The Cowboys will begin training camp before we know it. In this series, we will look at some key positional battles that could define how successful America’s Team is this upcoming season. Today, we will look at the wideouts.
The Dallas Cowboys made some big moves this offseason concerning the wide receivers room. Gone is franchise-leader in touchdown receptions Dez Bryant and incoming from free agency are Allen Hurns and Deonte Thompson — one a big-bodied target that is making a name for himself already and the other is a speedster with connections to Sanjay Lal.
The Cowboys were not done adding to its receivers core, though. The draft weekend saw Dallas add a trio of playmakers with the ability to make an impact in the passing game: third-round selection Michael Gallup, sixth-round pick Cedrick Wilson, and 2013 first-rounder Tavon Austin in a trade, though Austin will technically be labeled as a running back when the roster is finalized.
Cole Beasley, Terrance Williams, and Noah Brown all return, but it’s clear that Dak Prescott needs to become familiar with the new faces in the room. The young franchise quarterback is confident that the offense will succeed with the new additions, believing it is best to spread the ball around.
“I don’t know if any team in the league necessarily needs a No. 1 receiver,” Prescott said via Pro Football Talk. “It’s about getting the ball out, spreading the ball around, keeping the defense on its toes.”
For all of the questions surrounding the receivers room, I believe you can go ahead and pencil three, at the very least, right now.
The Cowboys brought in Allen Hurns to be a big part of this offense. The 6-foot-3 and 205-pound Miami Hurricanes target had a career season with the Jaguars in 2015 (64/1,031/10), but has struggled since then. The Cowboys are hoping that Hurns is able to grow into a big-time target to open the run game for Ezekiel Elliott. Marcus Mosher said that Hurns is the “clear-cut” number one receiver.
Allen Hurns is the clear-cut No.1 WR on this team. They are experimenting with Cole outside more. Blake Jarwin is TE1. Rico barely gets any snaps in practice.— Marcus Mosher (@Marcus_Mosher) June 18, 2018
Cole Beasley struggled in 2017 as defenses made sure to key on him more, but Bease flourished as Dak’s go-to target in 2016. The SMU product was an extremely dangerous weapon out of the slot during Dak’s rookie season, grabbing 75 passes for 833 yards and five touchdowns. He also had this play that season, too:
Bease struggled a little bit last season, but nonetheless, he will indeed be back on the roster for 2018 — especially that he now says he is being coached route-running.
The other lock in the wide receivers room is third-round selection Michael Gallup. The 81st selection of the 2018 NFL Draft starred for the Colorado State Rams, even being one of three finalists for the Biletnikoff Award this past season.
Gallup is known as precise route-runner that has reliable hands and can make the big play. Pro Football Focus noted that Gallup won all over the route-tree during his collegiate career, something that certainly has to make Dak and Scott Linehan happy.
While Hurns, Beasley, and Gallup are locks to make the roster, there are others in the receivers room with a better-than-50% chance to make the 53-man squad, as well.
Terrance Williams has had a disastrous offseason: a public intoxiation charge last month and a broken foot that will force him to miss offseason activities. That said, expect T-Will to be back in the silver and blue. While not always the most reliable receiver, Williams has a relationship with Dak and is known as a solid blocker at the receiver position — an important aspect for this offense to work at its best.
ON THE BUBBLE
I almost put Noah Brown in the “likely in” category, and you can certainly argue that he is up there with Terrance Williams. The 2017 seventh-round selection surprised many when he made the 53-man roster last season, making the active roster in 13.
While the former Buckeye hasn’t been given many opportunities to show off his hands (four catches, 33 yards), Brown has made a name for himself with his downfield blocking. His blocking help Zeke pull off a highlight-reel play against the 49ers last season. For that, he certainly has the opportunity to get back on the 53.
Key blocks here from Zack Martin and Noah Brown pic.twitter.com/hac9qp4CKt— Jon Machota (@jonmachota) October 24, 2017
Perhaps we see more of this in 2018, too.
Great play design. We’ve seen so many variations of this and now we see a throw to Noah Brown off this variation. pic.twitter.com/HTa8BcetLT— Cowboys Nation (@CowboysNation) November 20, 2017
Cedrick Wilson, like Michael Gallup, starred in the Kansas JUCO system before putting together a solid collegiate career in the Mountain West Conference. The Boise State target was the Cowboys’ sixth-round selection this past draft and was rated favorably by PFF. Look at his route-tree:
Come along Cedrick.. Wilson's route tree is beautiful pic.twitter.com/W2nd9fJNmA— PFF College (@PFF_College) April 23, 2018
Wilson was also among the best deep-threats in his draft class, per PFF.
The departure of Brice Butler to the Cardinals leaves an open spot for a wide receiver, and our own Connor Livesay believes it just may be Wilson to be the one to take advantage of the opportunity. We know that Dak loved finding Butler down the field. Can Wilson step up in a similar role?
Mosher mentioned that Wilson has impressed thus far and that he “would not be surprised” to see him play more than Gallup to begin the season.
Which one? Cedrick Wilson is impressive— Marcus Mosher (@Marcus_Mosher) June 12, 2018
It's a fair question. I wouldn't be surprised if Wilson played more to start the season.— Marcus Mosher (@Marcus_Mosher) June 13, 2018
OUTSIDE LOOKING IN
We’ve named six wide receivers- plus the do-it-all Tavon Austin - so, naturally, we have to start thinking about who may be left off of the roster.
Lance Lenoir is a receiver that hasn’t gotten the same amount of hype as some others, but is in a position to battle his way onto the 53-man roster. About a month ago, the mothership’s David Helman said “don’t forget” about Lenoir.
I don't want to use the term "standout," considering we're talkin 'bout practice. Non-padded practice, at that.— David Helman (@HelmanDC) May 23, 2018
But all I'm saying is: don't forget about Lance Lenoir when you're sorting out this whole WR battle. I think that'd be a mistake. https://t.co/JeiZZOR7pj
He also looked good during OTA’s, as well.
If the Cowboys ultimately decide to take seven receivers this season, Lenoir seems like the prime candiadate to be the seventh; however, it may be hard to see how those logistics would work out — especially since Lenoir is still eligible to be placed on the practice squad.
Like Lenoir, Deonte Thompson is a dark-horse to make the roster. The former Florida Gators receiver has connections to wide receivers coach San Lanjay from their time together with the Bills. The speedy target was inked just before Hurns was brought on-board, and he has the ability to play at both wideout and as a return man.
Pro Football Focus rated Thompson as one of the five best deep threats (based on rating with 15 or more “deep targets”) in 2017. Not too shabby.
Here’s a clip of Thompson flying right by Super Bowl XLIX hero Malcom Butler:
Here is Deonte Thompson beating Malcolm Butler. pic.twitter.com/kwAR3TKloP— Marcus Mosher (@Marcus_Mosher) March 22, 2018
SportDFW’s Reid Hanson also wrote on why Thompson could surprise in 2018:
Something Dallas Cowboys coaches are intrigued with is his ability to run the jet sweep. Not only is he a weapon deep, on a bubble screen, or on a slant but he’s also capable of running the rock on jet sweeps ala Lucky Whitehead. He’s so fast and diversified that he’s a threat on the field even without the ball in his hands.
Deonte Thompson has been flashing in minicamps and fast becoming one of the biggest downfield weapons on the Dallas Cowboys. His ability to stretch the field and create big plays from multiple places not only make him a good bet to make the club, but a player who could challenge T-Will at the Z receiver spot.
Keep an eye on Deonte Thompson in this positional battle.
How many receivers do you see making the 53-man squad, BTB? Who emerges as the go-to threat?