After last week's stunning release of Dez Bryant, the receiver position has become the primary focus of the Dallas Cowboys 2018 draft analysis. There is no guarantee that they will use their first-round pick there, but it's looking like a pretty safe bet.
Even if Dez had stayed in town, a young receiving talent was being targeted in the early rounds. Now the Cowboys may need this rookie to contribute immediately, which makes waiting even until the 50th pick (2nd round) a dangerous proposition.
You can read plenty of content about 2018 receiver prospects and how they may fit for the Cowboys elsewhere on our site. For this article, we're going to focus on the guys currently on the team and how their presence impacts the need for a receiver in the draft.
Here are the receivers currently signed to the Dallas roster:
- Terrance Williams (6th year)
- Allen Hurns (5th year, new to Cowboys)
- Cole Beasley (7th year)
- Deonte Thompson (7th year, new to Cowboys)
- Ryan Switzer (2nd year)
- Noah Brown (2nd year)
- Lance Lenior (2nd year)
- KD Cannon (2nd year)
Of these players, the only one who's ever come close to putting up numbers like Dez Bryant is Hurns. In 2015, Allen had 1,031 yards and 10 touchdowns for the Jacksonville Jaguars.
That said, Hurns was the second receiver in the Jags offense with Allen Robinson doing even bigger and better things. With Robinson missing nearly all of 2017 with an injury, Hurns' per-game production only saw a minor increase from the year before. The Jacksonville offense, despite their playoff success, was not its strong point.
Receivers who've proven unable to step into the lead role is the big issue for the Cowboys. For five years, Terrance Williams has shown he's nothing more than a secondary player. You can count as many blunders as highlights over his career, and even when Bryant's been injured he hasn't shown he can respond to more opportunities.
This is one of the reasons that Dallas let Brice Butler walk in free agency. Like Terrance, Brice showed he could make the occasional play but was not consistent enough to be trusted with more responsibility.
Cole Beasley was the Cowboys' leading receiver in 2016, when they went 13-3 and the future looked bright. He caught 75 balls on just 98 targets, a staggering level of efficiency, and has by far shown the most chemistry with Dak Prescott so far.
But Beasley isn't going to stretch the field or keep defenses honest. Last year, realizing that Cole had become the bigger concern than Dez Bryant, opponents took him out of the game and forced Prescott to go to his other guys.
Of course, this was helped by the absence of Ezekiel Elliott during his suspension. But even when Zeke was on the field, the Cowboys offense rarely looked the same as 2016. This had a lot to do with the strategic elimination of Beasley from the receiving game.
We can expect things to stay the same as the 2018 season opens. Until one of them proves otherwise, Allen Hurns or Terrance Williams aren't going to scare anybody. Teams will still focus on Beasley as Dak's favorite receiver until another receiver starts to take advantage of that.
Hurns is a far more proficient route runner than Bryant, and still just 26 years old, so there is hope that he could bring a little more juice to the offense. Perhaps that addition, plus Elliott's full-time return, will open things up for Beasley and Prescott to get back to their 2016 form.
But as we said before, Hurns hasn't shown he can play big without a true franchise receiver across the way.
Dallas also added veteran Deonte Thompson in free agency, but he's essentially a Brice Butler replacement. He won't be higher than fourth on the depth chart and bring a vertical threat, but isn't expected to take on a major role.
This is a key reason that Dallas will be looking at receivers early in this 2018 draft. There is no guarantee that any of their current players can command enough respect from defenses.
In that situation, what you hope is that you have enough talented guys out there to give your QB options. A rookie receiver isn't likely to step into leading role this season anyway, but he might provide enough spark that everyone benefits.
And even if 2018 concerns weren't enough, a long-term view also makes receiver a top priority. The Cowboys need to invest now to prepare for the future at the position.
Cole Beasley's contract expires in 2019. Depending on how next season goes, Terrance Williams and Allen Hurns could be released for salary cap savings. Deonte Thompson is on just a one-year deal.
If nothing else, the Cowboys are going to need more guys to play receiver in years to come. But bodies aren't enough; they need a young guy to form the complete the offensive nucleus of the team with Prescott and Elliott.
Nobody expects Ryan Switzer or Noah Brown to emerge as the next franchise receiver, and it would be foolish to do so. But if the Cowboys can land a Calvin Ridley or D.J. Moore now, that player might be ready to step into the top spot in 2019 and for future seasons.
Clearly, for both immediate and long-term reasons, Dallas will be focused on the WR position in this draft.
Still, it may not be the first round. Depending on who's available at the 19th pick, Dallas may decide they'd rather grab a new starting guard, defensive tackle, safety, or linebacker. The current front office is loath to draft solely for need.
But if all things are even on talent, there is an easy case to be made for receiving being the team's greatest need in this draft.
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