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PFF ranks NFL WR corps & Cowboys aren’t the worst, ranked second in NFC East

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Well what do you know, they aren’t great but they aren’t the worst either!

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NFL: Detroit Lions at Dallas Cowboys Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Following the release of Dez Bryant and the retirement of Jason Witten this past April, many football analytic platforms were low on the Cowboys 2018 receiving corps. How could they not be? Those two clearly weren’t what they once were but you’re still talking about 132 receptions, 1,406 yards, and 11 touchdowns last year that was out the door. Though Pro Football Focus loved the Cowboys drafting Michael Gallup in the third round, they still had Dallas’ receiving corps at 29th ahead of the season:

29. DALLAS COWBOYS

Yards per route run as a unit, rank: 1.22 (24th)

The fact that the Cowboys brought in Tavon Austin this offseason should tell you about how bleak their receiving corps looks at this point. There’s some mild hope that either Michael Gallup or Cedrick Wilson can contribute right away as rookies, but it’s rare for third- and sixth-round picks, respectively, to be immediate impact players. Terrance Williams has been a mainstay in the Cowboys lineup the past five seasons despite averaging under 1.50 yards per route over that span.

It’s quite weird to see not a single mention in there about Cole Beasley. However, Beasley definitely had a season to forget in 2017 after leading the team the year before. Only the Jaguars, Cardinals, and Bills ranked lower than the Cowboys in the preseason. So far through four games, the Cowboys’ receiving corps has been as inconsistent as expected. Week four against the Lions was the first time the Cowboys went over 200-yards in receiving this season. Well, PFF did their first-quarter of the season rankings this week, it’s certainly not great but it’s also not the worst:

WIDE RECEIVER RANKING, WEEK 4: 19th

Little was expected from this group entering the season, especially once the Cowboys cut Dez Bryant, but they’ve been solid through four games. Receptions haven’t always come easy for Dallas wideouts, as they’ve had a league-high 27 percent of targets be contested this season and trail only the Buccaneers in contested receptions with 12.

Call us optimistic but 19th sure seems a lot better than 29th. Hooray for not being the worst of the worst but maybe the best of the worst? Well, let’s see what changes took shape across the entire NFL:

PFF Rk Preseason First QTR (WK 1-4) Change +/-
1 Vikings Rams LAR +11
2 Chiefs Buccaneers TB +1
3 Buccaneers Texans HOU +12
4 Falcons Falcons --
5 Steelers Vikings MIN -4
6 Browns Chiefs KC -4
7 Giants Lions DET +1
8 Lions Dolphins MIA +17
9 Chargers Bengals CIN +2
10 Saints Giants NYG -3
11 Bengals Saints NO -1
12 Rams Bears CHI +1
13 Bears Broncos DEN +2
14 Patriots Steelers PIT -9
15 Broncos Chargers LAC -6
16 Texans Jaguars JAX +14
17 Eagles Raiders OAK +9
18 Packers Packers --
19 Seahawks Cowboys DAL +10
20 Redskins Jets NYJ +8
21 Panthers Panthers --
22 Colts Colts --
23 Ravens Ravens --
24 49ers Titans TEN +3
25 Dolphins Patriots NE -11
26 Raiders 49ers SF -2
27 Titans Browns CLE -21
28 Jets Seahawks SEA -9
29 Cowboys Cardinals ARI +2
30 Jaguars Eagles PHI -13
31 Cardinals Redskins WAS -11
32 Bills Bills --

Not only did the Cowboys move up 10 spots but it was the fifth-highest improvement on PFF’s list. Also, the Cowboys rank second in the division behind the Giants at 10th. Two other NFC East teams were among the five biggest falls through the first quarter of the season. The Eagles had the second-largest drop with the Redskins right behind them with the third-largest. Also of note, 11 of the 13 teams PFF ranked behind the Cowboys started ahead of them in the preseason rankings.

Philadelphia is 30th and Washington is 31st, let’s let that soak in.

Good news, the Cowboys defense has already won two of it’s matchups against two of PFF’s Top-10 receiving corps. Bad news, they still have to play three more in the Top-5. Back to this offense, 19th is certainly pretty far off from where they want to be but it’s not bad considering they are still around 29th in all passing statistics. For comparison’s sake, here are the receiving numbers of last year’s team versus this year’s team through the first four weeks:

Team Receiving Rec. Rec. Yards TDs TD Rate INT INT Rate 20+ Pass Comp.
2017 Thru 4 Games 87 916 7 4.9 3 2.1 9
2018 Thru 4 Games 71 753 4 3.5 2 1.4 8

The Cowboys are off last year’s first quarter by 16 receptions, 163 yards, and three touchdowns. If these Cowboys can start having a few more performances like week four against Detroit and less of week’s one through three, they just might climb even higher on this list through the halfway mark. With the Cowboys tightening up their receiving corps, we may see what continuity could do for this passing offense that’s still looking for an emerging star.

Could Michael Gallup and Dak Prescott rekindle their training camp connection? Will Cole Beasley and Ezekiel Elliott continue to run this passing game? So many opportunities to improve for the Cowboys but, for now, we’ll take 10 spots in the right direction.