Countdown to kickoff: An inside look at the Dallas Cowboys

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Can the Cowboys Get a Sixth Title This Year?


The NFL is back on FanDuel! Enter the $1 Million NFL Rush for Week 1. Just $5 to enter, and first place will walk home with $100,000. Submit a lineup now, and change it anytime up until 9/13.

By ERIC MACK
FanDuel

If you thought the Dallas Cowboys front office disrespected 2014 NFL MVP candidate DeMarco Murray (signed with the Philadelphia Eagles) in free agency this winter, get a load of what backup running back Joseph Randle had to say this spring:

"He had a good year last year, and I got to sit back and watch a lot, and I felt like there was a lot of meat left on the bone," Randle told Brandon George of The Dallas Morning News at OTAs in May.

Ouch.

Clearly, the Cowboys and Randle felt the running game production was more due to a dominant offensive line than the talent of Murray. Randle, one of the potential Murray replacements and a preseason FanDuel player to watch, will try to get more than what Murray was able to get behind that line of former first-rounders LT Tyron Smith (2011), C Travis Frederick ('13) and RG Zack Martin ('14).

Murray was FanDuel's third-most expensive non-quarterback in Week 17 last year at $9,000. Randle ($4,500) and erstwhile (err, bust) Darren McFadden ($4,800) barely combined to cost that much in last season's final week. Barring an Adrian Peterson blockbuster deal, Randle and McFadden will have to try to replace Murray's 1,845 yards, 12 100-yard games and 13 rushing touchdowns.

At least it leaves us with potential hidden value in FanDuel contests like the $1 Million NFL Rush out of the gate, especially when you see the opponents in the early going (see below).

Depth Chart

Quarterback - Tony Romo; Brandon Weeden

Romo hasn't been a picture of health, but he has been able to play through a lot of the ailments that have plagued him, including back issues. We should assume Romo will have to take on more of the offensive onus with the running backs the Cowboys are going to try to get away with using. The good news is the Cowboys' veteran signal-caller is plenty capable of carrying the production torch.

Expect him to surpass the 300-yard mark far more than the mere one time he passed it last year. A standard game in 2015 for Romo should be 250 yards and a pair of touchdowns, but there will be some 350-yard, four-touchdown monster performances in there, too.

Running Back - Darren McFadden (competing to be the feature back); Joseph Randle (competing to be the feature back); Lance Dunbar (potential third-down back); Ryan Williams (talented, injury-riddled wild card)

For those of you laughing at this group, remember Murray had his detractors before his 2014 breakthrough, too. No one expected Murray to make it through 16 games healthy after missing 11 games in his first three seasons. Someone here is going to star behind that great offensive line that was second to just the Seattle Seahawks in rushing last year.

The fact the Cowboys didn't draft a running back shows they have faith in Randle, and perhaps Dunbar, to carry the load if McFadden continues to be the bust he was in Oakland. This might be the most-watched position in the entire NFL preseason.

One-week fantasy football players have some huge opportunities to find value with guys in this group.

Wide Receiver - Dez Bryant (go-to man); Terrance Williams (deep threat); Cole Beasley (possession slot receiver); A.J. Jenkins (reclamation project); Devin Street (just a plain project)

Bryant is a star in his prime. Williams is still an up-and-comer who could emerge as a star in his third season, and was just $5,200 in FanDuel's Week 17 price list. If he starts the season that low, he will be a value pick as a threat to score in any game—from anywhere on the field—especially with the double coverage Bryant commands.

Behind that duo, there isn't much to write home about. It will take a Bryant or Williams injury for anyone else to be a worthy daily fantasy selection.

Tight End - Jason Witten (starter, high-volume target); Gavin Escobar (red-zone threat)

Witten's age, 33, suggests the FanDuel value is going to be more with the 24-year-old Escobar, who vultured four touchdowns last season. Witten never misses a game, but the talented and potentially productive Escobar is there if Father Time catches up to Romo's long-time buddy.

Kicker - Dan Bailey

His field-goal total was a career low, while his extra-point total was easily a career high. Put that on Murray's career year. Bailey remains one of the most productive kicker options in the league because of the potency of the Cowboys offense—thanks to that dominant offensive line. Assuming the loss of Murray means less red-zone success, Bailey should be a solid buy early.

Rookies to Watch

CB Byron Jones, OLB Randy Gregory, ILB Damien Wilson, DE Ryan Russell—The Cowboys defense was supposed to be legendarily bad last season, but coordinator Rod Marinelli worked wonders with relative unknowns, has-beens and spare parts. The Cowboys return a rejuvenated Rolando McClain and hope to get a year of health from all-world linebacker Sean Lee, who missed all of last season after reconstructive ACL surgery. Sack master Greg Hardy (domestic violence) will return from a four-game suspension in October. The talent and depth mix is pretty exciting for the Cowboys' defensive prospects this season, so this could be a useful daily fantasy bargain when the matchup is right.

OL La'el Collins, OT Chaz Green—One of the best offensive lines in football get two rookies who can compete for snaps and potentially starts with right tackle Doug Free and left guard Ronald Leary. The other three starters are former first-round picks. Collins was projected to be a first-round talent before pre-draft circumstances kept him from being selected. The Cowboys might not have their answer at running back going into the season, but this talent-laden line has strength and depth. It is going to make the Cowboys offense very productive for daily fantasy.

Contract Year

DE Greg Hardy, 26 (turns 27 July 28)—Hardy, who missed all but one game of last season after a violation of the NFL's personal conduct policy, did have his 2015 suspension reduced from 10 games to four. Now, he will try to salvage his NFL career. A strong comeback in his prime at age 27 could make him a very rich man, especially if he keeps his off-the-field conduct in line. Hardy should be about as motivated as anyone to show up and perform, so consider that a potentially huge boon to the Dallas defense.

What Has Changed?

No more DeMarco Murray—The Cowboys made Murray the league's biggest workhorse back a year ago, giving him 392 carries, which was 80 more than second on the list (LeSean McCoy, 312). That means there are 25-plus touches to be distributed among the players who remain, which should mean more value to be had with the Cowboys, especially with the running back that emerges as the top threat. The passing game will be leaned on more heavily, too, particularly if you are not enamored with the above stable of backs.

Early Schedule

The Cowboys could not have opened with a more favorable schedule for their key figures on offense. The New York Giants, Philadelphia Eagles, Atlanta Falcons and New Orleans Saints have all had their troubles defensively. Those are four of the bottom eight teams against fantasy running backs, four of the bottom nine teams against fantasy quarterbacks (three of the bottom five) and three of the bottom seven against fantasy wideouts (although the Giants have an inexperienced group of safeties to work with).

The Cowboys defense might not be a great FanDuel play until the young draftees assert themselves and Hardy returns—those are good offenses in the first month—but there should be plenty of production for the daily fantasy price out of the gate.

Position Battles That Impact Value

Running back—Randle was working side-by-side with McFadden in OTAs, so expect them to share the bulk of the first-team duty early in camp. Again, this is arguably the best offensive line in football and that early season schedule is very favorable for FanDuel production. You should look to capitalize on the daily fantasy value early on, particularly if we get clarity on the leading rusher here.

The NFL is back on FanDuel! Enter the $1 Million NFL Rush for Week 1. Just $5 to enter, and first place will walk home with $100,000. Submit a lineup now, and change it anytime up until 9/13.

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