With training camp right around the corner, DallasCowboys.com is taking a look at the outlook of each position group in a 10-part series, starting Monday with the wide receiver position
Top of the chart: Dez Bryant
Files this away under "Things that surprise no one:" Dez Bryant is the chief playmaker in the Cowboys' wide receiver corps, and he'll have a chance in 2013 to leap into the upper echelon as one of the NFL's top three or four wide receivers.
By whatever statistic you want to measure with, Bryant's career has improved by leaps and bounds during each of his three years in the league. With 1,382 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2012, one could argue Bryant's numbers don't have a lot of room for improvement. But it's easy to forget how much he struggled in the early going of last season before his prolific second half.
For reference: if Bryant were to average his second-half numbers from 2012 over the course of 16 games, he'd finish 2013 with 100 catches for 1,758 yards and 20 touchdowns – which would obliterate any of Michael Irvin's top seasons in most respects.
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Bryant's meteoric rise has come somewhat at the expense of the former darling of the Cowboys' offense, Miles Austin.
Much has been made recently of Austin's slump in form, which probably has a lot to do with his absence from seven possible starts in the past two years. The eight-year veteran has only surpassed 1,000 yards once since his fantastic 2009 season, which saw him post 1,320 yards and 11 touchdowns.
The fact of the matter is that Bryant has probably eaten into Austin's potential production. It's not easy for an offense to produce two 1,000 yard receivers – especially when the receivers are vying for receptions with an all-timer of a tight end in Jason Witten, who is capable of chalking up 1,000 yards of his own.
That doesn't mean Austin can't improve. Keeping healthy would go a long way toward fixing those problems. But even with two Pro Bowl-caliber targets in the lineup, Austin should be able to find more work. He's averaging 54 catches in the past two seasons, which is substantially below guys like Jeremy Maclin, Jordy Nelson and Julio Jones – all of whom are elite players who are splitting receptions with other top receivers.
Still need to know … Third WR Battle
The common logic has Dwayne Harris as the favorite as the Cowboys' No. 3 receiver entering 2013. That type of respect gives the impression that Harris is a proven veteran, but his 17 career receptions and 222 total yards reveal how far he has to go. Harris' lone score of 2012 came in the second-to-last game of the season, against the Saints. The same defense that applies to Austin could go here – Harris is in competition with Bryant, Austin and Witten for touches, after all. But it doesn't' change the fact that his resume doesn't justify his guaranteed inclusion as a regular contributor to the offense. The third-year player caught on last season as a punt returner, and his continued improvement in that role could go a long way toward helping his role within the offense.
Terrance Williams has even fewer credentials than Harris, considering he was only drafted three months ago. But expectations on Williams will be high after the Cowboys spent a third round pick on the Baylor product. Williams had a shaky start to his professional tenure during rookie minicamp, but he shined during OTAs and minicamp. All eyes will be on his progress during training camp.
Don't forget about … Trio of Youngsters
Injuries limited Cole Beasley during his rookie campaign, but he still managed to get into 10 games and catch 15 balls last year. Unlike fellow sophomore Danny Coale, Beasley was back at full health in the spring and impressed when he had his opportunities.
Anthony Armstrong is still looking for a follow-up to his 800-yard rookie season with the Redskins. He bounced around to three different teams and only saw one game with Dallas in 2012, but he's got far more experience at the NFL level than any of the other unheralded receivers vying for a roster spot.