Cowboys Preview Capsule
DALLAS COWBOYS (9-7)
New faces: LB Leighton Vander Esch, G Connor Williams, WR Allen Hurns, WR/KR Tavon Austin, WR Michael Gallup, LB Joe Thomas, DT Jihad Ward, T Cameron Fleming, TE Dalton Schultz, WR Deonte Thompson.
Key losses: TE Jason Witten, WR Dez Bryant, LB Anthony Hitchens, CB Orlando Scandrick, WR Brice Butler, WR/KR Ryan Switzer, TE James Hanna, RB Alfred Morris.
Strengths: Running game with Ezekiel Elliott, now free of suspension that loomed last year and had to be served halfway through season. Cowboys want passing game that’s in transition to feed off rushing attack. Offensive line still strong but facing big question with center Travis Frederick battling Guillain-Barre syndrome. Condition that affects nervous system has sidelined four-time Pro Bowler indefinitely. Defense looked stout in preseason and returns DE DeMarcus Lawrence, who tied for second in NFL with 14½ sacks last season.
Weaknesses: Safety dangerously thin with move of Byron Jones to cornerback and hamstring injury that could sideline Xavier Woods at least for opener. Cowboys fans have constant eye on Earl Thomas holdout in Seattle. Former Texas standout has made no secret of desire to play for Dallas. Receiving corps largely unproven after retirement of Witten, release of Bryant. Gallup, third-round pick, has looked good in preseason. Cole Beasley, dean of Dallas group, was strong in camp. Cowboys have high hopes that Hurns can have impact as newcomer.
Fantasy Players To Watch: Elliott is new Tony Romo for Cowboys as player they can’t live without and best fantasy option. Former Ohio State star and 2016 NFL rushing champ as rookie won’t be around long in drafts. Backup Rod Smith could get some TDs while Elliott rests. Will be difficult to pinpoint best options at receiver before season starts.
Vegas Says: Super Bowl 30-1. Over/under wins 8.5.
Expectations: Cowboys counting on bounce-back year from QB Dak Prescott, who slipped in second season and missed playoffs after winning NFL Offensive Rookie of Year award for 13-3 team. Missing playoffs again will raise questions about future of coach Jason Garrett, who has reached postseason twice in seven full seasons. Formula for Cowboys has often been offense-first in 10 years with Garrett on staff (three-plus as offensive coordinator). Could be defense-first year for Dallas with Lawrence, linebacker Sean Lee and host of promising young players, including CB Chidobe Awuzie. Cowboys expect to challenge Super Bowl champion Eagles in NFC East.