By Joel Deering
One of the most talked about position groups of the NFL offseason has been the Dallas Cowboys wide receivers. After not living up to expectations last season, everyone knew the Dallas Cowboys needed to do some work at the receiver position in the offseason. Dallas came out of free agency with a couple of signings at the receiver position (Allen Hurns and Deonte Thompson).
Not too long before the NFL Draft, the Cowboys released Dez Bryant, who was their best receiver. He also hadn’t lived up to expectations the last few seasons, but how could the Cowboys be better off without him?
Then NFL Draft came along, where many thought the Cowboys would draft a receiver in the first round. Dallas did draft a receiver, but it wasn’t until the third round when they selected Michael Gallup. Dallas also selected receiver Cedric Wilson in the sixth round. During the draft, the Cowboys traded for former Rams receiver, Tavon Austin, but also made a trade to get rid of Ryan Switzer.
After free agency signings, releasing Dez, and the draft, nobody felt better about this group of receivers. A couple of rookies drafted in the third and sixth rounds weren’t going to get this group back on track. The free agency signings were good additions, but nothing special.
To make things even more questionable for this group, TE Jason Witten decided to retire during the NFL Draft, leaving the Cowboys very inexperienced at the TE spot. They already released their number one receiver, and now they’d lost their only capable TE too!
Between the loss of Dez and Witten, this receivers group and offense as a whole was being totally wrote off heading into the 2018 season. Many still believe this receivers group will be one of the worst in the NFL. While I believe it’s possible this group could struggle, I also believe they could surprise a lot of people and be much better than expected. In my mind, this group of receivers for the Cowboys has boom or bust written all over them. Below I’ll break down why this group could either be better than we think or exactly what we expect them to be.
I’m going to start with the bust because this is pretty much everything everyone is saying about this group already. Does Dallas have a true number one wide receiver on their roster? No. Allen Hurns is the closest thing to a number one they have, but he was never the number one guy in Jacksonville. Hurns has had 1,000 yards in a season before, but he was always the second guy. By statistical numbers, technically Cole Beasley has been a number one receiver before when he led the team in receiving yards in 2016, but he still had under 1,000 receiving yards, which in my book doesn’t qualify.
Terrance Williams has a career high of 840 receiving yards, but the past two seasons he hasn’t even made it to 600 yards. Last season he didn’t even have a TD catch! Then we’ve got rookie receiver Michael Gallup, who obviously hasn’t done anything in the NFL because he’s a rookie. Tavon Austin and Deonte Thompson are new to the team, and neither of them have really established themselves as go to guys during their careers. Then we’ve got all the other guys like Noah Brown and Lance Lenoir, who have either played in a primarily blocking roll or has spent time on the practice squad.
Then we come to the TE group. With Jason Witten gone, this group has a combined total of 9 catches for 94 yards and 0 touchdowns in the NFL. All of those catches came from one guy over the course of three years. To make things worse, Dak Prescott doesn’t have a lot of chemistry with about half of his receivers because they’re new to the team.
To make things even worse than worse, I saw this stat on Twitter which was posted by Jon Machota. The stat was about Dak Prescott’s career TD passes, which showed as follows:
Dez Bryant: 14
Cole Beasley: 9
Jason Witten: 7
Brice Butler: 6
Ezekiel Elliott: 3
Terrance Williams: 3
Gavin Escobar: 1
James Hanna: 1
Rod Smith: 1
Prescott has thrown a TD pass to nine different receivers in his two year career, five of which are no longer with the team. Three of the top four guys are gone. Throw that in with everything else above and you’ve got what looks to be an absolute disaster.
After all the talk about how terrible this offense is going to be, Dak Prescott stepped in during the Cowboys first preseason game and led the Cowboys to a touchdown on their first drive. On that drive, Prescott went 3-of-3 for 39 yards with 1 TD pass. Who caught the touchdown pass? It was rookie receiver Michael Gallup! Prescott also completed passes to running back Rod Smith and TE Blake Jarwin on the drive. In one series of one preseason game, Prescott and his receivers temporarily silenced the doubters.
Prescott only played one series, so we didn’t get to really see how he’d do with these other receivers. During the rest of the game, several of these new receivers had catches. Tavon Austin had two catches for 25 yards, Blake Jarwin had another catch, rookie running back Bo Scarborough had two catches for 19 yards, Allen Hurns had a catch, Terrance Williams had two catches, and several other guys contributed.
There’s still three more preseason games to play, and it obviously doesn’t really count until the regular season, but we’ll see how Prescott and these receivers do during the rest of their preseason work. So far though, it doesn’t seem like the Cowboys are lacking playmakers at the position.
In the bust category I mentioned a tweet by Jon Machota about Prescott’s career TD passes. One positive thing about that list of names is that Cole Beasley was ranked second. Beasley is a target Prescott has always trusted, and he’s still in Dallas. I expect Beasley to be a highly targeted guy for Prescott, especially in the red zone.
In addition to that tweet, I saw another tweet about the Cowboys receivers. This tweet said, “The Cowboys are the only NFL team entering the 2018 season with 3 wide receivers who have averaged at least 5.0 yards after the catch since the start of 2014.”
Those receivers are Tavon Austin (5.7), Cole Beasley (5.3), and Allen Hurns (5.0). You know what that tells me? This tells me the Cowboys have playmakers at the receiver position. When these guys get the ball, they extend plays. These guys get extra yards. They’re playmakers. This is why they have boom potential. If these receivers get the ball, they’ll do positive things for this team.
Boom or Bust?
It’s still to early to tell if the Cowboys receivers will boom or bust in 2018. While it makes perfect sense to be concerned about this group, you can also see a lot of positive things allowing them to be considered in the boom category. Even if you’re not a Cowboys fan, how this group of receivers performs during 2018 should be something to keep your eye on, especially if they’re playing against your team this year. You might think your defense will have it easy, but these receivers might also surprise you. Just don’t count out this group because they don’t have a guy named Dez Bryant.