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Cowboys are loaded with #1 receivers, at least they were WR1 when they were in college

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Some say the Cowboys lack a true number one receiver. Truth is, they have plenty who could reclaim that spot.

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NFL: Oakland Raiders at Dallas Cowboys Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

If there haven’t been enough articles and podcast sessions dedicated to the state of the Cowboys’ receiving corps, here is one more. Naturally, the decision to release Dez Bryant drastically shifted the receiving room in Dallas. Bringing in Sanjay Lal to coach the group was followed by more changes. The drama around Terrance Williams only further obscures the position group, and now eight of the receivers currently on the roster are new faces.

Much of the discussion has focused on the Cowboys’ lack of a true number one receiver. For years, that role was filled by Bryant, while players like Williams and Cole Beasley were additional options who thrived when all of the attention was on 88. Executive Vice President Stephen Jones has publicly stated that, with their new approach to the passing game, Dallas doesn’t need a true number one receiving threat anymore. This is in part due to the way Lal tends to use multiple different receivers in diverse sub packages.

Still, the lack of a number one receiving threat for a team with Super Bowl aspirations can be justifiably concerning. However, when looking at the receivers on this roster, most of them have filled the number one receiver role in college, giving them each plenty of experience with carrying the load on offense. In fact, Cowboys legend Michael Irvin said as much about the receivers during an interview with the Mothership.

The Playmaker is completely accurate, too. In looking at the below chart, many of these receivers everyone is so concerned about were once the top pass-catcher at their respective college.

Leading receivers on their college teams by year
Player Year College Rec. Yards
Terrance Williams 2012 Baylor 1,832
Cedric Wilson 2017 Boise State 1,511
Michael Gallup 2017 Colorado State 1,418
Michael Gallup 2016 Colorado State 1,272
K.D. Cannon 2016 Baylor 1,215
Lance Lenoir 2015 Western Illinois 1,184
Allen Hurns 2013 Miami (FL) 1,162
Lance Lenoir 2016 Western Illinois 1,093
Lance Lenoir 2014 Western Illinois 1,030
Deonte Thompson 2010 Florida 570
Lance Lenoir 2013 Western Illinois 489
Cole Beasley - - SMU - -
Noah Brown - - Ohio State - -
Marchie Murdock - - Illinois - -

As you can see, Williams and KD Cannon both led their Baylor offenses in receiving, and Williams had an impressive 1,832 yards in 2012, his senior year at Baylor. It should be noted for these two that Baylor, at the time, ran a very simplistic offense with a nearly non-existent route tree, which is why neither Williams nor Cannon were first-round picks despite being the best receiver in a high-octane college offense. Their skills may not translate well to the new techniques Lal is interested in teaching, but their experience as number one receiving threats should count for something.

Michael Gallup’s name is on here twice, as he led the Colorado State Rams in receiving both of his years as a starter. Perhaps the most notable part of Gallup’s college career was in 2017, when he went up against Alabama’s vaunted pass defense and snared 5 catches for 81 yards, including a catch-and-run play where he churned out 39 yards after juking away from Minkah Fitzpatrick.

Allen Hurns and Cedrick Wilson both appear only once, but both were part of programs with deep recruiting pools, so it is understandable why they were not number one threats more than one year. Wilson, who has already drawn praise in OTA’s and minicamp, was particularly impressive with the blue-field Broncos. Deonte Thompson, believe it or not, led the Gators in receiving with only 570 yards. That may not be impressive, but the next most receiving yards that year was Carl Moore with 349 yards; in short, Thompson was definitely the go-to receiver, and that brings with it all of the challenges of being the number one guy.

The most notable part, though, is that Lance Lenoir is on the list four (!) times, meaning he led his team in receiving all four years at Western Illinois. You may scoff and roll your eyes, because it’s just Western Illinois. And there’s some legitimacy to that reaction. However, don’t entirely discount Lenoir’s impact to the Leathernecks. Over his four years there, the team played some tough FBS competition including Minnesota, UNLV, Illinois, Northwestern, and Wisconsin, in addition to division foe Carson Wentz and North Dakota State. The fact that Lenoir led all receivers for all four years is impressive enough. Lal has already deemed Lenoir one of the top route runners on the team, so his college production is at least tangentially tied to raw talent.

Of the three without any numbers, Noah Brown was second in receiving behind Curtis Samuel for his one year at Ohio State, and Marchie Murdock was third on the Iowa State Cyclones. Beasley, who played at SMU, was only second on the team in receiving his last two years despite having over 1,000 yards both seasons. This is largely due to playing under head coach June Jones, whose run-and-shoot offense usually has the quarterback throwing five times as many passes as the running back has carries. Nevertheless, Beasley has since proven his worth to the Cowboys time and again.

The Cowboys offense is changing, and they do not plan to feature a traditional WR1 in their scheme, at least as defined buy the current jargon of the NFL. The idea is for Dak Prescott to go through his reads and hit the open guy instead of worrying about getting a certain receiver his touches, or calling plays geared exclusively towards a number one receiver. Still, with all the consternation about the Cowboys receivers, plenty of them have carried the load before. It will be interesting to see which one ends up on top at the end of 2018.