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Position Series: Changing Of The Guard For Dallas Receivers

Posted Jan 10, 2014

(Editor's Note: This is the fifth of an 11-part series analyzing every position on the Cowboys roster, providing a quick look back before addressing the needs of each spot on the field and how it can be improved heading into the 2014 season. Today we examine the wide receivers).

Photos of the Cowboys' wide receivers in 2013 >>

Pressing Matters: It’s all about the money at this position. On the same roster, the Cowboys possess one of the NFL’s most grossly overpaid wide receivers, as well as one of its most underpaid.

Miles Austin reeled in 69 catches for 1,041 yards and seven touchdowns in 2010, right after he signed his current six-year, $54 million contract extension. In the three seasons since, he has 1,766 yards and 13 touchdowns on 133 catches. That’s an average of 44 catches, 588 yards and four scores per year.

Austin is set to make $5.5 million and hit the salary cap for $8.2 million this year. Clearly the stats and the cost don’t add up. What the Cowboys decide to do with Austin – whether they ask him to take a pay cut, or cut him altogether – is one of the main storylines to watch this offseason.

On the other side of the spectrum, Dez Bryant his coming off his second consecutive season with more than 1,200 receiving yards and more than 10 touchdowns. He has one more season to play on an incredibly inexpensive rookie contract, but the Cowboys may want to secure his services before he can test the open market.

The team signed Sean Lee to a longterm extension just prior to the start of the 2013 season, and they may do the same with Bryant in 2014 – if they can afford it.

Both players’ longterm futures with the Cowboys are sure to be a factor going forward.

2013 Evaluation:  Bryant and Austin’s numbers quite simply speak for themselves. Bryant is averaging 92.5 catches, 1,300 yards and 12.5 touchdowns over the last two seasons.

Conversely, Austin finished the 2013 season with a mere 24 catches for 244 yards and not a single touchdown – and that was after a 10-catch, 72-yard outing in the season opener. It was his worst season since 2007, when he caught just five passes as a reserve player.

New addition Terrance Williams turned in a promising rookie season, especially considering his early struggles. Williams failed to impress at training camp, and his first year hit an early low when he fumbled away a chance at a comeback in Week 4 against San Diego.

Williams bounced back in a big way just a week later with a 82-yard touchdown catch in a 151-yard effort against Denver. He also had big outings against Detroit, Philadelphia and Washington. The rookie emerged as a viable No. 2 receiver behind Bryant, totaling44 catches for 736 yards and five touchdowns.

Cole Beasley showed flashes as a valuable contributor to the passing game. He more than doubled his reception and yardage totals from 2012, though he still finished with just 39 catches for 368 yards – an average of two catches for 23 yards per game.

Beasley made two huge plays to help the Cowboys to division wins – a third down catch in the game-winning drive in Week 10 against New York, and his fourth down catch to help spark the Cowboys’ Week 16 comeback against Washington.

Dwayne Harris saw his role as a receiver diminish this year, as both a result of Williams’ emergence and his own prowess as a return man. He caught a paltry nine passes for 80 yards, though his lone touchdown of the season saved the day against Minnesota.

Upgrades Needed: 

Depending on what happens with Austin this year, the Cowboys are either looking at four or five receivers on the active roster right now. Obviously, the team will bring a bevy of receivers to training camp. The Cowboys may even spend a draft pick on a young receiver, if the right situation arises.

It looks obvious at this point that the No. 1 and No. 2 options going forward will be Bryant and Williams. Beasley will continue to work along with them in his role as a slot and short yardage receiver. What the Cowboys do with Austin, and the possibility of adding young depth, is still a question mark.

 By The Numbers:

  • Bryant scored a touchdown 13 times on 93 catches, which is to say he scored 14 percent of the time he caught the ball.
  • Only the Cowboys’ original five receivers – Bryant, Williams, Austin, Beasley and Harris – caught passes from Tony Romo this season.
  • Williams led all Dallas receivers with an average of 16.7 yards per reception.
  • The Cowboys currently have three additional receivers – Tim Benford, Lanear Sampson and Jamar Newsome – on their practice squad.
  • With 49 on the season, Austin was targeted six fewer times than Beasley. He was targeted 111 fewer times than Bryant.

Scout’s Take:

Bryan Broaddus on the Cowboys’ wide receivers:

Other than the offensive line, there might not have been a position that had bigger growth from one season to another than these wide receivers. I was not sure how these players would respond to Derek Dooley and how his approach would potentially be different from that of Jimmy Robinson but the transition was smooth and in several areas, much better… (Read more here)

Photos of the Cowboys' wide receivers in 2013 >>

 
Image Map