Not sure if you’ve heard or not, but the Dallas Cowboys have changed up their wide receiver group this offseason. Dez Bryant was released, Ryan Switzer was traded, and Brice Butler was allowed to sign elsewhere in free agency. With those guys gone, the team has picked up a couple free agents in Allen Hurns and Deonte Thompson, drafted a couple rookies in Michael Gallup and Cedrick Wilson, and even traded for the elusive “web-back” Tavon Austin. What this all means is anyone’s guess, and if you asked ESPN’s Matthew Berry, he wouldn’t say it amounted to much as he recently reported that the Cowboys have the worst receiver corps in the NFL. Our own RJ Ochoa wrote a piece about that last week, and Berry let us know how he felt on social media.
Is he wrong on this? Are the Cowboys receiver group the worst?
Well, the front office would hate to hear such terrible news as they have worked hard to put the right tools in place for their young quarterback, Dak Prescott. Allen Hurns is the only player that people seem willing to give any credit to. Hurns is the single-season receiving yards leader for the Miami Hurricanes, which is an impressive feat considering Michael Irvin, Andre Johnson, and Reggie Wayne all played their college ball there. But that didn’t impress the pro scouts enough to draft him so he had to start all over and prove himself again. He did just that and put up 1,031 yards and 10 TDs in just his second season in the league in 2015. Hurns has had some health issues in each of the last two seasons so he hasn’t been able to sustain those type of numbers, but he’s a guy that people can envision playing at a strong level.
But what about these other guys?
What do the Cowboys really have at wide receiver? Well, if you consider Pro Football Focus a credible source of information, then you might be rather pleased with the group the Cowboys have. While they may not have the premier do-it-all guy, what they do have is a little bit of everything and that makes for a very interesting receiver group.
The Slot Guy
Cole Beasley had a down season last year. Between an outstanding 2016 season where he put himself on the radar, Dez Bryant not winning his one-one-matchups, and no Ezekiel Elliott in the backfield for part of the season - defenses focused more attention his way. Beasley’s numbers dropped considerably.
But let’s not just forget 2016 didn’t happen. He was the most reliable slot receiver in the league and will be looking to re-establish himself as a productive target.
Cowboys WR Cole Beasley was the NFL's most-reliable slot receiver in 2016.— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) May 10, 2017
The Red Zone Guy
Dez is gone and one of the things this team will miss is his effectiveness in the red zone. For years, we’ve watched this guy snatch the ball away from defenders without giving much thought about why he was always covered so much in the first place. Even still, the propensity to come down with the ball is a skill any team would love to have.
But maybe the Cowboys still have that. The rookie enters the league with some impressive hands in the red zone.
RT @PFF_College: Lowest drop rate in the red zone among the 2018 NFL Draft class at WR?— ReeRay1 (@ReeRay1) May 23, 2018
Of course that belongs to Michael Gallup! pic.twitter.com/qGVec2LWZ9 Don't forget that the cowboys also drafted Cedric Wilson who is 2nd on that list #cowboysnation
The Missed Tackle Guy
While it’s not absolutely clear how the Cowboys new gadget player Tavon Austin will be used, one thing we can all come to expect is that he’s a slippery little sucker. Austin had a down season last year with a career low in scrimmage yards, but he received very good run grades the previous four seasons.
Tavon Austin has forced 34 missed tackles on 125 career carries. Here's how he had graded as a runner since entering the league. pic.twitter.com/NJNAO2IsuU— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) June 15, 2017
Austin’s yards per carry in those years were: 16.8 (2013), 6.2 (2014), 8.3 (2015), and 5.7 (2016). That’s really good and speaks to what he can do when he gets in space. While Austin won’t receive the workload that Stephen Jones suggested, don’t be surprised if he makes the most of his touches.
But Austin’s not the only guy who’s hard to tackle...
The Cowboys draft Dez Bryant's potential replacement in Michael Gallup, the 49th-ranked player on the PFF Big Board pic.twitter.com/MPYyxC7T2f— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) April 28, 2018
While Austin does it more with his legs, Gallup is a physical player who isn’t easy to wrap up.
And since we’re on the subject of shifty receivers who are hard to tackle, let’s not discount the power of ‘Da Sauce.’ (Note: this stat is in reference to his 2014 season)
Cowboys WR Cole Beasley forced an average of .27 missed tackles per reception, the best rate among WR's. pic.twitter.com/u8Rnpr9H89— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) May 30, 2015
It’s hard to sneak up on someone when they have eyes in the back of their head.
The Deep Threat Guy
It’s easy to forget about the first receiver who was added to the mix this offseason as fans didn’t throw up any confetti when veteran Deonte Thompson was signed. Thompson is primarily viewed as a burner (4.31 40-time at his Pro Day) who is mostly just a kick returner. That’s fair. The guy hasn’t caught over 40 passes in any season that he’s been in the league. Last year, he had 38 catches, 555 yards with a solid 14.6 yards per reception.
His wheels will be appreciated nonetheless as the Cowboys have added a player who has the speed to stretch the field.
The NFL's premier deep threat. pic.twitter.com/HgcZC6YMIp— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) May 29, 2018
But he’s not the only one...
Boise State WR Cedrick Wilson hauled in his fair share of deep passes this past season pic.twitter.com/xlPcLevRd0— PFF College (@PFF_College) February 7, 2018
While we still have an entire training camp to sort this out, you have to like the options the team has available to them. If one of these deep threats pan out, it’s going to do wonders in helping keep the defense honest.
The Quick Out Guy
It is nice to have some big play threats at receiver, but third down conversions keep the chains moving. That will be the key ingredient in getting the Cowboys offense back on track. There might not be anyone better in the league at running the flat route and getting those first down yards than Mr. Beasley.
Where Cole Beasley wins pic.twitter.com/QfFAlYYQVW— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) August 29, 2017
The Best of the Best
No other receiver had a better WR rating in 2016 than Cole Beasley.
No WR had a higher passer rating when targeted than Cole Beasley (@PFF): pic.twitter.com/akkKxasBPf— Marcus Mosher (@Marcus_Mosher) June 12, 2017
And no other college receiver graded higher than Colorado State’s Micheal Gallup.
Michael Gallup, PFF's 2017 highest graded receiver. pic.twitter.com/mIhST8md2F— PFF College (@PFF_College) January 6, 2018
In fact, the Cowboys drafted two of PFF’s top receivers.
.@biletnikoffawrd finalist @mg4dontplay of @CSUFootball was the highest-rated WR by @PFF_College in 2017, making him a first-team All-American! #mwfb https://t.co/DiT3c8uMHZ pic.twitter.com/bfRiXah8ea— Mountain West (@MountainWest) December 8, 2017
After @CSUFootball’s @mg4dontplay was named a first-team All-American receiver yesterday by @PFF_College, @BroncoSportsFB wideout @cedwilson95 gets the nod on the PFF second team today! #mwfb https://t.co/pwB9aZIcvm pic.twitter.com/Y2PflWc9yy— Mountain West (@MountainWest) December 8, 2017
While this team has “specialists” that stand out at certain things, it should be noted that these guys aren’t one-trick ponies. When Lucky Whitehead came into the game, it wasn’t too hard to figure out what he was going to do. Ryan Switzer? Again, not much mystery there. And as much as we liked Brice Butler, his repertoire of route-running was rather limited. It was either a big play or no play with that guy.
For the Cowboys new receivers - they are a lot more well rounded. Hurns can play slot and he can play outside. Gallup does so many things well, from a polished route runner to hauling down back shoulder throws. Thompson and Wilson are more than just speedsters. They can actually run other routes and catch passes in the middle of the field. And all these guys are huge competitors.
You probably won’t get recommendations for any of these players as a fantasy player to pile up the stats, this group collectively should offer the team a lot in the passing game.