The NFL kicks off next week, as the Dallas Cowboys head to New Jersey to take on the New York Giants.
This also means that it's officially fantasy season, and most leagues will hold their drafts within the next week. As always here at SB Nation Dallas, we're here to help you. Jonathan Tjarks, Robbie Griffin and myself had a roundtable discussion regarding draft strategy, and the outlooks on certain Dallas Cowboys players.
NFL offenses have changed over recent years, and there really aren't running backs like Shaun Alexander or Priest Holmes to anchor teams anymore. What's your first round strategy going to be this year?
Tjarks: Last year was the first time I seriously played fantasy football and I ended up winning my league, basically because I had Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski on my team. Top RB's have a harder time racking up TD's and are more prone to injury. I'd much rather have one of the top 3 QB's -- Brady, Brees, Rodgers. A guy on an offense that puts up 35+ points a week is pretty much money in the bank.
Griffin: I'd still be tempted to take a running back. Eight of the top 10 scorers last year were quarterbacks. On one hand, that tells you how important a QB is, but it also tells you how many good fantasy QBs are out there. You can probably still get someone good in the second round.
Elite runningbacks were a lot less common, but there were several who could contend with most QBs. The fear, of course, is injury. If Ray Rice or Arian Foster is still there on the board, I'll still take him, though.
Starkey: For me, it would depend on where I'm drafting. If you can grab Ray Rice or Arian Foster with the top pick -- awesome, do it. Beyond that, I'm going with the sure bet, and that's the quarterback. Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers are sure bets.
You probably can't win your draft in the first round -- but you can lose it. Stay safe.
Which Cowboy player will have the best fantasy year?
Tjarks: DeMarco Murray, if he can stay healthy. He's such a complete back -- speed, power, vision, pass-catching ability and ability to pick up blitzes -- that Jason Garrett is going to have a hard time taking him off the field. If you look at the stats he put up last year it's hard to believe he was only a third-round pick. But then you remember that he struggled with injuries at Oklahoma and you just have to cross your fingers.
Griffin: Tony Romo, easily. He's one of those QBs who was in the top 10 fantasy scores last year. Jason Witten often has a claim based on tight end replacement level, but with his health in question this year, Romo has nothing standing between himself and another elite fantasy year. Except a line that wants him hurt...
Starkey: I'll go with Romo as well, though I think Dez Bryant could end up winning a few leagues. As long as Romo's weapons stay healthy, he'll put up pretty big numbers. It wouldn't shock me if Romo ends the season as a top five fantasy quarterback.
Jason Witten has consistently been one of the best tight ends, both in reality and in fantasy. With the way new, younger and more athletic tight ends are being utilized, are Witten's days as a top tight end nearing an end?
Tjarks: It's too bad there's no stat for blocking ability, because that's really what separates Witten from the next generation TE's in the NFL. As a pure receiver, in terms of speed and athleticism, he's just not as explosive as guys like Gronkowski and Graham, so it's hard to see him putting high numbers of TD's anymore. He's on the wrong side of 30 and he's dealing with a serious injury; there's nothing wrong with starting Witten on your team, just don't expect him to carry you most weeks.
Griffin: Yes, I think so, and the injury won't help. He's still probably viable, but I don't think he's going to be a beast anymore. This question makes me outrageously sad.
Starkey: Yeah, I wouldn't really want to count on Witten to be a top tier tight end. I think he'll put up fine numbers, but nothing dominant. If you want to focus on WR and RB, by all means, grab Witten in the later rounds -- just don't expect too much.
If all of Dallas' skill players stay healthy this year, what type of numbers do you think Tony Romo is capable of putting up? Romo is ranked toward the bottom half of the top 10 in many fantasy rankings, and it seems like he has the potential to outplay a few of the guys ranked ahead of him.
Tjarks: I'd put him right below the top 3, on the same level as Stafford, the Manning brothers and Cam Newton. The only thing holding him back from truly elite status is his tendency for the occasional brain fart interception as well as the fact that the Cowboys just aren't as fine-tuned an offensive machine as the Pats, Saints or Packers. There's not a lot of depth, especially on the line, and it feels like a lot has to go right for them to score 35+ rather than that being customary. I'd certainly take him over guys like Matt Ryan and Michael Vick (will he stay healthy? I doubt it).
Griffin: I just glanced at some forecasts after reading this question, and was frankly a little shocked about how down they are on Romo. If the offense is healthy, I think the only level he can't reach is the Brees/Rodgers tier from 2011. He can easily be a top three QB, and I would expect a top 10-15 overall player at worst with a healthy offense.
Starkey: I don't think he'll be able to be as good as Brady, Rodgers, Brees or Stafford, but I do think he'll be able to be a top five fantasy quarterback. Lots of yards, a fair number of touchdowns.
Who is your sleeper pick for the 2012 fantasy season?
Tjarks: A RB with a brand name is a player with a lot of tread on his tires. At the same time, it's a plug-and-play position that has one of the easiest transitions from college to the NFL. To me, that suggests that undervalued rookies (like DeMarco Murray last year) and second-year players, whom the average fan may not have even heard of, are the way to go. Trent Richardson should be a stud, but he's not exactly a sleeper. The guy I like is Doug Martin, Tampa Bay's first-round pick out of Boise State. Other highly-drafted but comparably unknown young RB's who might be worth a shot are David Wilson (Giants), Mikel Leshoure (Lions) and Daniel Thomas (Dolphins).
Griffin: Christian Ponder. By that I mean I think he has a decent chance to be a top 10 fantasy QB, and thus worthy of a starting job in any league.
Starkey: I'm going to cheat and pick two. Mikel Leshoure could be a nice player in the second half of the season, as he gets used to playing in the NFL -- and as the Lions search for a running back. Also, Shane Vereen of the New England Patriots. No, they don't like to run the ball, and no, he's not projected to be the starter. Bill Belichick, however, hates fumbles, and Stevan Ridley has the tendency to do that.