Fantasy Football Target Practice: The 2020 Dallas Cowboys
This is the first article in our newest Target Practice series highlighting some of the most fantasy-relevant teams and their target distributions for 2020. As we inch closer to the coming season, fantasy football players are beginning to solidify their opinions on quite a few players in the NFL. Some of the harder situations to guess at are when there a ton of vacated targets, a new coach, or when there is an argument over who is a team’s actual WR1.
The Dallas Cowboys give us all three in 2020. With the hiring of Mike McCarthy, almost 1/3 of 2019’s targets up for grabs, and Michael Gallup out-pacing Amari Cooper for targets last year, it’s anybody’s guess what might happen in 2020. I’ll take my best crack at what each player’s ceiling and floor might be based on historic data on vacated targets and an overview of the offense in general.
Dallas enters this season with about 190 vacated targets or 31.8% of all of their passing attempts last season. The biggest two pieces that left the team were WR3 Randall Cobb and TE Jason Witten, who both had 83 targets in 2019. Cobb will be replaced by rookie CeeDee Lamb, while Blake Jarwin will step up to fill the hole left by Witten. Jarwin had 41 of his own targets for the Cowboys in 2019.
Before we go and just hand all of those vacated targets to Lamb and Jarwin, I want to draw your attention to research done last season by our editor Kyle Borgognoni. Kyle dug deep into teams that had a good amount of vacated targets and found that the RB position tends to siphon a good portion of the now available targets.
To make predicting the future just a bit harder, the Cowboys went ahead and made a change at head coach this offseason too. Dallas brought in former Green Bay head coach Mike McCarthy after a year off, though they did retain OC Kellen Moore. Historically, McCarthy’s offenses have thrown the ball slightly more than Dallas has over the last two seasons with Jason Garrett and Moore at the helm. Dallas finished 2019 with 596 pass attempts, while McCarthy averaged 607 during his last three seasons in Green Bay.
Amari Cooper- Floor: 100 | Ceiling: 150
A big gap exists here due to one very major question, is Amari still the WR1? The emergence of Michael Gallup last season has brought some cloudiness to this situation. Over the course of 2019, Cooper averaged just over 7 targets per game, finishing the year with 119 targets over 16 games, but had five games with five or fewer targets. If Cooper were to cede the top spot to Gallup, his floor is lower due to the boom-or-bust nature of his game. However, if Cooper remains the alpha, there could be a huge season ahead, with an improving Dak Prescott and more attempts from the McCarthy offense. McCarthy’s WR1 averaged almost 10 targets per game during those last three years in Green Bay.
Editor’s Note: Starting in July, the Footballers breakdown every NFL division on the podcast including the NFC East.
Michael Gallup- Floor: 110 | Ceiling: 140
Putting it bluntly, there is almost no situation where Gallup and Cooper both hit their ceilings. That is not to say that the WR2 in this offense doesn’t have tremendous value, it’s just unlikely that they both see almost 10 targets per game. Gallup missed two games in 2019 but ended the year with 112 targets, just seven behind Cooper and half a target better on a per-game basis. He wasn’t as sure-handed as Amari, catching just 59% of the balls thrown his way. This slight dependability issue lowers Gallup’s ceiling a little but his floor feels safer than that of Cooper. Only twice in 2019 did Gallup finish a game with fewer than five targets and there is no reason to see that changing in 2020.
CeeDee Lamb- Floor: 70 | Ceiling: 90
Lamb is the only real newcomer to this offense in 2020. Heading into the draft, he was regarded as one of, if not the best WR prospects available, so it was a bit of shock when he fell to Dallas at 17. Lamb may be the most talented WR3 on any roster in the NFL and should have no trouble earning the trust of Dak Prescott. While Lamb is unlikely to play to slot in this offense, he will still be the 3rd WR option behind Cooper and Gallup, at least for a little while. As the WR3 last year, Randall Cobb finished with 83 targets, including ten total targets in the two games he filled in for Gallup as the WR2. Lamb should see no issue registering 4-5 targets per game but with the tendency of vacated targets to find the RB, his ceiling is slightly lower in Year 1.
Blake Jarwin- Floor: 60 | Ceiling: 90
Another big gap here but you can blame this one on McCarthy. While in Green Bay, his TE1 targets were all over the place and only four times in 13 years did the Packers’ TE1 hit 80+ targets. In Kellen Moore’s offense, the Cowboys threw the ball to the TE 125 last season and with Witten and his 83 targets gone, Jarwin could hit his ceiling pretty easily in 2020. Based on the fact that he saw 41 targets as the TE2 in this offense last year, his floor also feels pretty safe, even if McCarthy tries to freeze him out.
Ezekiel Elliott– Floor: 75 | Ceiling: 100
The big story heading into 2019 was that there was no way that Zeke could repeat the 95 target season he had in 2018. Turns out that was correct and Elliott finished 2019 with just 71 targets, still 9th among all RBs. With a large number of targets up for grabs and our knowledge that RBs tend to benefit the most, repeating what he did in the passing game last year is almost assured for Ezekiel Elliott. His ceiling is also pretty easy to judge since we saw him do it just two years ago. Zeke is as high volume an RB as we have in the NFL when it comes to carries, so the catches are just the icing on the cake and if a good amount of those targets head his way, an overall RB1 season is very possible.
Tony Pollard– Floor: 30 | Ceiling: 50
Pollard could be the single biggest benefactor of the available targets in Dallas this year. As a rookie, he was peppered into the passing game with just 20 targets but caught 75% of them and scored a TD. During his time in Green Bay, McCarthy’s RB2 routinely saw 30-50 targets per season and if Pollard can maintain the pace he showed last year, he could be looking at 37 receptions and two or three TDs. Not bad for a guy firmly stuck behind one of the best RBs in the league on the depth chart. Pollard may be one of the most valuable handcuffs in all of football next season.