Without T.O., is Romo still an elite fantasy quarterback?

It’s the debate that began as soon as the Cowboys released Terrell Owens: Where does Tony Romo rank without his prized target in the passing game? I’ve exchanged emails with fellow Fools writer Chadam and several other fantasy football compatriots since my post on the release of the infamous No. 81, but I’ve been reluctant to pass judgment…until now.

T.O. was the big target, drawing the most balls from Romo, even when he couldn’t catch them all, and striking the most fear in opposing defenses. Sure, the Cowboys still have tight end Jason Witten, who is likely to be the leading receiver again anyway, but will he be open across the middle without a legitimate playmaker demanding coverage on the outside? Hard to say.

The Hole T.O. Leaves Behind
Romo’s hopes for fantasy glory this season rest in newly-promoted No. 1 receiver Roy Williams, a playmaker during his days at Texas who has had just one dominant season in the NFL. Williams spent most of his time in Detroit putting up mediocre numbers and suffering from injuries before falling into the shadow of Calvin Johnson.

After being traded to Dallas, Williams never seemed to get on track, either due to unknown injuries or an inability to get in sync with Romo. While the talent may be there for him to be a true No. 1 in the Cowboys’ offense, Williams will have to duplicate or exceed his best season in the NFL to make it happen.

Finding Stability at the No. 2 Position
As if it wasn’t enough to have a questionable No. 1, the Cowboys also have a hole on the other side of the ball. While he currently ranks No. 2 on the depth chart, Patrick Crayton has been inconsistent and untrustworthy as a No. 2 wide receiver for the Cowboys. Without T.O. drawing coverage, his No. 3-ish talents just won’t cut it. The promising but oft-injured Miles Austin has a chance to snag this spot in 2009, but, once again, we’re looking for a player to have a breakout year, better than any of his previous seasons. Crayton, if he keeps his starting spot, can do little to help Romo remain at the top of the fantasy charts.

More Running, More Problems
Romo’s chances to put up those fantasy points may also be limited this season by adjustments to the offense. The emergence of Tashard Choice late last season gives the Cowboys the opportunity to put the Giants’ three-headed beast running attack into place. The New York Giants ran over almost every team in the league last season thanks to Brandon Jacobs, Derrick Ward and Ahmad Bradshaw playing Earth, Wind and Fire. Carries slotted for Marion Barber, Felix Jones and Tashard Choice will balance out the Cowboys’ attack but would also take the ball out of Romo’s hands more than in the past two seasons, which will further limit his chances for fantasy success.

Slotting Romo for 2009
In short, Romo’s got a question mark for a No. 1 receiver, a battle for the No. 2 spot and a potential shift in the offense towards the running game. He may still have his tight end in Witten, but all of these uncertainties don’t bode well for him remaining among the best of the best in fantasy.

It takes a lot for a Cowboys fan to admit that his quarterback has been taken down a notch, but all signs point to a downgrade.

Last season, the Cowboys aerial attack suffered because teams would shade towards Owens and keep him from getting open, a problem Roy Williams was brought in to combat. Without Owens, Williams will get the same treatment. Miles Austin or Sam Hurd could breakout this season and raise the talent level at the No. 2 spot, but that’s expecting a lot of players who haven’t shown they can carry a starting load just yet.

I still expect Romo to finish in the top 10 at his position, but gone, at least for this season, are the days when you could safely draft the Cowboys’ quarterback in the first round and build a team around his production. He’s a high second-tier quarterback selection at best but a solid starter, and I still have him among my top seven fantasy quarterbacks going into 2009. Depending on your location — I’m out of luck in Texas — you might just be able to talk him down enough to get him at a bargain rate this season in the fourth round of your fantasy draft or later.

If you agree to disagree, do it up in the comments. I’m certainly open to keeping this talk going. After all, Tony Romo is my quarterback — single tear.

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  • http://fantasyfootballninja.com/ fantasyfootballninja

    hey fellas, great site. but i have to question the following statement: “…but gone, at least for this season, are the days when you could safely draft the Cowboys’ quarterback in the first round and build a team around his production.”

    why on God's green earth would you ever draft a quarterback in the first round? or the second? or the third? the amount of value to be had a quarterback, this year in particular, far exceeds any other position. bar none. i did a writeup on this very topic, http://fantasyfootballninja.com/index.php/2009/… , and would appreciate any feedback you might have.

    i look forward to visiting your site again in the future. keep up the good work.

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  • http://www.fantasyfootballfools.com Jacob

    @fantasyfootballninja:

    Thanks for your comment, Ninja. You raise a good question. I realized from your comment that I probably should have explained when a quarterback is deserving of a first-round pick. It's rare, but with the RBBC providing a solid plateau in running back value after the first few rounds in recent years, quarterbacks have taken over some of the top positions in fantasy production, especially in leagues that award six points for passing touchdowns.

    Just this last season in one of my six-point touchdown leagues, Drew Brees, Philip Rivers, Aaron Rodgers, Jay Cutler, Kurt Warner, Peyton Manning and Donovan McNabb all topped the season-long fantasy point ranks ahead of the first RB on the board, DeAngelo Williams. Now, most of these guys could be had in later rounds and surprised owners by exceeding expectations, but the elite of the elite members of this group — Drew Brees and Peyton Manning — cost their owners a first or second round pick in this league.

    Assuming Tom Brady owners replaced him with Matt Cassel post-injury and counting them as the same player, the other two members of what I would argue was the elite of the elite at QB last season — Tom Brady/Matt Cassel and Tony Romo — both also finished within the top 15 fantasy players.

    Looking at these numbers, it's easy to see how building a team around the right quarterbacks, the elite four or five who are almost guaranteed to finish among the top, can pay off. Last season, you could draft an elite quarterback like Brady, Manning, Brees or Romo and still get Michael Turner, DeAngelo Williams or Matt Forte in later rounds, providing you with quite the formidable team.

    Say you passed on the lower-end first-round picks like Steven Jackson or Marshawn Lynch last season and instead took Brees in the first and went RB in the second and third rounds. It's hard to argue that was a bad move when you look at the season-long totals. Sure, you could have drafted a QB like Aaron Rodgers late and lucked out, but it's hard to predict which of the mid-range QBs will rise to glory from season to season.

    Taking a quarterback is no longer as taboo as it once was — as I discussed last preseason — http://tinyurl.com/6xnwjg — but it's only acceptable if you 1) take one of the elite quarterbacks who can consistently turn in dominant fantasy performances and 2) do your homework on how to adapt your strategy to build around a quarterback. You must know your running backs and wide receivers to maximize your value throughout the rest of your draft.

    As I discussed in this article, Romo is no longer one of those guys you can depend on in the early rounds. He was that guy in 2007, but he fell off a little with injury in 2008 and is likely to dip a bit more in production in 2009.

    Love to continue this discussion. Draft strategy changes from year to year, league to league and pick position to pick position, but it never gets old.

  • http://myfantasyplayers.com/ Michael

    Williams had a down year with Williams last year, but I expect him to bounce back now that he is the number 1 WR for Dallas. Romo will be throwing alot of balls his way as well as Wittens. Both players will get huge years and WIlliams will put up even bigger numbers than he did in Detroit in 2006 where he posted 82 receptions, 1,310 rec yards and 7 TD's. Expect big things from Roy Williams next year, he won't dissapoint.

  • http://thebottomlinesportsshow.blogspot.com/ the bottomline sports show

    I believe that this year is “make or break year” for Tony Romo, thios team is always “overhyped”. 12 years and counting.

  • http://www.fantasyfootballfools.com Jacob

    Well, it would be nice if Williams put together a career year for the Cowboys, but I have to be a little skeptical going into this season. Whether Roy Williams becomes the receiver many think he could be this year or not, Romo's still likely to take a dip as the Cowboys utilize the run game more without T.O. and try to find a reliable guy to compliment Williams on the other side of the field.

  • http://www.fantasyfootballfools.com Jacob

    The media does love the Cowboys … but as a Cowboys fan, I'm not sure that I can comment on that “overhyped” part. I do agree that Romo has it all on the table this year. Without T.O., he has become the undisputed face of the franchise, and this season he's going to have to prove he's the guy all the Cowboys fans have thought he was for the last two seasons. Thanks for the comment.

  • http://www.fantasyfootballfools.com Jacob

    Well, it would be nice if Williams put together a career year for the Cowboys, but I have to be a little skeptical going into this season. Whether Roy Williams becomes the receiver many think he could be this year or not, Romo's still likely to take a dip as the Cowboys utilize the run game more without T.O. and try to find a reliable guy to compliment Williams on the other side of the field.

  • http://www.fantasyfootballfools.com Jacob

    The media does love the Cowboys … but as a Cowboys fan, I'm not sure that I can comment on that “overhyped” part. I do agree that Romo has it all on the table this year. Without T.O., he has become the undisputed face of the franchise, and this season he's going to have to prove he's the guy all the Cowboys fans have thought he was for the last two seasons. Thanks for the comment.

  • http://www.fantasyfootballfools.com Jacob

    Well, it would be nice if Williams put together a career year for the Cowboys, but I have to be a little skeptical going into this season. Whether Roy Williams becomes the receiver many think he could be this year or not, Romo's still likely to take a dip as the Cowboys utilize the run game more without T.O. and try to find a reliable guy to compliment Williams on the other side of the field.

  • http://www.fantasyfootballfools.com Jacob

    The media does love the Cowboys … but as a Cowboys fan, I'm not sure that I can comment on that “overhyped” part. I do agree that Romo has it all on the table this year. Without T.O., he has become the undisputed face of the franchise, and this season he's going to have to prove he's the guy all the Cowboys fans have thought he was for the last two seasons. Thanks for the comment.

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