The Dallas Cowboys signed free agent Allen Hurns during the offseason and made him the highest-paid receiver on the team. With that comes expectations of team-leading performance, but the Week 1 loss showed no signs of chemistry yet between Hurns and quarterback Dak Prescott.
If the Cowboys are going to get the offense going this year, Dak and Allen will need to produce more than one catch per game. Ideally, Hurns would replace the production that Dez Bryant had been giving the offense in recent years.
The key term there is “recent years.” Nobody expects Hurns to put the franchise WR numbers that Dez did in his prime. But at the very least, we need to something reminiscent of the 2016 season.
Here's a quick reminder of the Cowboys receiving leaders that year, Prescott's rookie season, when the team went 13-3 and looked like a Super Bowl contender:
- Cole Beasley – 75 rec, 833 yds, 5 TDs (15 games)
- Jason Witten – 69 rec, 673 yds, 3 TDs (16 games)
- Dez Bryant – 50 rec, 796 yds, 8 TDs (13 games)
- Terrance Williams – 44 rec, 594 yds, 4 TDs (16 games)
If he'd played the full season, Bryant would've likely led the team in yards and touchdowns. But Prescott relied most on his security blanket players, Beasley and Witten, and that was largely due to their ability to consistently find space and earn quick confidence from Dak.
We saw that in last week's game. Beasley led the team with seven catches, still his QB's favorite target. And there's nothing wrong with that in terms of the Cowboys having success this season.
But with Witten and Bryant gone, some combination of Hurns, Michael Gallup, Deonte Thompson, Terrance Williams, and one of these young tight ends is going to have to pick up the slack. And it's Hurns, at $6 million per year, who carries the highest burden of responsibility.
When Dallas signed Hurns last March, the scouting report told us he was a strong route runner who could create separation in single coverage. That's the kind receiver any QB likes, but especially one who tries to play conservatively like Dak Prescott.
Following the Panthers loss, Jerry Jones told the media that Dallas' receivers were open but the ball wasn't getting to them. Whether or not Hurns was one of those missed guys is unknown, but it stands to reason that Prescott probably wasn't looking his way as much as he should.
One of Dak's biggest issues the last two years has been not trusting his guys to make plays on contested balls. It's why he and Dez Bryant were never going to thrive; Dez needed a QB who is willing to throw it up and let him do something special.
We saw what happened when Dak started trying to force things to Bryant in 2017. Prescott went from just four interceptions as a rookie to 13 last season. His discomfort in the offense was amply evident.
Nobody is suggesting that Dak needs to try to make Allen Hurns a Pro Bowler, something he never was in Jacksonville. But as 2016 showed, this offense can excel without one receiver producing jaw-dropping numbers.
At bare minimum, Prescott has to find one more guy who he can lean on other than Beasley. Last year, defenses keyed in on this and took Cole right out of the games. That's what led to the forced, unnatural attempts to Bryant and the increased turnovers.
Hurns should be that guy. He has the skills to do it, and he is getting paid to be one of the offensive leaders. Dallas signed him and released Dez Bryant because they thought they could get the same production for about a third of the cost.
It's only been one game, on the road, and against a very strong defense. We'll what Dak, Hurns, and the rest of the offense can do Sunday night with the Giants coming to town. It's going to have to be better, or else this season is headed downhill in a hurry.