As the Dallas Cowboys made the difficult decision to release Dez Bryant, it ushered in the beginning of the overhaul of the wide receiver group.
Much like they did in 2017 when they allowed Morris Claiborne, Brandon Carr, JJ Wilcox, and Barry Church to walk in free agency, and then proceeded to draft four defensive backs in the 2017 NFL Draft, the Dallas Cowboys began the painstaking task of overhauling a position group that has seen very little change in the last five years.
Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams, and Cole Beasley have all been mainstays on the depth chart and had solidified roles with the team as the top three targets during the Tony Romo and now Dak Prescott eras.
What took place in the 2018 NFL Draft, however, was evidence that the team isn’t content with the status quo.
The first big move over draft weekend came on Friday, when the Dallas Cowboys were rumored to be targeting SMU Wide Receiver Courtland Sutton. Instead, they held their picks and selected Colorado State Wideout Michael Gallup with the 81st pick.
Many see Gallup as someone who will be a lead receiver, if not week one, then by the end of the season.
Then on Saturday, after team favorite Nyheim Hines went off the board, the Dallas Cowboys made a trade with the Los Angeles Rams for wide receiver Tavon Austin. In a draft that provided very little drama for the Cowboys, this was a shock.
There had been little indication they were interested in making a move for the dynamic wide receiver and kick returner, but they pulled the trigger adding a dynamic threat to a team that needed more explosiveness on the offensive side of the ball.
While many of us, this analyst included, were dreaming up the possibilities of what Tavon Austin could look like on the field with this current receiving core, the Dallas Cowboys got a call from the Oakland Raiders about one of their wide receivers. Another surprise took place.
After only one season with the team, the Dallas Cowboys traded second year wide receiver, Ryan Switzer to the Oakland Raiders for defensive tackle Jihad Ward. Many thought Switzer could replace Beasley’s role in 2019, when the 2016 receiving leader's contract expired.
Switzer didn’t get a lot of opportunities on offense in his one year with the team and mostly because of the log jam at the top of the depth chart. Where Switzer’s impact was felt, however, was as a kick returner.
It’s important to note that Dallas had Jihad Ward only ranked five spots below current Dallas Cowboys defensive tackle, Maliek Collins in 2016. The Oakland Raiders made Ward their second round pick in 2016.
In 2013, the Dallas Cowboys had a first round grade on Tavon Austin.
The Dallas Cowboys came away with two players they really like for a fifth round pick and a player that wasn’t getting much run in Dallas.
Not bad. Not bad at all.
It could be argued that Switzer or another wide receiver was expendable with the addition of Tavon Austin. Austin is faster, more explosive, and has more experience playing the gadget role the team was hoping Ryan Switzer could play.
For the Los Angeles Rams, Austin took snaps lined up as a wide receiver and took snaps in the backfield. He was also the primary returner for the Rams. Austin immediately slots in as the team's kick and punt returner, jet-sweep guy, and deep threat, potentially making Deonte Thompson expendable.
While the Switzer move was a bit surprising, the Dallas Cowboys weren’t finished addressing the WR depth chart in the draft.
They selected Boise State wide receiver Cedric Wilson in the sixth round. Like Gallup, Wilson is a polished route runner who was very productive over his last couple of years at Boise State.
Who knows who will stick around after the 2018 season, but it’s obvious that the Cowboys want more consistent production from the wide receiver group and are trying to find guys who can get open quickly for quarterback Dak Prescott.
With Cole Beasley on a contract set to expire and approaching 30 years old next offseason, the team is expected to move on after the 2018 season.
Terrance Williams, though his contract would not allow for any team friendly management in 2018, gets a bit friendlier to the cap in 2019.
There are eight receivers on the roster who have a legitimate shot at being on the 53-man roster come week one. If you include a guy like Lance Lenoir who has made noise over the last two training camps, the wide receiver competition gets even more cloudy.
Cole Beasley, Terrance Williams, Allen Hurns, Tavon Austin, Michael Gallup, Noah Brown, Deonte Thompson, and Cedric Wilson all have a legitimate shot at making the roster. They may designate Austin as a RB and he could be listed on that depth chart, but what we know is they aren't going to take seven or eight players on the 53-man depth chart.
Training camp will provide more clarity as to the roles each could play in 2018 but one thing is clear, a shakeup is happening and more surprises could be on the horizon.
Is WR Cole Beasley Being Underutilized?
Like any competitor, Dallas Cowboys Wide Receiver Cole Beasley wants to play and be as heavily involved as possible when the lights come on and the game is on the line. He's become accustomed to to being heavily involved in the game plan, that is until WR Amari Cooper arrived in Dallas.
Since the arrival of Amari Cooper, Cole Beasley has seen his offensive role dramatically reduced. He is no longer Quarterback Dak Prescott's favorite target in the passing game and it even looks as if he is taken a stumble down the Cowboys WR depth chart. At best, he is their WR3 now behind Cooper and Michael Gallup.
That's quite a fall from grace for a player who was Dallas' top receiver the last few seasons and the most targeted in the first half of this year. I can almost guarantee he's not happy about not being utilized more in the passing game, but he's a team player and will do what it takes to win.
Unfortunately for Beasley, Cooper's arrival has changed the Cowboys offense. He is back to his old role of working the short intermediate routes now with Cooper and Gallup playing on the outside. Because of that his stats have taken a hit. His targets, receptions, and the chance to help his team win has dropped off significantly.
In the two games before Cooper joined the team, Beasley had 16 receptions for 157 yards and two touchdowns on 19 targets. The six games since he only has 17 catches for 138 yards on 26 targets. That's a huge drop in production and has nothing to do with his performance. It's how he's being utilized.
Beasley has been forced to take a backseat in the Cowboys aerial attack. Amari Cooper has been highly targeted, and rightfully so, and Michael Gallup is seeing more passes thrown his way as well. Not to mention, Ezekiel Elliott has been used more as a receiver also.
There are just too many mouths to feed and unfortunately Cole Beasley is the odd man out. The sad thing is, that might not change anytime soon with the way the Cowboys offense is playing right now. It's one of the reasons why they currently have the league's best winning streak going for them.
It's to hard make an argument for Beasley receiving more looks in the passing game with the way the offense is playing, with the exception of in the red zone, but I do believe he needs to be more involved. After all, he is still one of the Cowboys best WRs and can't be covered by anyone in the league one-on-one.
I don't know about you, but I'm hoping things will circle back around and he will once again be more involved in the passing game. His ability to get open is uncanny and it's a shame to not take advantage of that God-given gift.
What do you think, should Cole Beasley start being utilized more?
Time to see What Darius Jackson can do as Zeke’s Backup?
I hate to say it because I really like Rod Smith, but I think it may be time for the Dallas Cowboys to reevaluate the running back position as it pertains to Ezekiel Elliott's primary backup. Smith just hasn't been good this year, which is why I think it may be time to see what Darius Jackson can do if given the opportunity.
Don't get me wrong. I'm not suggesting the Dallas Cowboys move on from Rod Smith or demote him right now, but I would promote Darius Jackson from the practice squad to the active roster as insurance in case something were to happen to Zeke. It just seems the right time to make that move after #21's injury scare Sunday afternoon against the Philadelphia Eagles.
You may have forgotten, but Ezekiel Elliott had to spend some time in the medical tent Sunday against the Eagles. He was luckily able to return to the game not long after, but it did shine a spotlight on Rod Smith and the lack of depth behind him.
Despite how much I like Rod Smith, and I do, he just hasn't been the same player this season as he was last year as Zeke's fill-in. He is just not running with any kind of authority and has been too apt to run east and west instead of north and south. I think it's one of the reasons why the Cowboys have continued to give Zeke such a heavy workload, despite him being banged up.
Now, Rod Smith did look a little better against the Eagles, but I still believe it would be wise for the Cowboys to promote Darius Jackson to the active roster. Having more depth at such a physically demanding position is just smart football.
With the Dallas Cowboys playoff spot all but secured, it might be time to start thinking about lightening Ezekiel Elliott's workload just a little bit. Whether it's Rod Smith or Darius Jackson, the Cowboys have to find someone who can step in and be productive.
Rod Smith has had his opportunities this year, but hasn't really been able to capitalize like we believed he could. It might be time to turn to Darius Jackson, a fan favorite, who unfortunately just hasn't been able to prove what he can do as of yet in a meaningful game. I think it's time we change that.
As much as I like Rod Smith, I might like Darius Jackson just a little bit more. I think he is kind of like a poor man's Ezekiel Elliott. He is just as athletically gifted and can be a threat as both a runner and a receiver out of the backfield. He just needs the opportunity to prove it.
There's really no way of knowing if I'm right or wrong about this, but I believe he is worthy of a roster spot on game day if nothing else. I'd rather have him and not need him then need him and not have him.
Do you think it's time to see what Darius Jackson can do?
Cowboys Lassoing NFC East Title as NFC Dark Horse
Well don’t look now but the Dallas Cowboys are in control of their division and anything short of a catastrophic collapse will see them hosting the first round of the playoffs. Dallas strengthened their grip on the NFC East by knocking off a divisional rival and the reigning Super Bowl champions with a 29-23 overtime win over the Eagles.
Those who have a favorite online sportsbook and wagered on the Cowboys were ecstatic to see Dak Prescott hit Amari Cooper for a 15-yard touchdown pass in overtime, thus covering the 3 ½ point impost that oddsmakers hung on Dallas.
The Cowboys have now won five consecutive games, with three of those over divisional opponents Philadelphia (twice) and Washington. But before we celebrate, we must consider that there's still a mathematical possibility of either Philadelphia or Washington stealing the division crown away from the Cowboys.
The Giants' only hope is an outside shot at a wildcard berth if they win outright but they've been eliminated from contending for a division title due to their 1-4 record against NFC East teams.
Essentially, all the Cowboys must do is win one of their three remaining games in order to celebrate a division crown. If Philadelphia or Washington loses any of their three games they will be out due to tie breakers that go in the Cowboys’ favor.
As of this moment, the Redskins are a disaster with no one under center to captain their rudderless ship, and the Eagles must defeat the Rams in LA, which would be considered a stunning upset seeing as any reputable online sportsbook is offering the Rams as 9 ½ point favorites as of this writing; then they must win at home against Houston and on the road against the Redskins.
Of course, the Cowboys are counting only on themselves to reel in the division title and with games at Indianapolis, home against the Bucs, and wrapping their season in New Jersey against the Giants, at least one win seems likely.
The addition of Amari Cooper to the Dallas offensive arsenal has been a game-changer as the former Oakland Raider hauled in 10 of 13 targets for 217 yards and three touchdowns, including the game-winner last Sunday against Philadelphia. He was the top-tier receiver Prescott had been lacking and his presence on the field improves both the passing game and running game by virtue of his dynamic playmaking abilities. Ezekiel Elliott has eclipsed the century mark in rushing yards in four of the six games since Cooper has been on the Cowboys roster.
Furthermore, Dallas has averaged 24.4 points per game over their last five wins with Cooper in the lineup, which is more than five points improved from where they were prior to their winning streak without him in a Dallas uniform.
In addition, Prescott has morphed from a game manager at 202 passing yards per game to a game breaker as evidenced by his 285.7 passing yard average in six games with his new target at his disposal.
Ultimately, the Cowboys will be tasked with turning all of this good mojo into a deep run into the postseason. We can now confidently say that there is one other team to consider besides the Rams, Bears, and Saints as this year’s NFC entrant into the Super Bowl. However, Dak Prescott will need to eliminate turnovers and interceptions if Dallas is truly going to contend against the powerhouses they will face in the playoffs.
Last Sunday, Prescott caught fire in the fourth quarter and ended with 455 yards passing, connecting on 42 of 54 passes with three touchdowns, but his two interceptions were converted into nine points by Philadelphia. As we move forward, Prescott will need to lead right from the get-go and understand that one poor decision can cost his team what is now a realistic shot at a championship season.
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