Battle Royal: Cowboys Have Options For Returners; But Questions Remain

What's the Issue:

By the end of the 2015 season the kickoff and punt return job belonged to Lucky Whitehead, one of two undrafted rookies who made the team out of training camp last year. Whitehead finished the season with 16 kickoff returns for a 28.3-yard average and 19 punt returns for a 5.8-yard average. His 46-yard kickoff return Dec. 7 at Washington helped set up Dan Bailey's winning field goal in the Cowboys' final victory of the season.

Entering his second year, Whitehead will look to retain return duties and continue his development as a wide receiver. By the end of his rookie season he says he weighed 170 pounds, 10 lighter than his listed 180-pound playing weight. Now he's up to about 183 and says he also worked on improving his lower-body strength so he can handle the extra weight.

Whitehead will have competition this summer. Receivers such as Ed Eagan and Chris Brown are in the same position he was last year: undrafted and looking for special teams roles that could help earn a roster spot. Both could get a look on punt returns, and veteran Cole Beasley is always a reliable option back there.

Don't Forget About:

Rob Phillips:Whitehead split punt returns with Beasley until taking over the job full time in the final six games. He also didn't have a kickoff return until Lance Dunbar suffered a season-ending knee injury in Week 4 at New Orleans. It's possible Dunbar begins the season on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list as he continues his knee rehab, but when healthy he's one of the team's most dynamic players with the football in his hands and a possible kickoff return option again.

Nick Eatman: Let's not forget about Darren McFadden as a return specialist. If there are some on the staff that want to make sure he sticks around on the roster, putting him back on kick returns is a way to separate himself from Morris when it comes to value. Now that Ezekiel Elliott is the starting running back, there will be a need to find roles for McFadden and/or Morris. McFadden still has the speed to be a dynamic returner and now that he won't be taking the full load of carries, he could be the viable option back deep.

David Helman:It'd be easy to hand the main returning duties to Lucky Whitehead, who showed flashes of gamebreaking ability during his rookie season. I don't think it's going to be that simple for the second-year wide receiver, though, given his struggles with ball security last year. Cole Beasley is probably never going to be a dynamic threat in the return game, but I think the coaches trust him more with the ball – despite his game-ending muff to end the Giants game last October. I think the ideal scenario would be for Whitehead to claim this job from the very get-go, but Beasley will always be around as a dependable option, and that doesn't include the possibility of a rookie stepping into the spotlight. I'm not going to be surprised if the coaching staff has to make an audible about its returners sometime during training camp or the preseason.

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