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Cowboys Offense: What's a #1 Wide Receiver, Really?

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There has been a lot of talk this offseason about the Dallas Cowboys receiving corps. The receiver talk lately has been about whether or not Patrick Crayton can fend off Miles Austin for the #2 spot. However, the majority of the wide receiver talk in Dallas this off season has been centered around whether or not Roy Williams can be a #1 wide receiver. To answer that question, we must first make clear the definition of a #1 receiver.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, the top wide receiver for each team in the NFL averaged 74 receptions, 999 yards and just over five touchdowns. The numbers lay a good outline for what you can expect from a #1 receiver as far as tangible production, but the value of a #1 receiver goes far beyond what shows up on a stat sheet.

A true #1 receiver has to be a player who forces opposing coordinators to alter game plans. A true #1 is almost as valuable without the football as he is with it, for the attention he attracts coverage wise opens the field for teammates. In my opinion, a #1 still has to has some success even when he is the focus of an opposing team's defensive strategy. A lead receiver has to beat a double team sometimes, and has to be uncover able man-to-man all the time. Still, a lot of a #1 receiver's success is contingent on the play of those around him. If the team's other pass catchers don't make defenses pay, the lead dog will see a heavy diet of double coverage until they do.

It is fair to say that there is at least some correlation between lead receiver production and overall team success. Here is a look at all of the teams who made the playoffs last season, and a statistical snapshot of each team's #1 wide receiver:

Atlanta- Roddy White- 88 receptions, 1382 yards, 7 TD
Arizona- Larry Fitzgerald- 96 receptions, 1431 yards, 12 TD
Indianapolis- Reggie Wayne- 82 receptions, 1145 yards, 6 TD
San Diego- Vincent Jackson- 59 receptions, 1098 yards, 7 TD
Baltimore- Derrick Mason - 80 receptions, 1037 yards, 5 TD
Miami- Ted Ginn Jr.- 56 receptions, 790 yards, 2 TD
Philadelphia- DeSean Jackson- 62 receptions, 912 yards, 2 TD
Minnesota- Bernard Berrian- 48 receptions, 964 yards, 7 TD
Tennessee- Justin Gage- 34 receptions, 651 yards, 6 TD
Carolina- Steve Smith- 78 receptions, 1421 yards, 6 TD
NY Giants- Domenik Hixon- 43 receptions, 596 yards, 2 TD
Pittsburgh- Hines Ward- 81 receptions, 1043 yards, 7 TD


Of the 12 teams who qualified for the playoffs, 9 got at least 900 yards out of their top wide receiver. The 3 teams who got less than 900 yards out of their lead receiver (Miami, Tennessee, NY Giants) were all bounced from the tournament in their first game. Of course, every team distributes the football differently, so I am not saying that these numbers suggest that force feeding your lead dog is beneficial. What I do think is that the teams who went far in the playoffs all had a receiver whom they knew they could count on when they had to have a play.

By this definition, I do think that Roy Williams will be a more than adequate #1 receiver for the Cowboys this season and on into the future. As I said before, a lead receiver can only be successful if the other receivers, tight ends and backs can keep a defense honest. Roy will be accompanied by another very capable receiver in Patrick Crayton, and a less experienced yet immensely talented wideout Miles Austin. Opposing defenses will also have to contend with the league's top tight end tandem (Jason Witten, Martellus Bennett), and quite possibly the league's best running back trio (Marion Barber, Felix Jones, Tashard Choice). All the while, the offense will be orchestrated by one of the league's better quarterbacks, Tony Romo. All things considered it will be tough for defenses to key on Williams too often.

I think Roy Williams can most definitely have the type of impact that is to be expected of a #1 receiver. Let's all hope that a good season from Roy will translate into a little playoff success as it has for other teams.