(Editor's Note: This is the fifth of a 12-part series analyzing every position on the Cowboys roster, providing a quick look back before addressing the needs of each spot on the field and how it can be improved heading into the 2013 season. Today we examine the wide receivers.)
Pressing Matters:By year's end, Dez Bryant became the clear-cut No. 1 threat in the passing game. The receiver who couldn't be trusted for so long became the one consistent receiver each week. The pressing matters, therefore, don't involve Bryant, but rather the receivers surrounding him. One pressing matter is figuring out what to do with Miles Austin, who signed a six-year, $54 million extension at the beginning of 2011. He hasn't played to the level of a No. 1 receiver since, as injuries continue to hold him back. The Cowboys also need to decide what to do at third receiver with Dwayne Harris and Cole Beasley, and if Harris could even potentially compete for a second receiver spot. Though there are other more pressing needs, it wouldn't be shocking to see the Cowboys draft a receiver at some point that could develop into a second threat on the outside.
2012 Evaluation: It took a few weeks for him to get going, but it became clear the 2012 season belonged to Bryant. The one takeaway this year is that he's an elite threat capable of altering the outcome of games. While his performance in past seasons, and even at the beginning of this season, was marred by miscommunication and mistakes, he provided nothing but mesmerizing plays the latter half of the year. Bryant finished as the NFL's sixth leading receiver, while his 12 receiving touchdowns ranked third in the league. The Cowboys also realized they might have something in Cole Beasley and Dwayne Harris, who both contributed as third receivers.
Need More From … : It could have been debated before the year whether Bryant or Austin was the true No. 1 receiving threat in Dallas. That's no longer a debate. But the Cowboys gave Austin an extension with the hopes he could be among the top receivers in football. While his 66 catches for 943 yards and six touchdowns are respectable numbers, the production didn't put him in the top 20 in football in any major category. For Austin, staying healthy has to be the No. 1 priority. It's possible he was never near 100 percent at any point this season. The Cowboys could use a bounce back season from Austin to take pressure off Bryant and open up more in the passing game.
Upgrades Needed:The combination of Harris, Beasley and Ogletree made for a respectable third receiving threat throughout a game, while Bryant quickly became one of the top receivers in the game. The question becomes whether or not Austin can get healthy and return to his 2009 and 2010 production. If the Cowboys think those days are behind him, they may need to see if they can upgrade at the starting receiver spot or develop one of those third receivers into a No. 2.
Dez Bryant – He turned into everything the Cowboys could have wanted him to be, going on a seven-game scoring streak toward the end of the season. He surpassed 90 catches, 1,300 yards and the 10-touchdown mark for the first time in his career. If he can stay as focused off the field, the Cowboys will reap the benefits.
Miles Austin– Injuries are still a problem for Austin, who neared the 1,000-yard receiving mark but couldn't quite get there. Austin still had a couple big games, though most of them occurred at the start of the year. None of them came close to his nine-catch, 133-yard performance at home against the Giants. He started both games against the Redskins, but left with injuries in both games.
Dwayne Harris – He emerged as a receiver only after his emergence as a returner. He burst onto the scene after taking over as a punt returner for Dez Bryant, nearly taking a punt back for a touchdown against the Falcons and actually going the distance a week later against Philadelphia. After that Eagles game, Harris also had at least one reception every week.
Kevin Ogletree– Ogletree's eight-catch, 114-yard, two-touchdown opener against the Giants wasn't indicative of what would come the rest of the year. He totaled 11 catches the last five weeks of the season. Now a free agent, the Cowboys will need to decide if he's worth bringing back, or if they'd rather just develop Harris, Beasley and others.
Cole Beasley –Beasley's short out routes became one of the more reliable moves by a Cowboys' receiver. He showed flashes of what he could do out of the slot, but there were games he almost seemed forgotten about. He had seven catches against the Redskins in the first matchup and none the next.
Tim Benford – The former Tennessee Tech receiver spent the year on the practice squad. He led his college team in all receiving categories as a senior.
Danny Coale –Injuries prohibited the fifth-round draft pick from ever developing this season. Similarly to fourth-round pick Matt Johnson, the Cowboys will withhold judgment on the receiver until he gets healthy after hamstring and quad problems. He ended the season on the practice squad.
Carlton Mitchell –The South Florida product appeared in 11 games for the Browns in 2011 after getting drafted to Cleveland in the sixth round in 2010. He spent last season with the Jaguars before joining the reserve/future roster in Dallas.
Anthony Armstrong –He came to Dallas as a potential deep threat halfway through this season. Despite being active for a game, Armstrong never got a pass his direction. He was released prior to the end of the season, but will return on the reserve/future list.
Jared Green –The Cowboys brought in the former Southern University receiver to compete on the reserve/future list. The son of former Redskins cornerback Darrell Green spent time with the Panthers after going undrafted last year.
Bryan Broaddus on the Cowboys' current WR situation:
There was a clear difference this season from what we had observed in the past with Dez Bryant. He came to OTAs and Mini Camps with much more focus and determination to be better at his craft. His understanding of his responsibilities in the past is what had held him back but you could see from the opening snap that his 2012 was going to be different. There were too many times in previous years where Bryant would disappear but this season … (read more here)