Cole Beasley is the Dallas Cowboys’ leading receiver after three games. He has the most targets, catches, and yards. The one thing he hasn’t done is find the endzone, but you can say that about every Dallas receiver except for Dez Bryant.
Here is a quick look at the Cowboys’ key receiving stats so far in 2016:
It’s not hard to see why Beasley has emerged as Dak Prescott’s favorite target. They have an 80% completion percentage together, compared to roughly 50% between Dak and Dez.
Not only does Beasley get open but his slippery running leads to extra yards after the catch. Other than a dropped pass in Week One that would’ve likely resulted in a touchdown, Cole Beasley has provided little to complain about so far this year.
The question now is if Beasley’s team-leading production is anomalous or the beginning of lasting change. Is he emerging as the team’s number-one receiver?
It feels like a time of change with this Cowboys offense. Dak Prescott is making people wonder if Tony Romo will ever get his job back. Ezekiel Elliott has taken over the running back position and will likely hold it for many years to come. Although still an effective player, Jason Witten won’t be around much longer.
If Cole Beasley’s production sticks then it will put him in a rare class of highly-effective, undersized, white receivers. Two of the best-known examples have come from the New England Patriots; Wes Welker and Julian Edelman.
It won’t be the first similarity between the 2016 Cowboys and New England.
The comparison between Prescott and Tom Brady has already been drawn by multiple sources. Stephen Jones commented on the Prescott-Romo situation’s similarity to Brady-Drew Bledsoe. Conditioning coach Mike Woicik, who also worked for the Patriots during Brady’s tenure, said that Prescott and Brady had similar off-field habits.
From 2007-2012, Wes Welker led the Patriots in catches. Those first three years were with Randy Moss on the roster and playing at a high level. Still, Welker was Brady’s favorite target.
In 2013, Welker left as a free agent and Julian Edelman took over as Brady’s number-one guy. He led them team in catches for two years. Last season he missed seven games but still had the most catches-per-game of any Patriots receiver, including Rob Gronkowski.
For a while it seems like the game was leaving these smaller receivers behind. Calvin Johnson was an extreme example but bigger guys like Dez Bryant, Demaryius Thomas, and Julio Jones felt like the new blueprint for NFL receivers. The success of guys like Welker and Edelman seemed just a funny outlier, unique to the Patriots system.
Things have shifted in recent years. Antonio Brown, at just 5’10”, is the best WR in the game. Odell Beckham Jr. is only 5’11” and perhaps the biggest star at his position. Edelman remains the top guy in New England, no matter how unstoppable The Gronk may be.
Obviously, Cole Beasley would be a far more extreme example of this new trend. He is only 5’8″ and about as small as an effective football player can be.
For now, though, he is proving that skill is far bigger than size.
With Dez Bryant likely missing time after a small fracture in his knee, or at least being limited on the field, we will see if Beasley can remain effective without Dez’s presence. Will defenses now be able to take Beasley away from Dak Prescott?
If they can’t, then it will be hard to deny that Cole Beasley has emerged as more than just an option in this Cowboys offense. We may have to start talking about him in much more respectful terms.
The other test will come if and when Tony Romo returns to the starting lineup. Will Tony look for Beasley the same way that Prescott has, or will he still defer to Jason Witten and Bryant?
Tony’s been on the sideline watching as Beasley has been so productive. The ways that Beasley gets open fit well with Romo’s playing style. I don’t think the chemistry will be very different than what Beasley has now with Prescott.
Though currently on pace to do so, I doubt Beasley hits 100 catches this year. There will be a few quiet weeks that hold him back. Still, the 80-90 range for cacthes seems likely. With Bryant now hurt and Witten declining, Cole Beasley is likely to lead the team this year.
If so, he will join that Wes Welker, Julian Edelman company of receivers who defy the odds in more ways than one.