Article - Cowboys: Julius is their top Jones
Cowboys: Julius is their top Jones
July 15, 2005
What's new is a starting quarterback named Drew. But it's not the youngster Henson -- it's the veteran Bledsoe, coach Bill Parcells' old hand in New England, which has prompted Jeff Hostetler to stay near a phone.
While Bledsoe's signing isn't an exciting fantasy development, the promise of explosive second-year running back Julius Jones is. Jones gets a little more blocking help with former Packer Marco Rivera on the line. The combination of rookie Marion Barber and former Bear Anthony Thomas also will give Jones fresher legs.
Defensively, there is one huge change -- a switch to a 3-4 defense. Former Jet Jason Ferguson is set to man the nose, and rookies Marcus Spears and DeMarcus Ware are taking on key edge-rushing roles.
Jerry Jones still is the owner of America's Team, but Julius is the Cowboys' Jones whom owners of fantasy teams should have at the top of their list.
Cowboys depth chart | Cowboys 2004 stats
Projected draft round
Drew Bledsoe, QB 15-16
Julius Jones, RB 1-2
Marion Barber, RB 13
Keyshawn Johnson, WR 10-11
Terry Glenn, WR 13
Jason Witten, TE 5
Billy Cundiff, K DND
Defense/special teams 17-DND
Draft position based on a standard 12-team combined scoring and yardage league with a 17-round draft. DND Do not draft.
Julius Jones, RB. A chest injury slowed Jones in his rookie training camp and a broken left shoulder cost him seven games. When he got back to action in November, however, he quickly emerged as a stud runner, highlighted by his 198-yard, 3-TD Monday night game at Seattle.
Despite the injuries, Jones proved to be durable late and averaged 26 carries in his seven starts. Barber and Thomas are there more for relief -- Parcells will continue to feed Jones often.
With Jones' big-game potential, 1,600 yards and 16 scores are very reachable. He is good enough to be an elite No. 1 fantasy back, and if you get him as your No. 2, your team will be in great shape.
Roy Williams, S. Williams was stretched a little thin last year, considering Darren Woodson was ailing and the struggles of the Cowboys' cornerbacks. He is better suited to be a rangy playmaker and physical hitter, not a designated cover man.
With an improved pass rush in front of him and more experienced defensive backs (Anthony Henry, Aaron Glenn) joining the secondary, Williams should stay in the 80-100 tackle range and have more chances to free-lance and raise his INTs from two. The key is Izell Reese holding up well at free safety.
Jason Witten, TE. Tony Gonzalez and Antonio Gates are in a stratosphere all by themselves, but Witten slowly is approaching their orbit. For Parcells, it's the combined talent of Mark Bavaro and Ben Coates, squared. For the Cowboys, it's a new, improved Jay Novacek 2.0.
Among tight ends, only Gonzo had more catches and yardage than Witten in 2004. He also should be a more consistent scoring threat after catching a modest six TDs.
Because Bledsoe moves like a statue of Abe Lincoln, he is at his best when he has a tight end or fullback to find in the short passing game -- see Coates or Larry Centers. With Richie Anderson no longer a Cowboy, Witten will see plenty of passes come his way.
Key additions: QB Drew Bledsoe, DT Jason Ferguson, CB Aaron Glenn, CB Anthony Henry, G Marco Rivera, RB Anthony Thomas.
Key losses: FB Richie Anderson, LB Dexter Coakley, C Gennaro DiNapoli, RB ReShard Lee, QB Vinny Testaverde, DE Marcellus Wiley, WR Randal Williams.
Anthony Henry, CB. Henry made an IDP splash as a Browns rookie in 2001 with 10 interceptions. Since then, he has had only seven more picks. The opportunities just haven't come because teams could easily run on Cleveland and didn't need to try to test Henry as much.
In Dallas, opponents may prefer to pick more on third-year player Terence Newman, but that also means Henry will be busier with coverage on No. 1 receivers. Although he won't come close to double-digit picks, 4-5 INTs and 75 tackles will put him in the middle tier of DBs.
Keyshawn Johnson, WR. Not knowing when you'll get a solid game from Johnson makes him a very frustrating fantasy receiver. He posts few 100-yard days (two in '04) and is a streaky scorer, making Key a No. 3 at best for your team.
There's more downside: He will be 32, the Cowboys figure to be more run-oriented and he no longer has Vinny Testaverde throwing to him. You might need to draft Johnson late out of necessity, but you won't be happy about it.
SLEEPER: Defense/special teams. Parcells always has had his best success with the 3-4, and although he doesn't have Bill Belichick running it, there is some good young talent for it. While rookies Spears, Ware and linebacker Kevin Burnett will contribute to the front seven, veteran additions Ferguson, Henry and Glenn will provide much-needed savvy.
The 4-3 was getting stale in Dallas, with aging linebackers and shaky cornerbacks. A move to an aggressive 3-4 should raise the playmaking quotient, although it may take some time for the personnel and scheme to jell. By no means will this team be a sack and takeaway machine, but it may become a nice midseason free-agent pickup. The return game doesn't add any value, however.
Marion Barber, RB. Formerly Marion Barber III, he is more likely to be the Cowboys' second back, beating out the A-Train and becoming the team's Plan B for Jones. That makes sense, because Barber's 5-11, 210 frame and running skills are very similar to that of the 5-10, 215 Jones.
While Barber will need to work hard to become a complete back under Parcells, he has the raw talent to provide a spark if needs to replace Jones. He's not really a change-of-pace back -- that's Thomas' role. Draft Barber late as Jones insurance.
Drew Bledsoe, QB. Those who know my fantasy football history well know that I refer to Bledsoe as an "untouchable." Which means in the fantasy QB caste system, he is a castoff. Sure, he is a fine human being and can help Parcells and the Cowboys win some games, but wins only count in fantasy baseball.
Bledsoe still can put up decent numbers (20 TDs, 3,000 yards) worthy of backup status, but that's it. If you try to force him into your starting lineup, you're on your own when he posts one of those ugly three-pick games.
Billy Cundiff, K. The Cowboys' boyish kicker looks more like Richie Cunningham than former Cowboys kicker Richie Cunningham. Cundiff showed a leg solid enough to stick around for Parcells, so you know Billy can be a hero. The only problem is there are more than 20 other kickers who are better fantasy performers.
Greg Ellis, DE. Ellis will need to adjust to the 3-4, and even then, don't expect double-digit sacks -- he had a career-high nine last season, which still put him only in a tie for 18th. Spears and Ware should take advantage of offensive tackles focusing on the 30-year-old-to-be Ellis, using their younger legs to be more productive pass rushers.
Terry Glenn, WR. Key got his blast from the past with Testaverde -- now it's Glenn's turn with Bledsoe. Like Johnson, Glenn's production will be sporadic -- the only offensive constants on this team will be Jones and Witten. Glenn first will need to show he has recovered from torn knee ligaments and if so, he can put together some good spurts.
Glenn shook off the "she" label to be trusted by Parcells again, and although he and Bledsoe won't conjure up memories of Glenn's 90-catch rookie year in New England, they will connect for a few big plays.
Terence Newman, CB. The Cowboys still are waiting for Newman to put everything together, and the presence of Henry being the No. 1 will help allow Newman to further his development. A few picks and big plays are a possibility, but barring injury, you won't need to reach this far for IDP DB help.
Dat Nguyen, LB. If your league rewards heavily for tackles, Nguyen will remain solid in that department, even though he must now share the inside with Bradie James. Nguyen did have a career-high three picks in '04, and anything there is a bonus. Don't draft Nguyen, but he can provide free-agent IDP help in a pinch.
ROOKIE TO WATCH: Marcus Spears, DL. At 6-4, 325, Spears is a perfect fit to play end in a 3-4 because he can be stout against the run while also providing a sack threat. As with any defensive rookie adjusting to the speed of the NFL, the expectations are low, but once he settles in, he will be worth a fantasy look.
Quincy Morgan, WR. Although I would love to put Quincy, M.E. on the case of why Morgan shows no fantasy pulse, as a messy sportswriter, I more relate to Jack Klugman as Oscar Madison.
My diagnosis: Considering he's coming off offseason knee surgery and an early-June left shoulder injury, Morgan has his work cut out for him to get through training camp and be ready to perform this season. He's barely blipping as a reserve fantasy wideout.
Anthony Thomas, RB. Doubting if Thomas has any real fantasy value left? You should be, because sitting behind Jones and Barber and getting occasional work in power sets won't merit a roster spot. If Jones and Barber both go down, the A-Train could be a temporary luxury car, but you can't waste a draft pick on those hopes.
Dan Campbell, TE. The only reason to be concerned with Campbell is this: As long as he stays healthy as a 6-5, 263-pound blocker, Witten will be totally left free to go to work as a receiver.
Patrick Crayton, WR. Apparently, the Cowboys like players from Northwest Oklahoma State, because both safety Lynn Scott and Crayton share that alma mater. Here's another thing Scott and Crayton have in common: Neither is on the fantasy radar.
Drew Henson, QB. Let's see, in New England, Bledsoe was replaced by former Michigan star Tom Brady, whom Henson worked to replace at Michigan and now Henson's trying to replace Bledsoe? I don't know if that's ironic, or just trivial. If Bledsoe already is a fantasy "untouchable," then Henson is a fantasy "unthinkable."
TO KNOW LIST
Ultimate Salary Cap Football Tip: If you prefer to make defense/special teams a fantasy afterthought, then the Cowboys are a perfect flyer. You just might need to be patient, but it's smart to buy low, take your chances and save your money for more important positions.
Coaching: In Bledsoe, Johnson and Glenn, Parcells has players who know his system and know what he expects of them. That should carry over to the rest of the offense. Parcells has won with both running and passing teams, and considering his best talent is Jones, the focus will continue to be on the ground. He also loves the rare athletic skills of Witten.
Defensively, his motivational tactics should help kick the 3-4 into gear early in camp, which should help produce results more quickly than expected.
Offensive line: Rivera is a nice addition at right guard, and along with future Hall of Fame left guard Larry Allen flanking center Al Johnson, it will allow Jones to do some strong inside running. As for the tackles and protecting Bledsoe, Flozell Adams is sturdy on the left side, but right tackle is a concern. Overall, the unit is more of a positive -- it will neither keep Jones from being a stud nor keep Bledsoe from being average.
Schedule analysis: Like the offensive line, the schedule won't do much to affect the production of the team's offensive principals either way. Sure, the NFC East is tough with the Eagles on the docket twice, but highly talented players such as Jones and Witten have found success against tough opponents and Bledsoe has the potential to struggle vs. weak ones. Fantasy Strength of Schedule: 11th toughest.
UP NEXT: Seattle Seahawks.
NFL projects editor Vinnie Iyer is a fantasy football expert for Sporting News.
Fantasy Source Expert: Vinnie Iyer