Updated: Aug 23
👆 if you set fantasy football lineups (or make player prop bets), then you need to see this 👆
Even though Mike McCarthy has been in Dallas since 2020, 2021 was the first year that we got a full season glimpse of what the McCarthy-Dak Prescott era could look like.
And let me tell you, it was rather promising and, frankly, should be discussed more than it is. So let's discuss.
Many won't realize—I certainly didn't—that last year's Cowboys led the entire NFL in both offensive yards (407 per game) and, more importantly, points scored (31.2 per game). Not the Buccaneers. Not the Bills. Not the Chiefs. Not the Rams. Not the Chargers.
They were 2nd in the NFL in offensive plays run (67.8 per game), 3rd in the NFL in yards per play (6), 6th in the NFL in 1st downs (22.9 per game), and had the 9th best scoring percentage, cashing in on 43.8% of their drives.
They were terrific in the passing game, finishing:
6th in passing attempts (38.1 per game)
3rd in passing yards (282.4 per game)
3rd in passing TDs (40)
4th in passing 1st downs (14.6 per game)
Heck they even had the 7th fewest interceptions (11)
Ezekiel Elliott caught on a lot of flack in fantasy circles last year but as a team, Dallas was average-to-above average on the ground as well, finishing:
12th in rushing attempts (27.8 per game)
9th in rushing yards (124.6 per game)
17th in rushing TDs (15)
17th in rushing 1st downs (6.5 per game)
That's a promising start to the McCarthy-Prescott era.
Amari Cooper is gone, theoretically freeing up 104 targets, 68 catches, 865 yards and 8 TDs that will need to be redistributed. Obviously, fantasy football doesn't work that easily, but there is quite a bit of opportunity to be had for Dallas pass catchers.
Before the NFL draft, the Cowboys signed James Washington, a former 2nd round pick of the Pittsburgh Steelers, to a one year contract. And then in the draft, they used the 88th overall selection (3rd round) on South Alabama's Jalen Tolbert.
With both Michael Gallup (ACL in week 17) and now Washington (broken foot in training camp) highly unlikely to be ready for week 1, Tolbert is in line for a major week 1 role behind CeeDee Lamb and Dalton Schultz.
Ultimately, we shouldn't expect Dallas' offense to run AS smoothly as it did last year, especially early on—Amari Cooper to Tolbert is a sizeable downgrade—but this is not an offense to shy away from; they're going to score fantasy points in 2022.
Dak Prescott 📉
2020 (first season with McCarthy) fantasy points per game: 27.1 (QB1 before week 5 injury)
2021 (first full season with McCarthy) fantasy points per game: 19.3 (QB 11)
Dak was solid, if unspectacular, in his first full season under Mike McCarthy, finishing 9th in QB fantasy points, 7th in passing attempts, 8th in passing yards, and 8th in passing TDs. We saw career lows in rushing output (48 carries for 146 yards and 1 TD) but early reports from camp indicate that both Prescott and McCarthy want Dak to be more aggressive as a runner in 2022. That would be huge for Prescott's fantasy value as it's always been a big part of his appeal.
Over 52 fantasy football games in the last 4 seasons (2 with McCarthy), Prescott's had one of the safer floors in the game, hitting 20 or more fantasy points 53.9% of the time. That's a better rate than Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Russell Wilson, and technically even Josh Allen (though if you remove Allen's rookie year, his number climbs to 54.2%, a smidge above Prescott).
In fact, over Prescott's last 36 fantasy football games, he's hit 20 or more fantasy points 61.1% of the time which bests everyone—even Josh Allen—except Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson.
The ceiling is not elite but it's solid, reaching 30 or more fantasy points in 11.5% of his last 4 seasons (52 games). That's a better rate than Russell Wilson, Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady (but not if you only look at Buccaneer Brady which is 18.8%). It's slightly better if you look at only the McCarthy era (20 games) where Prescott hits 30 fantasy points 15% of the time which is on pace with Kyler Murray.
Fantasy Drafts 👍: I have Prescott in Tier 1C of my fantasy football Draft Kits with Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford, Jalen Hurts and Tom Brady.
He's currently the QB 8, drafted around pick 76 (7th round). There's a few QBs drafted after Prescott that are worthy of consideration before him—namely Russell Wilson, Tom Brady and Matthew Stafford—but 7th round Prescott is totally fine by me and a great pick up for the wait on QB crowd.
Players drafted within 6 spots of Prescott in either direction include: Allen Robinson, Adam Thielen, Michael Thomas, Gabriel Davis, Devin Singletary, Kareem Hunt, Hunter Renfrow, Cordarrelle Patterson, Tony Pollard, DeAndre Hopkins and JuJu Smith-Schuster.
Candidly, there's a lot of names in that mix I like (pretty much everyone except Singletary, Renfrow and Patterson) so drafting Dak here is difficult, especially after the loss of Amari Cooper and slow recovery of Michael Gallup. Still, if I still need my QB1 at this point, he's certainly on my radar.
Dynasty Leagues: Not much to see here; he's a hold.
Ezekiel Elliott ↔️
2019 PPR points per game: 19.5 (RB 5)
2020 PPR points per game: 14.9 (RB 9)
2021 PPR points per game: 15.1 (RB 14)
There's no way of and no use in sugar-coating it; Ezekiel Elliott is hard to get excited about these days after back-to-back lackluster seasons despite being the focal point of one of the league's best offenses.
He finished 26th among RBs in receiving yards and was the 14th "best" RB in PPR points per game despite Dallas leading the league in scoring, running the 2nd most plays and having the 3rd best yards-per play. Not a good look.
The ceiling was pretty gross, failing to ever reach 30 PPR points and hitting 20 just 25% of the time which was around the company of Aaron Jones, Antonio Gibson, Javonte Williams, David Montgomery, James Robinson and Elijah Mitchell.
Put simply, it was not at all the season you need from your first round pick.
Yet still, there's plenty of positives to highlight as we head into 2022, and I think Zeke has actually become a value pick this season as drafters try to stay away from him.
For starters, despite finishing 14th in average PPR points per game, Zeke finished 6th among RBs in total PPR points scored. No RB not named Jonathan Taylor, Austin Ekeler, Najee Harris, Joe Mixon or Leonard Fournette scored more points than Zeke last season. He wasn't sexy, but he was more solid than given credit for.
His floor was comparably solid, hitting 15 PPR points in 56.3% of his contests. That's far below Jonathan Taylor (81.3%), Austin Ekeler (73.3%), Najee Harris (81.3%) and Derrick Henry (75%) but notably right on pace with or even better than Joe Mixon (50%), Aaron Jones (46.7%), Nick Chubb (53.9%) and Dalvin Cook (58.3%), all of which are drafted in the first 20 picks this season (Zeke is not).
Sure he landed under 10 PPR points 25% of the time, but so did Joe Mixon (25%), Aaron Jones (26.7%), Alvin Kamara (25%), and Dalvin Cook (25%). Heck Nick Chubb came in under 10 PPR points 38.5% of the time.
So the ceiling wasn't terrific, but he was still a solid, sturdy option.
And he's still getting terrific usage, finishing 6th among RBs in touches, 8th in scrimmage yards and 6th in TDs. His receiving yardage is a concern but it wasn't the result of a lack of opportunities as Zeke finished 7th in RB targets.
Volume is what's most important in fantasy football, and Zeke is still getting it.
Oh, and by the way, Zeke played most of last season with a torn PCL which can at least partially explain the underwhelming yardage totals. He's reported to be fully healthy headed into 2022 and Dallas brass has been talking all offseason about needing Zeke to be the focal point of the offense, which makes sense with Amari Cooper now in Cleveland and both Michael Gallup and James Washington on the shelf.
Many are avoiding Zeke at all costs this summer—I myself was in that bucket a few months ago—but it's gotten to a point where he's becoming a value in 2022 fantasy football drafts (I've seen him available in the 4th round of best ball drafts).
Fantasy Drafts 👍: Zeke is currently the RB 15 being drafted around pick 30 (mid 3rd round). Drafted within 6 picks of Zeke in either direction include: Leonard Fournette, Mike Evans, Keenan Allen, AJ Brown, James Conner, Tee Higgins, Patrick Mahomes, David Montgomery, Kyle Pitts, Cam Akers and Justin Herbert.
Mike Evans is in a separate tier from that bunch in 2022 but Zeke is absolutely on my radar in this range, especially if I have 0-1 RBs after 2 rounds (if I have 2 RBs, I'm liking avoiding all RBs here).
Draft Kits: I have Zeke in Tier 2A of my fantasy football Draft Kits with James Conner, David Montgomery and Javonte Williams.
Dynasty Leagues: It's easy to say that Zeke is a "sell" candidate but actually selling him is much easier said than done since no one wants to buy him. Instead, I'm hanging onto him while his value is at an all-time low. I'd re-consider selling once that value rebounds.
Tony Pollard ↔️
2021 PPR points per game: 10.84 (RB 26)
Tony Pollard splashed onto the scene in 2021, causing a ruckus on fantasy twitter where us basement GMs started demanding he takes the throne from Ezekiel Elliott (we need to chill on that one, tbh).
He was exciting and very efficient with his touches. He finished 34th among RBs in touches (26th in targets, 19th in catches) yet smashed with 1056 scrimmage yards, 16th most among RBs (13th in receiving yards).
The glaring blip on his 2021 campaign was scoring just 2 TDs. But let's remember he's the RB2 behind an Ezekiel Elliott that played all 17 games last season.
Speaking of Zeke playing all 17, that makes it a bit extra surprising that Pollard was able to hit 15 or more PPR points in 26.7% of his games last year, including 1 appearance in the 20s (23, to be exact).
Still, it's important to note that Pollard landed under 10 PPR points in 60% of his contests, which is understandable yet concerning when you realize the guy is drafted in the 7th round of fantasy football drafts this season.
That said, Pollard is exactly what you want if you're a Zero, Hero or Superhero RB drafter; a standalone flex option who's more than capable of catching passes, and an immediate week/league-winner if something happened to Zeke.
Fantasy Drafts 👍: Pollard is currently drafted as the RB 32 around pick 82 (late 7th round). Drafted within 6 spots of Pollard in either direction are DeAndre Hopkins, Dak Prescott, Hunter Renfrow, Dallas Goedert, Gabriel Davis, Kareem Hunt, Devin Singletary, Cordarrelle Patterson, Tom Brady, Russell Wilson, Aaron Rodgers, Rashaad Penny, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Elijah Moore and DeVonta Smith.
As mentioned above, Pollard is a bit expensive when you know he'll be no higher than RB2 in Dallas while Zeke is healthy. But if Zeke ever went down, Pollard is a league-winner in waiting. In drafts where I have 0-1 RBs by this point, Pollard is near the top of my list. If I have 2 RBs, he's still in the conversation but I'm more likely to go with one of the other names listed above. If I have 3 or more (unlikely), Pollard is not an option for me.
Draft Kits: I have Pollard in Tier 2C of my fantasy football Draft Kits with Kareem Hunt, Elijah Mitchell, AJ Dillon and more.
Dynasty Leagues: There's not really a buy/sell opportunity here for the 25 year old and he's more just a hold than anything. If you're desperate for an answer, he might be a "sell" candidate with pretty high value, especially if you think Zeke will rebound this year.
CeeDee Lamb 📈
2020 PPR points per game: 13.6 (WR 22)
2021 PPR points per game: 15.1 (WR 16)
It's been a strong 2-year start for CeeDee Lamb as he's been a solid WR2 pretty much across the board statistically in both seasons. He's finished:
24th (2020) and 18th (2021) among WRs in targets
24th and 19th in catches
22nd and 14th in yards
32nd and 15th in TDs
22nd and 15th in total PPR points
In 31 fantasy football games, Lamb has had a solid floor, hitting 15 or more PPR points in 45.2% of his games. The ceiling has been fine so far too, hitting 20 PPR points in 19.4% of his games and reaching 30 3.2% of the time.
And all of that, by the way, was playing 2nd fiddle to Amari Cooper, playing alongside Michael Gallup, and playing with more than half a season of Andy Dalton.
Now Cooper (and his 96 targets) is in a different uniform, Gallup (and newcomer James Washington) will miss the start of the season, and his main target competition is Dalton Schultz.
Fantasy football doesn't always need to be difficult. 2022 is CeeDee szn, and I think there's a very real chance he finishes as THE WR1 this year.
Fantasy Drafts 👍: Lamb is currently the WR7, drafted around pick 18 (mid 2nd round). Drafted within 6 picks of Lamb in either direction are Stefon Diggs, Travis Kelce, D'Andre Swift, Deebo Samuel, Nick Chubb, Alvin Kamara, Aaron Jones, Tyreek Hill, Javonte Williams, Josh Allen, Mark Andrews, Saquon Barkley and Leonard Fournette.
He's obviously expensive but there's no reason to think he's not worth it as the new WR1 in an offense that led the league in scoring last season.
Draft Kits: I have Lamb in Tier 1B of my fantasy football Draft Kits with Stefon Diggs, Mike Evans, Deebo Samuel and Davante Adams.
Dynasty Leagues: Lamb is an exciting hold in dynasty leagues. I've tried to buy him where I can but the current managers are predictably not budging.
Michael Gallup 📈 (when he returns)
2019 PPR points per game: 15.2 (WR 22)
2020 PPR points per game: 10.8 (WR 53)
2021 PPR points per game: 10.2 (WR 49)
Michael Gallup torn his ACL in week 17 last season, making it highly unlikely he plays in week 1. If Gallup stays on the active/PUP list come final cuts, he will automatically miss the first 4 games of the season (AKA 24% of the fantasy football season). And when he is ready, it's fair to wonder how quickly he can get back into peak form.
That's the risk with drafting Michael Gallup. So be aware of it.
Still, there's a lot to like here, especially when you realize his draft cost already assumes a lot of risk. So let's look at the upside instead.
When the Cowboys drafted CeeDee Lamb two years ago with Amari Cooper already in place, Gallup was relegated to WR3 in Dallas and subsequently performed that way, finishing as a fine but unexciting WR4/5 in back-to-back years. He landed under 10 PPR points in 56% of his games over the past 2 seasons.
That said, he reminded us of some ceiling by hitting 20 PPR points in 12% of those games and even crossing 30 once.
BUT...way more importantly than that, let's look back at 2019 when Gallup was the WR2 in Dallas behind Cooper (like he will be this year behind just Lamb).
That year, Gallup finished 23rd among WRs in targets (112), 26th in catches (66), 18th in yards (1107), 20th in TDs (6), 22nd in PPR points (212.7) and 18th in PPR points per game (15.2).
His ceiling was much safer, hitting 15 PPR points in 42.86% of his games and staying above 10 64.3% of the time. He also flashed a very nice ceiling that year, hitting 20 or more PPR points 28.6% of the time and hitting 30 once as well.
There is some target competition with rookie Jalen Tolbert and—when he's ready—free agent James Washington to go along with CeeDee Lamb and Dalton Schultz but, at worst, Gallup will be the WR2 in this offense when he's cleared to play.
And that's worth the upside you can see above, especially when you see how low he's drafted.
Fantasy Drafts 👍: Gallup is currently the WR 53, drafted around pick 149 (mid 13th round). He's a terriefic grab at that cost, especially if you can add someone to your IR list and hide him there.
Drafted within 6 spots of either direction of Gallup are: Rams D, 49ers D, Daniel Carlson, Cowboys D, Raheem Mostert, Justin Fields, Dameon Pierce (for now), Hunter Henry, JD McKissic, Jarvis Landry, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Isaiah Spiller, Deshaun Watson, Matt Gay, DeVante Parker and Mecole Hardman.
I'd take Gallup over every single one of those except maybe Pierce, Landry and MVS.
Draft Kits: I have Gallup in Tier 3C of my fantasy football Draft Kits with Jarvis Landry, Christian Kirk, Rondale Moore and more.
Dynasty Leagues: Still just 26, Gallup is worth trying to acquire in your dynasty leagues if there's a chance you can get him for cheap.
Jalen Tolbert 📈
The Dallas Cowboys selected South Alabama's Jalen Tolbert with the 88th selection of the 2022 NFL draft (round 3). He instantly became an intriguing fantasy football option as the possible WR 2 in Dallas to start the season with Michael Gallup on the shelf, and that intrigue intensified when his competition, James Washington, broke his foot in training camp.
Now, with just a few weeks until the season begins, Tolbert looks like the locked in WR2 heading into week 1 until Gallup is ready, and we know that's worth something in an offense that led the league in scoring last year. In the last three seasons, Dallas' top two WRs have finished 16th and 29th, 15th and 22nd, and 10th and 22nd.
Of course, that includes two seasons of Amari Cooper/CeeDee Lamb and one season of Cooper/Michael Gallup and Tolbert is not on their level but still; we know Dallas can support two WRs.
Yes, we need to be realistic in understanding Tolbert is still no better than 3rd in the target pecking order behind Lamb and Dalton Schultz, and he'll be relegated to 4th when Gallup is ready to return to the field.
Still, with two likely shootouts to start the season (Tampa Bay and Cincinnati) and considering how late he's drafted, Tolbert is absolutely someone to have on your radar late in fantasy drafts.
Fantasy Drafts 👍: Tolbert is the WR 66, drafted around pick 193 (17th round). For most of you, that means he's completely free. You could do a lot worse for your last round flier that you can easily drop after a few weeks.
Draft Kits: I have Tolbert in Tier 4C of my fantasy football Draft Kits with Corey Davis, Joshua Palmer, Mecole Hardman and more.
Dynasty Leagues: I have Tolbert around 18th-20th in rookie drafts around WR 11.
James Washington 📉
Put simply, James Washington is no longer on my fantasy football radar after his injury. He'll return buried behind CeeDee Lamb, Dalton Schultz and likely Michael Gallup and Jalen Tolbert. And even when he does play, who knows how long it'll take him to get into top shape. He's worth a late flier in deep deep leagues, but not for most.
Dalton Schultz 📈
2020 PPR points per game: 9.2 (TE 18)
2021 PPR points per game: 12 (TE 7)
Dalton Schultz exploded onto the scene in 2021, finishing 6th among TEs in targets (101), 3rd in catches (75), 6th in yards (787) and 6th in TDs (6) for 191.7 PPR points (TE 4).
He had a solid weekly floor, hitting 10 or more PPR points in 62.5% of his games. For comparison, Mark Andrews (75%), Travis Kelce (73.3%) and Darren Waller (70%) were tops while Rob Gronkowski (63.6%) and TJ Hockenson (66.7%) were similar and Kyle Pitts (43.8%), George Kitte (61.5%), Zach Ertz (50%) and Dallas Goedert (53.3%) among others were worse.
And he did it while flashing a solid ceiling by hitting 20 PPR points in 18.75% of his games. Again for comparison, only three other TEs did it more frequently: Mark Andrews (25%), Travis Kelce (20%) and George Kittle (23.1%). No other TE hit 20 PPR points as frequently as Schultz did.
Now, Amari Cooper is out of the picture, Michael Gallup won't be ready for the start of the season (nor will James Washington), and the starting WR opposite CeeDee Lamb come week 1 will be a 3rd round rookie. Schultz will start the season no lower than 2nd on the totem pole for team targets, and could very-well stay there all season.
That's not a bad place to be on a team that led the NFL in scoring last year.
Fantasy Drafts 🤷: The problem is that he's already drafted pretty high in 2022. Currently the TE 6 drafted around pick 62 (early 6th round), Schultz is surrounded by names like Brandin Cooks, Chris Godwin, Kyler Murray, Joe Burrow, Amari Cooper, Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Courtalnd Sutton, AJ Dillon, Jerry Jeudy, Jalen Hurts, Marquise Brown, TJ Hockenson and Damien Harris. There's a lot of WRs in there that I'd have higher on my list than Schultz (all of them, tbh), and I like AJ Dillon a lot too. This is also a spot where I might be targeting my QB1. All in all, it's just really hard to take Schultz here, but I wouldn't fault you for doing so either.
Draft Kits: I have Schultz in Tier 1C of my fantasy football Draft Kits with TJ Hockenson and Dallas Goedert.
Dynasty Leagues: he's a hold.
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Next up: Philadelphia Eagles