Fantasy Football: Projecting Underperforming Cowboys

There's nothing worse than going into the bye week after a loss. When all you want to do is get the bad taste out of your mouth, two weeks off can be a nightmare. The Cowboys' 2-2 record obviously isn't where the team wants to be, but they're hardly out of contention in the NFC East, sitting just a game out of first place. The bye week gives everyone a chance to regain their composure and reflect on what went wrong in the first quarter of the season.

From a statistical standpoint, things are surely looking up for the Cowboys' offense. Stat geeks like me talk about a term called "regression toward the mean." In nerd land, that basically means that things tend to even out over the long run. Tony Romo is on pace to throw 32 interceptions in 2012. Anyone think that's going to happen? Of course not. Romo's been quite unlucky through the season's first four weeks, but that luck will eventually even out and Romo will play as he has always played.

Now, just because a player hasn't lived up to expectations doesn't mean he's automatically going to play well moving forward. Players aren't "due" any more than a quarter that has landed on heads five straight times is "due" to land on tails. But just as a quarter that has come up heads a handful of times in a row will still maintain a relatively even split of heads and tails moving forward, players who are underperforming, as we know is the case with much of the offense, will play closer to their true talent level in the future.

So using a few numbers and a little geek magic, I want to project the play of a few Cowboys who haven't lived up to the hype thus far in 2012. For you fantasy football fanatics out there, these players are awesome ones to target, as their actual value greatly exceeds their current perceived value.

Underperforming Cowboys

QB Tony Romo

  • Average game: 287 yards, 1.25 touchdowns, 2 interceptions

Like I told you earlier in the week, it's difficult to tell people that a guy who just threw five interceptions is playing good football, but it's really true. Unless Romo has lost confidence, which I doubt is the case, he's going to post far superior statistics over the remaining 12 games. It isn't like Romo's completion percentage is down. His 66.9 percent rate is higher than his completion percentage from last year, despite the fact that I've counted the Cowboys as dropping 15 passes.

  • Projected average over final 12 games: 275 yards, 2 touchdowns, 0.75 interceptions

RB DeMarco Murray

  • Average game: 59 yards rushing, 28 yards receiving, 0.25 total touchdowns

Murray is averaging 2.92 yards-per-rush after contact this season. With what the offensive line has given him, Murray has done a good job. You have to think the Cowboys are going to get the running game turned around, or at least headed in the right direction.

Plus, I think you can anticipate Jason Garrett using Murray a little more in the passing game. Murray has racked up 16 receptions already – only two running backs in the NFL have more. Still, I think an increase in screens could come as the result of the offensive line troubles; if the pass-rushers are getting in anyway, you might as well let them, right? I've counted the Cowboys as throwing only seven screens so far this year, four of which were to Murray. Look for that rate to double in the final 12 games.

  • Projected average: 75 yards rushing, 40 yards receiving, 0.6 total touchdowns

WR Dez Bryant

  • Average game: 67 yards, 0 touchdowns

Everyone is down on Bryant right now, but let's remember that this is a receiver in just his third NFL season. Yes, Bryant makes some mental mistakes at times, but he also has elite physical talent. If you play fantasy football, you should be trying to trade for Bryant like crazy because his value will never be lower.

The main area in which Bryant will improve is touchdowns. It's shocking that he hasn't scored yet in 2012, but it will come. The guy has a career touchdown rate of 11.6 percent. If his current rate of receptions remains steady, he's still on pace to catch seven touchdowns over the final 12 games.

One way to get Bryant going is to continue to give him some shots to make plays down the field. Of Bryant's 33 targets this year, four have been thrown 20 or more yards in the air. I realize the offensive line's struggles limit some of the things you can do on offense, but simply giving Bryant a few jump balls when he sees single coverage could work out to the Cowboys' advantage.

  • Projected average: 75 yards, 0.6 touchdowns

TE Jason Witten

  • Average game: 47 yards, 0.25 touchdowns

Although his best days may be behind him, Witten hasn't fallen off the cliff just yet. I've credited Witten with seven drops this year, which is incredible for someone who legitimately has some of the best hands of any tight end in the league. The good news is there's little reason to think the drops will be a trend. Had Witten caught those passes as per usual, we're looking at a guy with 28 catches on his 34 targets.

  • Projected average: 55 yards, 0.4 touchdowns

Like a stock trader who jumps on an underperforming stock, fantasy owners can acquire value by "buying low" on underperforming players. Although it can be difficult to get rid of a high-performing player for one who is in a slump, you have to trust that the numbers will even out over the long haul.

In the case of Romo, Murray, Bryant, Witten and a handful of other Cowboys, there are a lot of opportunities they've left on the table through four games. The same won't happen in the remaining 12.

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