Who is the fantasy odd man out for the Dallas Cowboys when they take on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in a Week 15 game Saturday night?
Odds are it is receiver Dez Bryant.
In the year of “Gotta Eat,” not everyone can be fed on this Cowboys team despite the deliciously appetizing meal the Bucs statistically seem ready to serve up.
Laurent Robinson is not going away despite the return of a Miles Austin, who is still not 100 percent with his hamstring injury. Bryant will likely draw Tampa Bay’s top cornerback, Aqib Talib, who is expected to return from a hamstring strain that sidelined him last week. Jason Witten is still a premiere tight end and now the Cowboys run with all-purpose back Felix Jones.
So many players. So many matchups to exploit. Only one football. Only 60 minutes.
With the loss of power back DeMarco Murray, will Jones slide into that role with the same amount of carries? Will he get the same amount of touches, just more in the passing game? Will Dallas go to more three-receiver sets, making Robinson, Austin and Bryant all appealing plays the next few weeks of fantasy? Unfortunately it’s going to take semifinal week of the fantasy playoffs for the Cowboys to figure out what they want to do offensively. Or they could just exploit a bad Bucs defense however they want and it will change entirely in Week 16.
Jones is a great play as basically the only Dallas RB left. Tampa Bay has lost seven in a row, is ranked 28th in rushing yards allowed (139.7) on a sixth-most 30.2 attempts per game and are ranked last in touchdowns allowed (19).
As for Witten, he is averaging 10.79 fantasy points per game this season — ranked sixth at his position — and the Bucs have not really had to deal with too many top tight ends. The faced New Orleans’ Jimmy Graham in Week 6 and gave up seven catches for 124 yards on 11 targets and faced him again in Week 9 when he had six catches for 78 yards on eight targets. Atlanta’s Tony Gonzalez is the only other TE to see at least eight targets, and he had two catches for 18 yards and a TD in Week 3’s 16-13 Falcons win. Witten has seen under eight targets just once in the last five weeks, and he caught five balls for 87 yards and a TD on six targets in that game vs. Baltimore.
So Jones and Witten should be safe to get theirs. That leaves Robinson, Austin and Bryant.
In fantasy you can’t sit the hot hand and Robinson has been that. His targets have dropped each of the last two weeks, but he continues to produce. Since Week 8, he has 50 targets, 32 catches, 530 yards and eight scores. Only in Week 13 did he not score, but still had 4-for-72.
Austin came back from his hamstring injury, and is still reportedly not 100 percent, but turned seven targets into four catches for 63 yards and a score. He had two catches for 53 yards in the Week 9 game against Seattle before re-injuring his hamstring early in the game. Clearly, he is still a favorite target of QB Tony Romo.
And that brings us to Bryant. He was targeted just two times last week, one week after being targeted a season-high 14 times with no Miles Austin in the lineup. He is always a threat to catch the deep ball — see his one catch for a 50-yard touchdown last week — but going against Talib and with so many mouths to feed in the Dallas offense, Bryant will have to be the one to lower your expectations for this week.
Talib has not necessarily lit the world on fire this season. He’s coming off a hamstring injury that’s sidelined him the last two games and Bryant could blow right past him in his return. But Talib has only allowed over 54 yards once since Week 4 and only two TDs in that same time.
Someone has to be the odd man out and stats point to Bryant.
The Cowboys have three receivers that can be the one-long TD type of players and even Jones can take one to the house from anywhere on the field. So it’s almost hope and pray for Bryant with all three receivers active.
I hope I’m wrong, because I have Bryant in two leagues, but unless the Cowboys and Romo put up Case Keenum-Houston Cougars numbers, someone is going to get a little less to eat Saturday night.
By Corby A. Yarbrough @Corby_Yarbrough on Twitter