(Editor's Note: This is the first of a 12-part series examining and analyzing the main position groups for the Cowboys as they prepare for training camp. It begins with the wide receivers.)
What's the Deal?
Dez Bryant will once again need to lead the group, and perhaps more than ever as Miles Austin's now gone and the receiving corps has gotten younger. Terrance Williams will be called upon to fill the void as the No. 2
receiver, just as he had to when Austin was out last season. Cole Beasley and Dwayne Harris will both compete for time as third receivers once again, but also in the mix this year is fifth-round pick Devin Street. The Cowboys added a lot of size this offseason, as free agent pickup LaRon Byrd and rookie free agents L'Damian Washington and Chris Boyd are all 6-4. Jamar Newsome and Tim Benford, who were on the practice squad last year, round out the receiver group.
Still Need to Find Out:
The Cowboys can't afford a sophomore slump from Williams, who needs to demonstrate he can be reliable from year to year. His breakout rookie season surpassed expectations and was comparable to Bryant's rookie year, but that only sets the bar higher for 2014 in Williams' second year. We still need to find out if the Cowboys are willing to keep six receivers, as well. That will allow for one of those aforementioned big targets to get on the roster. If not, it'll be difficult for anyone to beat out Bryant, Williams, Beasley, Harris or Street. In addition, someone needs to step up for the third receiver role, and it's likely Beasley will be the frontrunner.
Bryant's had at least double the amount of receiving touchdowns as any other wide receiver on the team each of the last two seasons. He's been the team's star in the red zone and will need to continue to be, given his unique physical abilities when the field narrows down. Bryant had 12 of the Cowboys' 29 receiving touchdowns in 2012 and 13 of the team's 33 receiving touchdowns last year. His numbers each of the last two years are similar, surpassing the 90-catch, 1,200-yard and 10-touchdown marks, and the Cowboys may need for those numbers to increase even more if the offense is to be relied upon.
See the players who have worn the Cowboys famous #88 (some players missing due to lack of photos).
The pressure on Bryant could be lessened if Williams makes a similar jump in year two that Bryant made. Williams caught 44 passes for 736 yards and five touchdowns last year. As a rookie, Bryant had 45 catches for 561 yards and six touchdowns.
Ready to Breakout?
Beasley's production increased last year, as the slot threat caught nearly 71 percent of his targets last season. To put that in perspective, Bryant caught 66 percent of his targets in 2012 and 58 percent of his targets last season. Beasley could very well surpass the 500-yard mark for the first time in his career this year. Beasley's 39 catches for 368 yards and two touchdowns last year were all career-highs, but there were still games he went silent. If he can take a firm grasp of the third receiver spot, this could be his breakout season. Other top candidates for that breakout year are Street and Byrd. [embedded_ad]
Battle to Watch:
If the front office decides to carry six receivers, then I believe it will come down to which player can contribute more on special teams. Under that thought, keep an eye on LaRon Byrd and L'Damian Washington. Byrd has been getting snaps with the twos and threes while Washington has been sidelined with toe and shoulder issues. Click here for the full report
Last Time Out:
For a look back at how each wide receiver on the current roster performed last season, click here.