Thursday, October 16, 2008

Drama in Dallas

Love them or hate them, you’ve got to admit the Dallas Cowboys sure know how to keep things interesting.

There’s never a lack of drama with America’s Team, and this week has been no different, from the pinkie injury heard ‘round the world to the latest case of Pacman being Pacman. The ‘Boys began their season starring on HBO’s “Hard Knocks,” and the plot twists have only gotten better as the year has unfolded.

Sometimes the circus atmosphere is almost too much to take, but fantasy owners need to keep tuning into the latest dispatches from Big D. The reason is the vast amount of skill players on the Cowboys’ roster – in fact, if you play in the average 10- or 12-team league, there’s a good chance your roster includes at least one guy who wears a giant star on his helmet.

With that in mind, let’s examine some of the biggest storylines emanating Dallas from a fantasy perspective and how they affect your squad.

Start with the news of Tony Romo’s broken finger, which will keep the quarterback out for perhaps the next four weeks. I’ve actually heard some TV talking heads suggest replacing Romo with boring Brad Johnson is a good thing because of all the kid’s boneheaded miscues, and maybe there’s a little truth to that. However, in fantasy, we don’t really care that much about turnovers as long as a QB is producing, and Romo (14 TDs, 281 yards a game) has statistically outperformed most of his peers. It’s going to be a rough few weeks for anyone who’s been riding high thanks to Romo this year.

However, there’s reason for optimism. When Romo returns, he’ll have arguably the league’s best receiving corps at his disposal, thanks to Dallas’ acquisition of Roy Williams from the Detroit Lions for a boatload of 2009 draft picks.

Williams was unhappy, underused and underperforming in Detroit but has been handed his personal “Get Out of Jail Free” card just as the self-imploding Lions placed quarterback Jon Kitna on injured reserve, ending his season. Williams wasn’t pleased to see Calvin Johnson getting all the targets in the Motor City, but I doubt you’ll hear many complaints from him for the time being, despite having to share the ball with Terrell Owens, Jason Witten and Co. He won’t be the No. 1 option and might not even be the clear No. 2 on his new team, but his fantasy value is certainly no less than it was with the lowly Lions.

Williams is a major talent in his prime, and once Romo gets back under center, opposing secondaries will have to pick their poison among those three receivers. That means perhaps some inconsistency at times, but you’ll want Owens and Witten in your lineup every week and Williams as the matchups dictate. That also means it’s safe to drop Patrick Crayton and Miles Austin.

I know what you’re thinking: What about Johnson, the Cowboys’ placeholder QB until Romo returns? Is he worth picking up? Well, probably, if you’re putting Romo in your IR slot or just searching the waiver wire for someone interesting. Johnson’s not going to be gunslinging or running around like a headless chicken out there, so temper your expectations – he’ll do his best to keep Williams and T.O. happy with a few deep passes a game, but mostly he’ll be dumping the ball off to Witten and relying even more on Marion Barber, who could be in for some busy afternoons with backup Felix Jones out two-to-four weeks with a hamstring injury.

As for the ‘Boys on the other side of the ball, what had been a fairly mediocre fantasy defense gets worse with the indefinite suspension of Adam “Pacman” Jones and the injury to fellow cornerback Terence Newman. I’d still probably start the Dallas D against the St. Louis Rams this week, though.

And that brings us back to the poor Lions. The results of the trade are mixed for Johnson: He’s clearly Detroit’s top receiver now, but he’s stuck with directionally-challenged Dan Orlovsky (see video) throwing him the ball, and defenses can now double-team him. Expect to see a little more of Rudi Johnson and Kevin Smith carrying the ball in Detroit.

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