FRISCO, Texas – No position on the Cowboys' roster saw more offseason turnover than wide receiver.
Dez Bryant, their go-to guy since 2010, was released. Brice Butler, Bryant's backup, left in free agency. Ryan Switzer, last year's fourth-round pick, got traded to Oakland.
In their place are two free agent signings, Allen Hurns and Deonte Thompson, and two draft picks, Michael Gallup and Cedrick Wilson. As training camp looms, the final rotation is far from settled. No less than seven receivers got first-team reps in offseason workouts while veteran Terrance Williams rehabbed from foot surgery.
The Cowboys believe in an offense that spreads the ball around and attacks the defense in different ways, which leads to the next item in our preseason preview:
3) Do the Cowboys need a No. 1 wide receiver?
Nick Eatman: Need? Yes, I think this team needs a No. 1 receiver they can count on. I'm sure there will be examples of other teams that don't have that clear-cut lead receiver, but I would also imagine those teams have quarterbacks that are perennial Pro Bowlers. I'm not saying you have to have a $15 million per season receiver but someone who scares the defense in some way. I don't know if the Cowboys need to classify someone in that role right now, but as the season evolves, it will only help the offense is a player steps up in that role. It looks like Hurns would be the best candidate for that.
David Helman: No, they don't, and we've seen the evidence across the league. The reigning champion Philadelphia Eagles didn't need a 1,000-yard receiver last year, as they got 824 yards from Zach Ertz and 789 from Alshon Jeffery. The 2013 Seahawks, who ran roughshod to a Super Bowl title, had an 898-yard receiver in Golden Tate and a 778-yard effort from Doug Baldwin. What do these teams have in common with the Cowboys? They leaned on a next-level running game. With this offensive line, this running back and a mobile quarterback, that needs to be the blueprint in Dallas. Obviously, your receivers are going to need to win some matchups. Someone is going to need to step up, and I'm looking at Hurns and Cole Beasley as the primary candidates. But they don't need to be amazing. They simply need to be good enough to let Ezekiel Elliott and this offensive line do their thing.
Rob Phillips: Yes, they do, but there are really two parts to this question. The Cowboys do need someone to step up and force the defense to account for him down after down. At his best, Dez Bryant did that. Here's the second part: If a receiver can create double teams, the other half of the solution is guys winning their own one-on-one matchups. That's the key to having the "Dak Friendly" offense in which Prescott can spread the ball around. There were games last year where maybe there wasn't consistent separation downfield, and if you factor in the pressure Prescott faced up front at times, it wasn't always conducive for a young starter to be successful. Hurns has a great opportunity to step into Bryant's role and take away some of the attention Beasley got last year.
Bryan Broaddus: I am sure hearing a lot of talk that they don't need a No. 1 receiver, but I am not buying that. Spreading the ball around sounds great, but when the chips are on the table you'd better have a guy that you can go to in order to make that clutch play. The most successful offensive teams have that player that no matter the situation, that guy is getting the ball. A No. 1 receiver also draws coverage away from the other receivers and tight ends or takes that extra man out of the box to help the running game. If a defensive coordinator doesn't respect your receivers, there are now plenty of options for them to scheme in order to shut you down. Hopefully this offensive staff finds that No. 1 receiver sooner than later.