, Is Undraftable

I’ll admit it, I’ve been sniping Williams as my last round receiver in a lot of leagues. He showed growth in each season (admittedly not meteoric growth), has been sharp in the preseason, and had Tony Romo back. With Romo hurt, Williams remains a starter but the Cowboys have to downshift to a run-heavy offense more than likely. Williams is more of a priority waiver watch list option in standard-sized leagues.

Cole Beasley – Was Undrafted, Is A Late Round Flier in PPR Leagues

I would swap Beasley and Williams based on Romo’s injury. Beasley led the team in touchdowns last season and is a more reliable short-yardage, chain-mover. Prescott is going to need reliable options to dump off when the deep outs to Bryant and Williams aren’t readily available. Beasley doesn’t have a ton of upside, so he’s not an ideal late round pick. But if you’re in a PPR league that’s deep enough where you’re always scrambling for flex options, Beasley now fits that bill.

Tight End

Jason Witten – Was TE14 (And Undervalued), Is A Late Round Fantasy TE2 (Fairly Valued)

Witten was being under drafted at TE14. He stood an excellent chance of returning TE1 value (particularly in PPR leagues) with Romo healthy. However, with Romo hurt it appears the skeptics are going to be rewarded for misreading Witten’s situation. Realistically Witten now slots as a serviceable but unexciting TE2 in standard sized (10- and 12-team) leagues.