Sean Lee injury opens Cowboys' fantasy prospects

The Dallas Cowboys are going to be fantasy football gold next season.

"That's gold, Jerry. Gold!"

You might be asking how that can be true. After all, the team has had a forgettable offseason ... especially on the defensive side. DeMarcus Ware, the franchise's best defender in the last decade, was released because of cap issues. Jason Hatcher, who had an impressive 11 sacks last season, signed with the rival Washington Redskins. Anthony Spencer had microfracture knee surgery and is a candidate to begin the season on the reserve/PUP list, while one of the team's "biggest" offseason additions, Henry Melton, is coming back from a reconstructive procedure on his knee.

As if all this wasn't bad enough, now the 'Boys have lost their current top defender, Sean Lee, for the entire 2014 campaign due to a torn ACL. That leaves new defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli with a core of linebackers that includes Bruce Carter, DeVonte Holloman and Kyle Wilber.

Where, oh where are you Chuck Howley?

All of these events follow a 2013 campaign that saw the Cowboys defense set marks for being bad. Historically bad. The team surrendered a league-high average of 415.3 yards per game. The opposition averaged 27.0 points per game against them, too. That translated to some serious numbers scored against them in fantasy land as well.

Quarterbacks averaged over 21 fantasy points per game against them, the second-most in the NFL. No defense gave up more fantasy points to running backs (24.68 PPG) than the Cowboys either. That included allowing a ridiculous 63.90 points to the New Orleans Saints ... in one game!

That was the same Saints team that ranked 25th in rushing offense. Dallas' Swiss cheese defense also surrendered the sixth-most fantasy points (24.00 PPG) to wide receivers and the fourth-most points (9.54 PPG) to tight ends.

Remember, all of this ineptitude occurred with Ware, Lee and Spencer on the field.

Obviously, this is all music to the ears of the more prominent fantasy players on the Redskins, Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants, who face the Cowboys twice a year. It's also good news for members of the AFC South and NFC West; the two other divisions Dallas will face in 2014. I can promise you this, Colin Kaepernick will be listed as a start in my Start 'Em, Sit 'Em column in Week 1.

The loss of Lee, coupled with the rest of the mess on the team's defense, isn't just good for the fantasy prospects of their opponents. It's also good news for the Cowboys offense. Think about it ... how many times will Tony Romo be throwing the football late in games in an attempt to erase deficits? How many absolute shootouts will go on in the Jerry Dome next season? Remember that Week 5 game against the Denver Broncos last season? You know, the one where Dallas scored 48 points ... and allowed 51?

That could become a more regular occurrence.

Here's another little nugget to wrap your fantasy brain around. Regardless of the opponent, deficit, etc., new coordinator Scott Linehan's offenses in Detroit scored a ton of fantasy points. Those units threw the football a ton, as quarterback Matthew Stafford attempted no fewer than 634 passes from 2011-2013. In 2012, he broke the NFL record for passes thrown with 727. That was 322 more attempts than the Seattle Seahawks had as a team that season!

That's a positive for Tony Romo, who will have a legitimate chance to reach the 5,000-yard passing mark in 2014. That's a nice level of potential for a player you'll be able to draft after Round 8.

Linehan's system and the Cowboys projected bad defense is also good news for Dez Bryant's statistical potential. In fact, he could push Calvin Johnson as the top wide receiver in fantasy football. Over the last three years, Megatron ranked no worse than third in fantasy points among wideouts and was the position's top scorer on two different occasions (2011, 2012). Bryant, who is entering a contract year, will be in line to post ridiculous totals both on the field and for your fantasy team. Veteran tight end Jason Witten and fantasy sleeper Terrance Williams should benefit as well.

Let's not forget about DeMarco Murray, either.

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The young and talented running back, who is also in a contract year, should benefit from Linehan's presence in part because of his skills as a pass catcher. In 2013, he hauled in an impressive 53 passes in 14 games. That's going to keep him in the mix even when the Dallas defense falters. If you need more proof, just look at the numbers Reggie Bush and Joique Bell produced in the same backfield last season.

This dynamic duo were the lone teammates to both rank among the top 17 running backs based on fantasy points, and each of them hauled in 50-plus passes out of the backfield.

Clearly, the future isn't so bright for the Dallas Cowboys on the field. Alas, the postseason drought is likely to continue in Big D. But wins and loses in the NFL don't mean much in fantasy football. So while Dallas fans like myself might be miserable once again, drowning in the sea of sorrow of what will be another disappointment campaign, at least I can take solace in the fact that this team has the potential to produce gangbusters totals for my fantasy football team in 2014.


Michael Fabiano is an award-winning fantasy football analyst on NFL.com and NFL Network and a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association (FSWA) Hall of Fame. Have a burning question on anything fantasy related? Tweet it to @Michael_Fabiano or send a question via Facebook!

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