By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
This story is part of Richie Whitt's mostly upbeat but occasionally depressing 2011 Cowboys preview. Elsewhere, find stories about Tony Romo, how to gamble on your home team , Jason Garrett and the footballness of football , and Rob Ryan swearing his $% off, and Tony Romo's make or break year.
As Dez Bryant, the Cowboys' talented but troubled receiver, strolled toward the exit of the Alamodome after a practice last month, a fan called out to him.
"Be good to me this year, Dez! You're on my fantasy team!"
Countered Bryant with a wink, "I'll make you proud."
Like it or not, even in football-obsessed Texas, the fantasy version just about trumps the actual game in fan interest. On any given Sunday in the metroplex, sports bars will be packed with guys who, annoyingly, don't care how, merely how many. Unless they're diehards, they'll gladly exchange a Cowboys win for two David Akers field goals.
Football is the ultimate reality show, but we've gone and turned it into fantasy.
As on the field, the Cowboys were a disappointment in the virtual world in 2010. No 3,000-yard passer and no 1,000-yard runner, although both Witten and Miles Austin topped 1,000 yards receiving. Kicker David Buehler missed eight field goals and even two extra points.
But with Jason Garrett in charge and Romo out of his sling, it should be a more fruitful fantasy season for the Cowboys' skill-position players:
Tony Romo, QB
No reason to believe he won't flirt with 4,000 yards, 30 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. The worry for him is health. He'll have two rookies — Tyron Smith at right tackle and Bill Nagy at left guard — starting on the offensive line, and his instinct to abort the pocket on creative journeys down the field makes him vulnerable to injury. If he can avoid the trainer's table, and if one of the position's other stars can't, it's not hard to imagine Romo finishing as a top five fantasy quarterback.
Felix Jones, RB
Finally the featured back in Garrett's offense, he'll have the chance to do for the Cowboys what Emmitt Smith did in the '90s. He'll run between the tackles. He'll get the ball on the edge. He'll catch screen passes. He'll even get first crack at being Dallas' No. 1 goal-line option. If Jones doesn't combine for 1,750, 50 catches and 10 touchdowns, Garrett will be disappointed. Fantasy owners should be, too.
Tashard Choice, RB
DeMarco Murray, RB
The rookie from Oklahoma is a fantasy long shot. He missed most of training camp with a pulled hamstring and likely won't see much of the field for the first half of the season.
Jason Witten, TE
He's behind only San Diego's Antonio Gates and the Colts' Dallas Clark among tight ends, although this year that group might include Green Bay's Jermichael Finley. Pencil him in for 80 catches, 1,000 yards and seven touchdowns. If you go out of your way to have just one Cowboy on your fantasy team, this is the guy.
Martellus Bennett, TE
See entry Choice, Tashard.
Miles Austin, WR
Before Romo was injured last season, Austin was on pace for 106 catches and 1,500 yards. Romo is back, which makes Austin a top 10 fantasy receiver. Only thing that may dent his value is the emergence of Dez Bryant on the other side of the field.
Dez Bryant, WR
Had his rookie season cut short by a broken ankle, but before that was one of the best yards-after-catch receivers in the game. Garrett will get him the ball at least a couple times per game on quick passes alone. The Cowboys have holes all right, but with Witten, Austin and Bryant, they also have one of the strongest receiving trios in football, fantasy or otherwise.
Dallas' No. 3 receiver last year produced 37 catches and five touchdowns. Imagine what a No. 3 receiver not named Roy Williams can do?