Way back in the summer days of training camp, our staff wrote about their most anticipated position battle leading up to the 2016 Cowboys season. The majority of us agreed that the battle with the most intrigue was at wide receiver, where the roster spots were pretty set, but playing time was to be earned.
Now, the Dallas Cowboys are going to the playoffs as the NFC's top seed, thanks in large part to WRs that have stepped up in support of rookie quarterback Dak Prescott.
Let's take a closer look at all of the players at this position heading into the playoffs -
There's no question that Dez Bryant is the best pass catcher on the Cowboys currently. A true star wide out, Bryant has had to go through some adjustments with Prescott at quarterback - but is heating up right at the perfect time.
In his most recent performance, Bryant caught two spectacular touchdown passes against the Lions, both times stretching the field against a defense that was expecting the run.
Bryant is the ultimate competitor, and you know he'll want to silence any critics when it comes to playing in the postseason for just the second time in his career. With the way 2014 ended, there's not a team in the league that wants to try to cover #88 right now in the playoffs.
Cowboys Nation has surmised that the only thing capable of stopping Bryant from taking over any given game is Scott Linehan's inconsistent play calling with him on the outside, but we saw firsthand on Monday night how just one or two throws to Bryant can change a game.
Much of the intrigue at WR coming into this season for the Cowboys was because of Williams - the WR2 behind Bryant since his rookie season in 2013 - facing some serious competition (so we thought) from Brice Butler.
Both Williams and Butler will be free agents after this season, but for now their collective focus has to be on making plays in the playoffs. For Terrance Williams, hopefully this will mean more than the occasional splash plays.
Yes, his two touchdowns in that 2014 playoff win against the Lions were electrifying, but he also had 12 games that season with three or less receptions. This season, Williams has eight such games, but has shown improvement on film as a more consistent route runner with better overall field awareness.
A deep playoff run for these Cowboys would mean an appearance in Super Bowl LI, and you get the feeling that they'll need Terrance Williams in a few big spots to get there.
With Seattle's secondary not at full-strength, there doesn't appear to be a truly dominant passing defense standing in the way of the Cowboys and Houston, so Williams will be expected to play his part in the postseason.
The Cowboys offense has been their best defense at times this season, capable of grinding out long touchdown drives that wear opposing teams down. A massive part of this week-to-week offensive game plan is slot-receiver Cole Beasley.
The fascinating thing about the way all of the Dallas wide receivers are utilized is how well they all fit together into super-specific roles. Beasley is the Cowboys' best example of this concept, called upon to move the chains on third down and make the occasional explosive RAC play.
Often times for Dak Prescott, throws to Beasley are just as good as hand offs to Ezekiel Elliott, as they get him outside of the pocket with Beasley running across the field.
It is easy to see why the Cowboys offense is a juggernaut, when you put yourselves in the shoes of a defensive coordinator in the NFC playoffs - charged with the tough task of slowing them down. We've already talked about the threat that Dez Bryant and Terrance Williams provide in the passing game, but Beasley is capable of breaking a game with plenty of
saucy timely snags.
The X-Factor: Brice Butler
Everything about Brice Butler's most recent touchdown against the Lions - his first since week 6 - was spectacular. The pre-snap recognition from Prescott led to him throwing an absolutely perfect ball to Butler, who snagged in the end zone for six points.
Butler was brought in last season to make plays in the absence of Dez Bryant. Now, while he hasn't cut into Williams' playing time like some expected, Butler has the chance to play with the entirety of the Cowboys pass catchers.
Since the Cowboys are so deep, with such defined roles for their starting WRs, Butler's best shot to make an impact in the playoffs will be as a home-run threat on the outside. The over the top speed of Butler combined with his length makes him the perfect target for a few deep shots a game - even if they are just thrown to change a defense's perspective prior to a run play.
Butler has also hurt his cause at times by dropping a few of these opportunities, committing penalties, and not blocking well throughout the season, making him my x-factor at this position.
The Playoff Primer series will continue breaking down the Dallas Cowboys offense and defense prior to the Divisional Round. You can share your thoughts on this Wide Receiver analysis in the comments! Feel free to also email your feedback to Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com.
Cowboys Trade for FB Jamize Olawale from Raiders
Less than a week after the Cowboys lost fullback Keith Smith to the Raiders in free agency, the two teams have worked out a trade to send FB Jamize Olawale from Oakland to Dallas.
Fullback trade! The #Raiders are sending FB Jamize Olawale to the #Cowboys, sources say. Dallas has its fullback, one who was with Oakland since 2012.
To facilitate the trade, the Cowboys will send their fifth-round pick (173rd overall) to the Raiders for their sixth-round pick (192nd), moving back just 19 spots.
In return, Dallas not only brings in a veteran replacement at FB but a player they already know.
Jamize Olawale was an undrafted rookie free agent of the Cowboys in 2012. Despite a strong showing in that preseason, Dallas did not have room for him on the roster. He was on the team's practice squad until December, when Oakland poached him.
Since then, Olawale has been a regular roleplayer in the Raiders' offense. He's missed just six games since 2013.
Jamize brings more offensive firepower to the FB position than Keith Smith had. He's scored at least one touchdown in each of the last three seasons. He can be effective both running and receiving.
Through the trade, Dallas picks up the final year of Olawale's current contract. It calls for a $1.5 million base salary in 2018.
Dallas Cowboys to Re-Sign Long Snapper L.P. Ladouceur for 2018
Continuity is the key to good special teams play in the NFL. Already losing long-time Special Teams Coordinator Rich Bisaccia to the Raiders - who promptly snatched ST aces Keith Smith and Kyle Wilber in free agency - the Dallas Cowboys have announced their intentions to re-sign Long Snapper L.P. Ladouceur for the 2018 season.
Returning on a one-year deal, the fan favorite Ladouceur will be back to do what he does best in cleanly executing almost every special teams snap for Chris Jones or Dan Bailey to handle.
Long snapper L.P. Ladouceur will re-sign with the Cowboys on Monday, according to sources, on a one-year deal. He will be in his 14th season with the franchise. Only Jason Witten, Ed "Too Tall" Jones, Bill Bates and Mark Tuinei will have more years of... https://t.co/yTQbMYyrIv
While Jones has improved as the Cowboys' punter with each passing season, Kicker Dan Bailey actually enters 2018 as another question mark on this unit. With the general belief around the team being that Bailey will be just fine moving forward, the Cowboys will no longer have to worry about who handles long snaps next year either.
L.P. Ladouceur is back in the silver and blue, and in this moment, everything can be alright with the world.
Report: Raiders Sign Former Cowboys LB Kyle Wilber
A Free Agency period filled with departures continued for the Dallas Cowboys today, as the Oakland Raiders have reportedly signed the now-former Cowboys LB Kyle Wilber.
The Raiders have signed LB Kyle Wilber: https://t.co/TaC6cqjval
Wilber has been with the Cowboys since 2012, and has played in all 16 games four of the past five seasons. Most of his time has come on special teams, but he did provide solid linebacker depth for the Cowboys since joining the team.
Dallas has now lost both Wilber and Anthony Hitchens, depleting their linebacker depth even further over the last couple weeks.
The Raiders have now signed two key special teams contributors for the Cowboys in Keith Smith and Kyle Wilber this offseason. Hopefully Dallas can replace these types of "replacement level" players throughout the rest of the offseason, especially during the NFL Draft.
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