For years, Dez Bryant was the obvious WR1 in Dallas. With his departure, the arrival of Allen Hurns through free agency, and the drafting of Michael Gallup, the pecking order has not been established for 2018. Will one of the newcomers become Dak Prescott's primary target? Or does Terrance Williams have a shot at that job? Does Cole Beasley's role change? Can one of these guys be an every-week fantasy starter?
Jason Wood: There's a perception the Cowboys receiving corps was among the worst last year, and that's not accurate. They weren't good, but they weren't awful in most respects. As a unit, the wide receivers ranked 15th in receptions, 16th in targets, and 18th in catch rate. Where things took a tumble was in productivity as the receiver unit ranked just 30th in yards-per-reception average and 20th in touchdown rate.
The decision to part ways with Dez Bryant was met with mixed reviews, but statistically speaking, it was the right decision. The former Pro Bowler hadn't cracked 1,000 yards receiving since 2014, and his catch rate plummeted over the last three seasons. In 2017, Bryant's catch rate (52.3%) was worse than the Cowboys receiving corps on the whole (58.7%), and his 12.1 yards per catch wasn't demonstrably better than the pack (11.6).
What wasn't expected was the retirement of tight end Jason Witten. Witten was always among the most targeted players in the Cowboys passing game, and between he and Bryant, Dallas has to make up nearly 50 percent of his typical target share.
Terrance Williams is not the answer. He's somehow managed to hold onto a starting job in spite of being milquetoast year after year. At best, Williams remains the secondary outside receiver. The Cowboys will not be competitive if Williams is among the most targeted options.
Allen Hurns comes over from Jacksonville with little fanfare. Known primarily for his work in the slot, Hurns was productive for the Jaguars when healthy. Unfortunately, he isn't always healthy. The good news is Hurns' production on a per game basis the last three seasons mirrors Dez Bryant's. The bad news is Hurns' production on a per game basis the last three years mirrors Dez Bryant's.
The best hope for a sea change in productivity comes from rookie Michael Gallup. Gallup is a physically imposing, aggressive receiver perfectly suited to play on the outside. He's not a finished product, but a strong camp could vault him into the starting lineup.
The most likely scenario is Dallas mixes and matches between Gallup, Hurns, Williams, and veteran Cole Beasley. But the best case scenario would be Hurns staying healthy and displacing Beasley in the slot, and Gallup taking over as the emerging difference maker.
Bob Henry: Jason and I have taken similar approaches to the Cowboys receiving corps.
Michael Gallup has a legitimate chance to quickly earn a significant role in the offense as a rookie. He should start on the outside, opposite Terrance Williams, and emerge as the top player in the group throughout the season.
Allen Hurns is best in the slot and he's probably their best receiver in the slot. If the Cowboys want their three best receivers on the field, it could push Beasley into a smaller role with Hurns supplanting him.
Terrance Williams is dealing with an off-season arrest and, at best, is capped around 45-to-50 catches - assuming he keeps his starting role. Deonte Thompson is the Brice Butler replacement and at least a legitimate downfield threat and proverbial #4 receiver on the depth chart.
Something to consider: The pie could get bigger for the Cowboys receivers by virtue of Jason Witten's retirement. It's unlikely that Blake Jarwin and crew will even command as many targets as the slow-footed Witten did last year. It's also possible, if not more likely, that Zeke Elliott's targets go up considerably or Tavon Austin siphons away those additional short-yardage looks.
Daniel Simpkins: I’m the most bullish on Allen Hurns out of this group for 2018 because of his experience, but that’s not to say I don’t like Gallup long-term. I saw Gallup live at the Senior Bowl and was impressed with what he showed me. He was very good about aggressively going after the contested ball and ran very polished routes for a college receiver. I just question how he will hold up to NFL caliber corners early on because of his slight frame. He’ll need to add some man weight and that takes time. The adjustment to NFL level competition is not an easy one, either. I don’t expect he’ll be leading this team right off the bat.
Chad Parsons: I have not been the biggest Allen Hurns fan over his career, but this is a golden opportunity as a reclamation project to be the No.1 option for Dallas this season. With an ADP outside the top-50 receivers, the price is right to place a poker chip on Hurns down your fantasy depth chart. Historically, if Dak Prescott is a top-half fantasy quarterback (QB16 or better), his No. 1 receiver will average a mid-WR2 or better for the season. There is huge profit potential with Dallas' passing game and the answer is unlikely to come from the tight end position. Also, I will mention Terrance Williams as a dart throw outside the top-75 (being conservative) receivers in ADP. Williams is the incumbent who has filled in when Dez Bryant has missed time over the years. While an unspectacular talent and lacking top-12 upside, Williams can finish in the top-30 if leading the team in targets.
Andy Hicks: The good news about the Dallas receiving corp is that there is value everywhere. The bad news is that the likelihood of a busted pick for any Cowboys receiver is high.
In ADP order, Allen Hurns is the most likely to succeed. He has finished as the 14th-ranked receiver in 2015 when with Jacksonville, but since then, he has suffered injuries and a drop in production. He did have three good fantasy games out ten last year but would need everything to go right in Dallas to return to a WR3 or better. We need to watch how he is building a rapport with Dak Prescott in training camp before we get too excited.
Michael Gallup is the wildcard. He clearly has the ability to be a starting fantasy receiver in his skill set, but he was the ninth receiver drafted in a generally considered weak crop. Good coaching the ability to improve will be vital for him reaching this level in 2018, but if the team believe he needs more time he could be a totally wasted pick in redrafts. Again training camp will help analyze this situation further.
Cole Beasley will now be into his seventh season and does not project as much of a fantasy investment. At best he becomes a WR4, which makes him difficult to keep on all but the deepest of rosters. The upside just isn’t there.
Terrance Williams is similar to Beasley in that his upside isn’t likely to be good enough to keep on a roster. Into his sixth season, his end of season fantasy ranking has dropped every year from his best season, the first one where he finished as the 40th-ranked receiver.
Deonte Thompson has been on and off multiple NFL rosters since his rookie season in 2012. He actually looked reasonable in Buffalo last year turning in games of 4-107-0, 7-81-1 and 4-91-0, among the awful performances. It wouldn’t surprise if he didn’t make the final roster, but he could just as easily be a starter as well. Another performer to watch in training camp.
Devin Knotts: In terms of the wide receivers, at the moment, the only player I have even a slight interest in is Michael Gallup who I think could have a Cooper Kupp type season this year where he is a lower draft pick but end up exceeding the value due to being a polished route runner.
While he isn't listed as a wide receiver, Tavon Austin is the guy that I am targeting in the Dallas passing game, as I believe he could be used in a Tarik Cohen type role where the Cowboys try to force Austin the ball several times per game in the air which will decrease the already limited targets to the wide receivers as Dallas only averaged passing the ball 30 times per game last year.
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