The Dallas Cowboys started their season with beach cruisers on Hard Knocks and ended their season with a bang, trouncing the Philadelphia Eagles who… had nothing to play for. Gardner Minshew started the game, and it ended predictably. But, the Cowboys’ season has been anything but predictable. They have had an up-and-down, with various players being declared “the problem” as a part of the normal ebb-and-flow of the season. But, what should we remember from America’s Team in 2021 as we get our acts together for our 2022 fantasy football drafts?
- Traditionally, we think of Dak Prescott as a dual-threat quarterback. He’s placed in the same ballpark as guys like Deshaun Watson and (a much younger) Aaron Rodgers in this regard. But, in his first season following his catastrophic ankle injury, that wasn’t necessarily true. Prescott ended the year averaging just 9.1 yards per game, with only three games over his career average of 17.2 rushing yards per game. This drop in yardage cost Dak about 1.1 fantasy points per game. If you factor in his lost touchdowns, this is the difference between his rank (QB10) and his ADP (QB5). His yards per game rushing were halved from 2020, from 18.6 to 9.1. We have to see this bounce back before we consider him in the top-five again in 2022.
- Ezekiel Elliott played most of the year banged up, but still had plenty of opportunities to produce; he ended the year seventh in running back carries and sixth in running back targets. While he ended the year seventh in running back rushing yards, he finished 27th in running back receiving yards, behind Ameer Abdullah, Kenyan Drake, and even Kyle Juszczyk. A lot of these issues, honestly, stem from a week nine injury against the Broncos. Prior to this injury, Zeke was on pace to average 97 yards per game on 19 touches (5.1 yards per touch). Following the injury, he averaged 57 yards per game on 15 touches (3.8 yards per touch).
- The Cowboys considered sitting Ezekiel Elliott in the middle of his bad stretch of games thanks to an amazing breakout performance from his backup, Tony Pollard. Pollard ended the year averaging 70.4 yards per game, which didn’t top Zeke’s 76 yards per game, but it was a lot closer than a lot of people thought. The incredible part about Pollard’s 2021 was not his raw yardage, but that he sat 5.5 yards behind the team’s RB1 on just 11.3 touches per game, to Zeke’s 16.7 touches. On the season, 35 running backs had at least 150 touches. Just one had a yard per touch over 6: Tony Pollard, with 6.3 yards per touch. The electric Jonathan Taylor, the prohibitive 1.01 next year, ranked second with 5.8 yards per touch.
- Heading into the 2020 season, the fantasy football community had high hopes for Blake Jarwin. He tore his ACL the Cowboys’ first game of the year, and Dalton Schultz took over. Fast forward to 2021, and we weren’t sure who would take charge. Turns out, it was Dalton Schultz. Schultz ended the year with 104 targets, 78 receptions, 808 yards, and 8 touchdowns, good enough for a top-five tight end season. But, unlike some other guys in the top ten (cough—Dawson Knox—cough), it feels like Schultz is creating something for the future. He was sixth in tight end targets, third in receptions, and sixth in yards. His season maps almost perfectly onto Zach Ertz’s 2016 and 2017 seasons. In those two years, Ertz averaged 108 targets, 820 yards, and six touchdowns per season.
- 2021 was, by far, Amari Cooper’s worst season (or partial season) as a Cowboy. He finished the year averaging 57.7 yards per game, after averaging 74 yards per game over his tenure with the Cowboys. Cooper has always been an up-and-down receiver, averaging 3.5 WR1 games, 4.5 WR2 games, 3 WR3 games, and 5 WR4+ games in his two years with the Cowboys. Unfortunately, this year, he had all of the bust with nine of the boom. Cooper had over half of his games (eight) end without a top-36 wide receiver performance. Cooper still managed 3 WR1 games and 3 WR3 games. Oddly enough, the games where he finished outside the top-36 at wide receiver pulled from his “pretty good” WR2 performances this year; he had one such game.