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Cowboys draft 2018: Finding the next star receiver for the Dallas Cowboys

The Cowboys are pressing reset at the receiver position, which prospects make the best fit?

Memphis v Navy Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

The Cowboys have spent an awful lot of time looking at receivers in this draft. They have already been linked to about 20 different prospects. The front office is looking every which way in efforts to rebuild the position entirely. The organization very much understands that their quarterback, Dak Prescott, is an entirely different type of passer than their former leader at the helm. As much flak the front office and coaching staff deserves after how things fell apart in 2017, they seem urgent to fix it.

That means that they have turned the microscopic lens inward and have decided that they need to change the types of players they are looking for. We’ve already heard from leaders in the organization that RPO’s, boots, waggles, and spread formations are what they deem fitting for their quarterback.

It’s certainly not true that Dak Prescott can’t be a prolific passer as he was among the most accurate tight-window and deep passers in his first two seasons. However, at this stage of his career, he still needs a supporting cast that can make him instead of the opposite. So, considering the type of offense the Cowboys want to build around Prescott and their All-Pro running back Ezekiel Elliott, preferences have changed at the receiver position. When looking at the style of offense the Cowboys are going to run, what are they looking for in a receiver?

  • Must be able to manufacture own separation
  • Crisp route running ability with smooth footwork
  • Speed or at least consistent agility in all passing patterns
  • Fluid athleticism
  • Dynamic threat after the catch (RAC yards)
  • Trustworthy hands

Those are just a few prerequisites to consider among others but no prospect is going to be perfect. We know that this class has quality depth at the receiver position and that the Cowboys like to capitalize on perceived positional strengths much like they did with defensive backs last year. We also know that they have plenty of needs outside of receiver which doesn’t necessarily make it priority number one to address. Still, it’s more likely than not that the Cowboys snag a receiver at least by end of day two and it can’t be ruled out at 19.

Below, we have charted all the receivers that the Cowboys have shown interest in plus a few more that could be on the radar. For this chart, we added each receivers stats for 2017 with exception for Antonio Callaway and Quan Jones, who didn’t play this past season for various reasons. For added reference, we also added some pro comparisons to give a visual of each prospect.

Name School Rec. Rec. Yards TDs 40 Yard Dash Pos. Rank (Brugler) Proj. Round Pro Comp
Calvin Ridley (6'0, 189 lbs) Alabama 63 967 5 4.43 1 1 Marvin Harrison
D.J. Moore (6'0, 210 lbs) Maryland 80 1033 8 4.42 2 1-2 Steve Smith Sr.
Christian Kirk (5'10, 201 lbs) Texas A&M 71 919 10 4.45 3 1-2 Sterling Shepard
DJ Chark (6'3, 199 lbs) LSU 40 874 3 4.34 4 1-2 Chris Conley
Courtland Sutton (6'3, 218 lbs) SMU 68 1085 12 4.54 5 2 Randy Moss
Anthony Miller (5'11, 201 lbs) Memphis 96 1462 18 4.54 6 2 Kendall Wright
Equanimeous St. Brown (6'5, 214 lbs) Notre Dame 33 515 4 4.48 7 2 DaVante Parker
James Washington (5'11, 213 lbs) Oklahoma State 74 1549 13 4.54 8 2-3 Corey Coleman
Dante Pettis (6'0, 186 lbs) Washington 63 761 7 4.49 9 2-3 T.J. Houshmadzadeh
Deon Cain (6'2, 202 lbs) Clemson 58 734 6 4.43 10 3 Roddy White
Michael Gallup (6'1, 205 lbs) Colorado State 100 1413 7 4.51 11 3 Nelson Agholor
DaeSean Hamilton (6'1, 203 lbs) Penn State 53 857 9 4.55 12 3 Doug Baldwin
TreQuan Smith (6'2, 203 lbs) Central Florida 59 1171 13 4.49 13 3-4 Allen Robinson
Daurice Fountain (6'1, 206 lbs) Northern Iowa 66 943 12 4.53 17 5-6 Keenan Allen
Trey Quinn (5'11, 203 lbs) SMU 114 1236 13 4.55 19 5-6 Adam Humphries
Antonio Callaway (5'11, 200 lbs) Florida (2 years) 89 1399 7 4.41 34 7-FA (Susp. 2017) Tyreek Hill
Davon Grayson (6'1, 199 lbs) East Carolina 59 886 6 4.51 54 7-FA Johnny Holton
Chris Lacy (6'3, 205 lbs) Oklahoma State 20 264 0 4.51 59 7-FA Andre Holmes
John Diarse (5'11, 211 lbs) TCU 35 575 3 4.62 102 PFA N/A
Vyncint Smith (6'3, 195 lbs) Limestone 49 849 3 4.36 N/A 7-FA Laurent Robinson
Del'Michael High (6'3, 205 lbs) Tarleton State 52 764 8 4.41 N/A PFA N/A
Detrez Newsome (5'10, 210 lbs) Western Carolina 21 205 0 4.52 N/A PFA Ty Montgomery
Quan Jones (6'4, 213 lbs) Baylor (2 years) 11 110 0 4.71 N/A PFA N/A
Ty Slalina (5'11, 205 lbs) TCU 10 76 0 4.59 N/A PFA N/A

In order to determine the right type of receiver for the Dallas Cowboys, we put together a Positives versus Negatives profile for these receivers with help from the Lance Zierlein’s and the Dane Brugler’s of the world but also just good old film watching. With the belief that the Cowboys are picking a receiver within the first three rounds, here’s that comprehensive list of the potential guys. That way you can see for yourself all the good, the bad, and of course, the ugly of this receiver’s class.

First Round

Calvin Ridley, Alabama

Positives Negatives
4.4 Speed Thin build
Seamless Route Runner Play strength needs work
Lethal after catch 20 drops in three seasons
Possesses elite separation abilities Needs bulk to beat initial contact
Works well with scrambling QBs
Natural, smooth athleticism
Trustworthy hands

Fit for Cowboys: There is no receiver that is better at creating his own separation with the abilities of Ridley. He does have questions about his play strength as well as scouts believe he’s a really high-end Z receiver. For the Cowboys, Allen Hurns can play the X and Ridley is the type of receiver that NFL teams are fawning over these days.

D.J. Moore, Maryland

Positives Negatives
4.4 Speed Simple route concepts
Productive despite multiple QB injuries Not a great 50-50 catcher
Quick feet, short area quickness Inconsistent on vertical patterns
Elite after catch abilities Explosivity not always apparent
Can disguise bad throws, bail out QB
Slippery runner, creates missed tackles
Works back to the quarterback

Fit for Cowboys: Not quite the route-running specialist like Ridley but Moore has made a career of disguising poor quarterback play. He will be there where you need him to be, when you need him to be there. Moore is an electric playmaker with good play strength and elite after catch abilities.

Courtland Sutton, SMU

Positives Negatives
Big and durable athlete ready for NFL punishment Speed isn't threatening
Unfazed by traffic and will work the entire field Fast corners contest his catches
Great at keeping defender on hip away from ball Relies on size instead of technique at times
Huge catch radius with impressive body positioning Struggled with quality competition
WR1 confidence that will work back to QB Stop-start footwork is questionable
Creates separation early and late
Physical blocker

Fit for Cowboys: Sutton has tremendous WR1 upside and would fit the role best left open by the Dez Bryant departure. He’s a better route runner than he gets credit for and is able to create the necessary separation early and late in the quarterback's progressions.

Second Round

Christian Kirk, Texas A&M

Positives Negatives
4.4 Speed More quick than fast
Great suddeness in his game Needs to improve catch radius
Very quick in and out of breaks Allows defenders to crowd him
Decisive receiver that protects catches So-so burst that hurts separation abilities
Optimal release in press situtations Lacks ideal length
Deadly in space

Fit for Cowboys: He gets pigeon-holed into a player that can only play the slot and special teams but that’s a bit unfair. He’s a very sudden player that if given the ball with space, he’s absolutely able to torch a defense. One of the best things about Kirk is that he’s a decisive player that doesn’t hesitate to beat you.

DJ Chark, LSU

Positives Negatives
Great size/speed combination Too skinny for big NFL corners
Blazing 4.3 speed, effortless separation Tendency to play upright in his routes
Sells fakes and double moves well Upper body strength needs work
10 scores on 86 career touches shows explosiveness Inconsistent playmaker, takes plays off
Good body control with solid adjustments
Works all sides of the field, unafraid of hitters
Willing and above average blocker

Fit for Cowboys: If you’re looking for explosion in the offense, Chark is your guy. He’s got multiple gears of speed and agility that make him hard to deal with. He’s a solid, willing blocker in the run game and has the body awareness to not let his leaner frame get exposed. It will take a coaching staff that can keep him engaged though to see his full potential as his consistency is a problem.

Anthony Miller, Memphis

Positives Negatives
Play speed faster than 4.54 Lacks straight-line speed
Great salesman on head fakes Loses interest on short throws at times
Grade A ball tracking skills Ball security (five career fumbles)
Top notch route specialist Unnecessary arm and upper body motion
Works the entire field with ease Tends to double catch due to lack of focus
Slick footwork creates yards after catch
QB's best friend when plays break down
Very strong (22 reps on the bench)

Fit for Cowboys: Miller is one of my pet cats as he has the play-speed for the position but also is one of the crispiest route runners in this draft. He not only creates his own separation but can easily become the quarterback’s best friend when the play breaks down.

Equanimeous St. Brown, Notre Dame

Positives Negatives
Incredible length Needs strength in hands
Can play both inside and out Can lose competitive drive at times
Smooth and easy movements through routes Not a great route salesman
Great footwork, can change direction without slowing Doesn't create as much separation as he can
Buildup speed to overtake DB's on vertical routes Can let corners crowd and harass him
Very few drops

Fit for Cowboys: St. Brown is another plus playmaker that has intimidating speed to bust up a defense with ease. He’s very light on his feet and that confuses cornerbacks on how to cover this guy because he can overtake them with multiple gears to his game. He made a ton of backbreaking plays for the Irish.

James Washington, Oklahoma State

Positives Negatives
Good Initial quickness to escape press man Exposure to route tree is limited
Vertical explosiveness (avg. 20 yards per catch) Looks more like a running back
Tricks corners with awkward first steps Frame is top-heavy that doesn't allow sharpness in breaks
Explodes into his routes with powerful footwork Lacks short area quickness against tight coverage
Buildup speed stuns cornerbacks Has issues finishing the contested catches
Creates consistent open deep looks Footwork can get clunky at times
Tracks ball like a centerfielder in baseball Not the smoothest pass catcher
Adjusts speed to match the flight of the ball
Plus player after the catch with physicality
Creates cushion for comebacks and out routes

Fit for Cowboys: He’s got a ways to go in learning the route tree in the NFL but if you want a guy who can take a ball and house it, that’s Washington. He’s built stout like a running back much like D.J. Moore is but Washington has explosion that few can match. He averaged 20 yards per catch so if Dak Prescott is looking for a deep ball target, it’s likely that Washington will fit the bill.

Dante Pettis, Washington

Positives Negatives
Great athlete that shows the explosion Inconsistent production
Finely-tuned route runner, runs entire route tree Six of his seven TDs came against lesser competition
Good acceleration and ability to sink hips May need to alter route speed at pro level
Frightening short area quickness Tendency to give hints, needs to sell better
Can sell routes and fake out corners Needs more bulk
Can scramble with QB and bail him out Doesn't have the lead dog mentality
Works back to throws
Natural hands catcher
Has slant and fade quickness with deep ball adjustments
Elusive as pass catcher, punt returner, reaches top gear in a blink

Fit for Cowboys: Pettis is not the type of guy like a Dez Bryant, who has that leader of the pack mentality. However, Pettis is another finely-tuned route runner that is always there for the play when he’s needed. Pettis does a nice job of working back to his quarterback and being available when the QB has to scramble. He’s a reliable pass catcher that trusts his hands to make the play.

Third Round

Michael Gallup, Colorado State

Positives Negatives
Extremely light feet Needs to turn head a lot sooner
Good height-weight-speed combo Needs adjustments to poorly thrown balls
Consistently drives corners off their backpedal When plays are off schedule, needs to scramble with QB
Really strong burst and brakes Tendency to coast on balls not coming his way
Improved route running with elite separation More effort needed as a run blocker
Very competitive after the catch
Thrives on back shoulder throws

Fit for Cowboys: His footwork and technique are what get him to the dance as he’s able to drive the corners off their backpedal, making them look silly in the process. He does have some little things to correct and can’t take plays off just because he’s not getting the ball. However, Gallup improved his route running and shows the ability to rack up yards after the catch.

TreQuan Smith, Central Florida

Positives Negatives
Smooth acceleration Needs improved strength at the top of routes
Creates immediate separation in quick routes Routes need consistent speed and better salesmanship
78% of his catches were first downs Despite length catch radius could improve
Rare arm length for receiver Needs to finish catches outside his frame
Has definite plus ball skills Allowed too many catchable balls get away
Great wingspan and leaping ability Needs to improve concentration on contested balls
Stacks defenders and never lets them out
Effective blocker and impact blocker in run game
Can track poorly thrown balls and work back

Fit for Cowboys: Smith isn’t a name that we’ve discussed all that often but he’s someone that should be talked about. He had incredible production with 13 touchdowns last season. Smith has speed but he also has an eye on the sticks with 78% of his catches being first downs. Some of his best attributes are his abilities to track the poorly thrown balls and be a contributor in a run-first offense.

DaeSean Hamilton, Penn State

Positives Negatives
Good size Needs to improve physicality as blocker
Very astute route runner including nuances Catch radius is questionable
Sharp out of his breaks Has some focus drops that need correcting
Is strong enough to catch through contact Initial burst is somewhat dull
Can track ball well and win contested matchups Plays at a single speed
Focus sharpens on third downs and goal line plays Doesn't have the second gear
Almost 80% of catches were first downs
Adds yards after catch with ease
Very unselfish player, coaches call him special, team captain
Overachiever

Fit for Cowboys: Hamilton just seems like the type of receiver that the Cowboys will be looking for if they don’t get one early. He’s a solid route runner that creates his own separation and was an overachiever. He doesn’t have game-breaking speed but he’s a great ball tracker and can win the contested catch battle.

There you have it, folks. A comprehensive pros and cons sheet for all the receivers in the first few rounds. Which receivers do you think the Cowboys will be interested in?