IRVING, Texas– Lance Dunbar – a 1,000-yard receiver?
Clearly, it's still incredibly early in this 2015 season, but that's what the stats are showing through three games. With 21 receptions for 215 yards so far, it's not Dez Bryant or Jason Witten, but Dunbar leading the way.
If we were to keep that pace, Dunbat would finish his fourth NFL season with more than 100 receptions and roughly 1,100 yards on the year.
"He's done well. He has real versatility," said offensive coordinator Scott Linehan on Thursday. "There's not a whole lot that we've asked him to do that he hasn't done."
That much is obvious from watching the Cowboys play. Dunbar has a mere two carries on the year, but he has caught passes from virtually every spot in the formation – including a 39-yarder down the sideline two weeks ago in Philadelphia. And last weekend against Atlanta, his 10 catches for 100 yards led the team.
"Catching the ball, running the ball – I'm just trying to make plays, and I feel like I can do it either way," Dunbar said.
It's been quite a departure from his little-used skillset last year. Consider this fact: with 13 games left to play, Dunbar already has three more receptions and just two fewer receiving yards than he did all of last season.
In all of 2014 combined, he tallied 362 all-purpose yards. Through the first weeks of 2015, he has 361 all-purpose yards – putting him on pace for 1,925 this year. The reasoning seems pretty obvious, when you consider that the Cowboys lost 392 carries and 57 receptions of production from DeMarco Murray.
"Being that we're playing two, three guys – last year we were spelling one," Linehan said. "Playing two to three guys in a specific role is going to be, as we keep moving forward with our offense, it's going to be a big benefit for us."
To this point in the season, that hasn't really left room for Dunbar to join the Cowboys' much-discussed running back committee. He has two carries for 13 yards to this point, accounting for just three percent of the Cowboys' total on the year.
"If my number is called to run the ball, I think I can. I practice all the time," Dunbar said. "I believe they have the faith in me, it's just my name hasn't been called in the game. We have other backs that have jobs, and I have my role."
That role is working wonders to this point, and it doesn't figure to diminish while Tony Romo convalesces from a broken collarbone. Dunbar presents the perfect mismatch opportunity for Brandon Weeden in the mid-range passing game – so much so that Weeden said this week that he'd like Dunbar's chances to beat any linebacker in the league.
It might seem like a departure from his old workload, but it's a role the Cowboys say they're very comfortable with.
"He's doing more, because we identified his role to be different," Linehan said. "It was just hard – our approach last year was different, our identity was a little different. We had other options we could use, including receiver options, for the same role. This year, everybody kind of moved one up in the ladder rung – so to speak. It's really opened up more doors for him."