The first place to look if you are thinking about Cowboys’ roster battles is our own 2017 Dallas Cowboys Interactive Roster Builder. This handy tool is kept up to date by OCC, and is well worth the visit because it shows that roster battles aren’t always within position groups, but across groups. For example, keeping a third quarterback or a tenth or eleventh defensive lineman means going light somewhere else. We also know that roster churn is a year round business, so there are likely to be some new names by training camp, and potentially even after final cut down day. With that caveat, let’s begin.
Part II - Wide Receiver
These are the players currently on the roster. We’ll lead with the locks, followed by the probables, then get to the fight for the last spot.
- Dez Bryant. Dez is obviously the unquestioned #1 receiver for Dallas, but he hasn’t produced at the level of his post-2014 contract, which now has a cap hit of $17 million in 2017. That may be chalked up to injury, and not having enough time to sync with Dak Prescott last year. They turned it on in the playoff game against Green Bay, however, so one would expect him to have a monster year.
- Terrance Williams. Re-signed this offseason for a four-year, $17 million contract (the same money Dez will make in a single year), Williams fits perfectly with the Cowboys. He was only fourth in targets with 61, and if Zeke receives a lot more passes, he may slide to fifth. But he averaged 13.5 yards per reception, caught four TDs, and is a great downfield blocker. Remember this 83-yard Zeke TD against Pittsburgh? Look at Williams’ essential blocks to spring him.
- Cole Beasley. Little Cole Beasley was actually Dallas’s most valuable receiver last year. First in targets, receptions, and yards. He finished fifth in the NFL in Football Outsiders’ DVOA and DYAR rankings. If Dez is fully back, he may lose his leading role, but he should remain extremely valuable the way he moves the chains.
- Ryan Switzer. Switzer is essentially a lock. We put him here only because we’re not yet in training camp, and he hasn’t seen a single preseason game. Who knows how good Ryan Switzer might be for the Cowboys? This was part of our Burning Question #7. He showed up in OTAs and minicamp and turned heads, while Beasley and Lucky Whitehead were out with injuries. He’s more than a punt returner. The real question is whether Scott Linehan can draw up enough of the right kind of plays to maximize his talent.
Fighting For That Last Spot
The Dallas Cowboys have kept only five wide receivers on their opening roster for each of the last four seasons. In our article asking whether Dallas has enough balls to go around on offense, we pointed out that it’s unlikely Dallas could find any targets for a sixth receiver. Lucky Whitehead only saw three targets last year as the fifth guy.
Butler was really the fourth wide receiver last year, with 32 targets compared to only three for Lucky Whitehead. Yet Butler only caught 16 balls, for the lowest catch rate on the team. He’s on a one-year contract for $1.1 million, with a dead cap hit of $300,000, which makes it cheaper for Dallas to keep Noah Brown or Andy Jones instead. If Butler wants to make the team, he’s going to have to step up his game.
Selected in the seventh round, Brown obviously has great hands and concentration, as demonstrated by this TD catch against Oklahoma.
ARE YOU KIDDING ME, NOAH BROWN? pic.twitter.com/plNn52Bejg— Dr. Saturday (@YahooDrSaturday) September 18, 2016
The problem is that college catches, no matter how great, mean nothing when you are trying to make an NFL roster. He’s going to have to show a lot in training camp if he wants to unseat a veteran who was able to step in when Dez Bryant was hurt last year. Can he? His cheap four-year contract might tempt Dallas. He’s not quite as tall, or likely as fast as Brice Butler, but he’s heavier, loves to block, and seems to have better hands. Should be an interesting competition.
Andy Jones returns from the practice squad to try to crack the lineup again. He flashed in training camp, then disappointed in the preseason games last year. With the Noah Brown and Ryan Switzer additions, he’s further down the depth chart than he was before. A real long shot.
Lucky’s days are numbered given Switzer’s addition to the roster. Switzer is almost certainly better as a punt returner, and has played running back, so he should be able to handle the jet sweep. As a receiver, he’s well ahead of Lucky.
Here are some other guys on the roster. Camp bodies who might make the practice squad if they shine.
As discussed above, the Cowboys haven’t kept a sixth wide receiver on the roster in years. They might make an exception if they like Noah Brown enough, and fear he will be plucked if they try adding him to the practice squad. It’s more likely they will consider cutting/trading Brice Butler if Brown produces enough to show he’s ready for a modest role. Butler has some value as a deep threat, but his catch percentage was the worst among the receivers (50%), and he averaged only one reception per game and three TDs. Those don’t seem like irreplaceable numbers. Noah Brown has to show he can be trusted to run routes, and make catches, and with a cheap four-year contract to his advantage, he may have the upside that makes Butler expendable.
Part II - Wide Receiver
Part III - Tight End
Part IV - Quarterback
Part V - Running Back
Part VI - Defensive Line
Part VII - Linebacker
Part VIII - Cornerback
Part IX - Safety
Part X - Special Teams