Playing outside is a challenge even for a taller wide out, simply for the fact that the receiver is going against the opponent's best cover guys snap after snap. More and more teams are now looking for those "big" corners that have recently experienced success in another NFL city, so height is becoming even more of a premium for professional football teams when they start evaluating potential receivers. Why then are the Dallas Cowboys working with the 5'9" Cole Beasley, who is small even for the slot, on the outside?
This very question was posed to Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett recently. The coach was frank in his assessment, admitting that Beasley was facing a serious disadvantage due to his size.
"Bigger guys outside don’t have to win by as much because they can fight for that ball when it’s up in the air. That’s how his size hurts him." - Jason Garrett
A prototypical NFL outside receiver can gain a step on his man and be considered to be open due to his height allowing him to go up and make the catch over top of the defender. This advantage is one that Beasley will not have due to the "vertical challenge" that he faces. Even with a yard or two of separation from his man, the flight path of the football will still bring the pass within the wing span of the defensive back. For Cole Beasley to be wide open, he will have to gain several yards separation from the cornerback, and that will not happen on a consistent basis, at least not at the game's highest level.
What then makes the Dallas offensive brain-trust think that moving Cole Beasley outside is a good idea? According to Garrett, he will be effective because of the same characteristics that have made him a valuable third-down option as a slot receiver.
"What helps him out there is his quickness, his change of direction. He’s a very good route runner, and he’s able to kind of create the space that he needs as an outside receiver a lot like he’s able to do inside. His change of direction is really pretty unique, and he has a real good feel. He’s very quarterback-friendly when he runs his routes. We’re trying to give him opportunities in a lot of different spots. He’s most natural playing inside, but he’s certainly not a non-factor as an outside receiver."
Beasley will not necessarily be looking to take his man vertical and catch the deep ball from the outside. Instead, look for the diminutive pass catcher to take his defender out of his comfort zone where he has assistance from the sideline. Beasley will be using his elusiveness to gain an advantage, perhaps forcing corners to cover underneath routes where he will have an advantage.
During off season activities, the Cowboys are looking to see what works and what does not. It is a learning time for everyone involved. Beasley has only limited experience playing outside, and he is trying to master his new responsibilities. Good things happen when the Cowboys get the ball into the hands of the SMU product, and now the team is looking for more creative ways to do just that. The days of the Dallas offense being predictable appear to be coming to an end, assuming the team can figure out some things that will work.
"I played outside maybe 10 plays my senior year in college. That’s probably the most I got before getting here. Most of it’s just kind of learning what you can do and what you can’t do, and I have a good feel for all that stuff in the slot. Obviously, I’m going to be more successful in the slot right now because I’ve done it for four years. Once I start getting more reps at outside receiver, I’ll start learning what I can do and what I can’t, and I’ll go up from there, too." - Cole Beasley
It is easy for us to sit back and say that this line of thought will not pan out simply due to the physical limitations that Garrett gave. Still, the fact that the team is looking to do something different is encouraging; and just maybe, as the coach stated, the tools that make Beasley effective inside will pay off when he goes wide as well.