Today I address the Offensive Line Fantasy Value of the Dallas Cowboys. The Cowboys have strengths and weaknesses on the line but overall it is an adequate group. Dallas has a decent group of RB’s, WR’s and a security blanket at Tight End so that takes a minor bit of pressure off the guys in the trenches. The Offensive Line consists of Left Tackle Tyron Smith, Left Guard Nate Livings, Center Phil Costa, Right Guard Mackenzy Bernadeau and Right Tackle Doug Free.
Left Tackle Tyron Smith was selected in the 1st round of the 2011 NFL Draft by the Cowboys and is eveything they hoped he would be. He has the measurables to be a perennial All-Pro. He slides well, pcaks a violent punch, adjusts to bull versus speed rushes and has huge hands. He played Right Tackle in 2011, but he will move to the left side in 2012.
Left Guard Nate Livings was picked up by the Cincinnati Bengals as an undrafted Free Agent in 2006. He stayed with the Bengals until this year when he was picked up by the Cowboys. A space eater he is one of the heavier Left Guards in the game today. He isn’t afraid to do any task that is required of him. He won’t get much recognition but he was coveted by the Cowboys.
Center Phil Costa was taken as a Free Agent after not being selected in the 2010 NFL Draft. He was a filling a roster spot and not expected to make the team until an injury to starter Kyle Kosier and ineffective play by the second and third stringers opened a spot for him. He impressed so much that he made the 53 man roster. He has a challenge to maintain the position now due to Bill Nagy who overachieved in 2011 in the limited action he received.
Right Guard Mackenzy Bernadeau was taken in the 7th round of the 2008 NFL Draft by the Carolina Panthers. He remained with Carolina primarily as a backup but will man the starting RG position at least for the time being for Dallas. His strength is in run blocking due to his massive size, but he can get off balance at times. He will have backups breathing down his neck as well.
Right Tackle Doug Free was taken in the 4th round of the 2007 NFL Draft by the Cowboys. He underachieved big time in 2011 after receiving a large contract. He will slide into the RT position after being less than functional at LT. He gave up 9 1/2 sacks and had way too many penalties so the plan is to get the more mobile Tyron Smith to man the blind side. Free needs a bounce back season or he could be a cap casualty in the next few years.
Now to analyze the numbers…
Dallas ranked 9th in Total Run Blocking in 2011 allowing their RB’s to rush for 4.61 yards per carry which exceeded the NFL average of 4.31 yards per carry. The group of RB’s were stopped at/or behind the line on 19% of their rushing attempts which was equal to the NFL average. They were able to achieve 1st downs on 3rd/4th down runs 57% of the time which was well below the NFL average of 62%. The Cowboys ran 374 times in 2011 and with a healthy DeMarco Murray, expect that trend to continue. The RB’s had their least success running behind the Right Tackle position averaging 3.27 yards per carry which was 3rd last in the NFL. They, however, managed to rush for 4.77 yards per carry behind the Left Tackle which ranked 5th in the NFL. From a Fantasy perspective look for Murray to come back and excel again this year. There are less than stellar options behind him so if he isn’t healthy or isn’t effective, this Offensive Line won’t be a factor in 2012. I found it interesting that the RB’s had their least success running behind Tyron Smith and their most success running behind Doug Free…..It appears that they were stronger running to the left side due to better kick outs. They averaged well over 4.7 yards per carry running left while only getting 3.6 yards per carry to the right.
Dallas ranked 13th in Pass Protection allowing Tony Romo to hit the deck via sack on 6.1% of his dropbacks which was below the league average of 6.7%. The offensive line averages well over 310 pounds per guy so they were able to clog up the lanes of the pass rushers.
From a Fantasy perspective if this Offensive Line can slow down blitzers on passing downs and create avenues for the RB’s than the team will have success at least on the Offensive side of the ball. My projection is for DeMarco Murray to rush for 1000+ with 6 TD’s. I expect Miles Austin to bounce back from his hamstring issues and post decent WR2 numbers. After the debaucle over the weekend involving Dez Bryant, I must admit that I see his roster spot in peril. Jerry Jones will not have his beloved Cowboys’ reputation tarnished to that degree. It is likely that Commisoner Goodell will suspend Dez for Conduct Unbecoming a Professional, so expect a few game ban. Bryant has always been an underachiever to date and I didn’t really see this year beeing any different anyway. Draft him with low expectations. Jason Witten will be….well….Jason Witten. He will get a ton of targets and swallow the ball up. He is reliable and will give QB Tony Romo that underneath presence. Look for Tony Romo to have a great season. I can see a 4700+ yard season with at least 35 TD’s and better decision making in the clutch. It could be his last chance as he is wearing out his welcome with those in management who want the Super Bowl NOW!!
Thanks to footballoutsiders.com for the statistics.
Next team on the hit list will be the Denver Broncos