If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then Wes Welker of the Broncos, Jimmy Graham of the Saints, and Darren Sproles, now with the Eagles, should be getting swelled heads over the Dallas Cowboys' efforts to clone some of their offensive players in their likenesses.
The Cowboys have three players on their roster whom they see as having similar traits and skill sets as the Pro Bowl wide receiver, and tight end, Welker and Graham, and the prolific, all-purpose running back, Sproles, in Cole Beasley, Gavin Escobar, and Lance Dunbar. That's not to say that the Cowboys' staff consider their homegrown players to be as talented as the NFL stars they seek to emulate, only that their coaches envision them playing similar roles in the Cowboys' offense as as Welker, Graham, and Sproles have traditionally played for their respective teams over their careers.
At 5'8" and 180 pounds, Dallas' own Cole Beasley (by way of Little Elm and SMU) is strikingly similar, physically to Texas Tech product Wes Welker (5'9", 185), a man who has made a very good living for himself catching passes from a couple of guys named Brady and Manning – a LOT of passes. The 2012 UDFA, Beasley is easily the most experienced of the three Cowboy Clones, and he has already proven himself to be not only a reliable receiver out of the slot, but virtually uncoverable as well, with his combination of quickness, speed, and elusiveness. As last season progressed, his Welker-like knack for getting open, especially on third downs, made him a favorite of Tony Romo, which has continued to be the case for all the quarterbacks throughout these offseason practices. We've been told Beasley is learning the outside receiver positions as well, with Dez Bryant in the slot, adding versatility to his repertoire which will only give him more opportunities to get on the field this coming season. If both he and Romo can stay healthy, Beasley could have a breakout season.
The Cowboys coaches are quietly giddy about the possibilities of giving last year's much maligned second round pick, Gavin Escobar, an expanded role this coming season, using him more as a receiver in much the same way that the Saints use Graham to set up mismatches in favor of the offense. With a year's experience in the offense under his belt, and after participating in the club's offseason training program, Escobar has exchanged fat for muscle, adding strength and an extra five pounds to his now 6'6", 255 pound frame, without sacrificing any of his speed. Like Graham, Escobar has the potential to be a nightmare for any linebacker (too fast), safety (too strong), or corner (too big) who has the misfortune to have to cover him one-on-one. It will be up to Escobar to consistently take advantage of his unquestioned athleticism, and to make the most of his opportunities when they present themselves, but the sky is the limit for this young player.
I am not the first, nor will I be the last, to draw a comparison between Beasley's fellow 2012 UDFA classmate, running back Lance Dunbar, and the newest Eagle, by way of the Saints and Chargers, Darren Sproles. At 5'8" and 188 pounds, Dunbar is two inches taller, and two pounds lighter than the ten year veteran Sproles, who holds the record for the most all-purpose yards in an NFL season, 2,696 which he set in 2011 with the Saints. The Cowboys would be thrilled if Dunbar could contribute a third of that production in his third season with the team. Like Escobar, Dunbar flashed his tremendous potential at times during the 2013 campaign, culminating with a scintillating Thanksgiving Day performance against the Raiders, where he caught a 12-yard pass, and rushed for 82 yards on just 12 carries, including a career-long 45-yard run, before suffering a season ending knee injury, that he is just now recovering from. If he returns healthy, and there's every indication to believe that he will, we can expect to see more of Dunbar in offensive coordinator Scott Linehan's version of Jason Garrett's offense this year, especially in the passing game. While he may be the first running back off the bench, Dunbar is not a true backup to starter DeMarco Murray, but more of a specialty, or "change-of-pace" back, with a package of plays designed specifically for him to take advantage of his talents which are unique on the team, and shared by only a few other running backs in the league, most notably Darren Sproles.
If the Cowboys can get significant contributions from their three young clones, Beasley, Escobar, and Dunbar that in any way reflect the past success of their models, Welker, Graham, and Sproles, it will almost certainly make the road to a winning 2014 season and beyond, a lot easier to travel.