Written by Cody Manning
Dak Prescott lit the NFL on fire during his rookie season. While his stats were down his sophomore season, some of that blame could be shifted to Ezekiel Elliot’s suspension and the inconsistent play from his receivers. As he enters his third season, he will be taking on a bigger leadership role on the offense since he lost veterans Jason Witten and Dez Bryant this offseason. Even though Dez’s play has seen a decline over the recent years, he was still the Cowboys’ leading receiver last year so that is a part of the offense that they will be looking to replace. Witten was Mr. Reliable for Dak, so it is up to someone to step up and be that guy that he can count on when he needs to get the ball out. While it might be a group effort to get the job done, I look at the guys looking to replace the two former longtime Dallas Cowboys.
Terrence Williams- Williams played the sidekick role to Dez since the Cowboys drafted him in the third round during the 2013 draft. Since coming to the team he has experienced ups and downs while showing the potential he must be the lead guy in the receiving core. His best season game in 2015 when he had 52 catches, 840 yards, and 3 touchdowns. Since then, he has failed to show any significant improvement and is coming up a subpar season where he failed to find the endzone. Williams is coming off a foot fracture injury which is causing him to miss most of the offseason program and to combine that with his recent arrest, he isn’t off to a great start to becoming the guy. I expect he will find a role in the offense, but he hasn’t shown any chemistry with Dak over the last couple seasons which makes me doubt he ends up becoming the guy.
Allen Hurns- The Dallas Cowboys signed Hurns to a two-year, 12 million dollar deal this offseason. He came into the league in 2014 as a UDFA with the Jacksonville Jaguars. He showed flashes of his potential throughout his rookie season then burst onto the season during his sophomore season with 64 catches, 1,031 yards, and 10 touchdowns. Unfortunately, the following two seasons were plagued by injuries which caused him to miss a lot of games and see a decrease in his stats. As we have seen, Hurns has the potential to be a threat on the outside at this level. If he can stay healthy and develop the chemistry with Dak then he could be the guy seeing a lot of targets thrown his way this season.
Michael Gallup- Gallup was selected by the Cowboys in this year’s draft with the 81st overall pick in the third round. He started his college career at Butler Community College before transferring to Colorado State for his final two seasons. During his junior year, he had 76 catches, 1,272 yards, and 14 touchdowns. Gallup continued to dominate the competition his senior year with 100 catches, 1,418 yards, and 7 touchdowns. He has the talent and skill set to be on the field as a starter Week 1. If he continues to develop into a better player, then he can be the guy Dak could count on for a long time.
The Rest- Cole Beasley has shown that he can produce with Dak leading the offense, during Dak’s rookie season, Beasley had 75 catches, 833 yards, and 5 touchdowns. But, during this past season, he saw a significant drop in his production by only having 36 catches, 314 yards, and 4 touchdowns. He can be a guy Dak can rely upon in the slot but can’t be when it comes to jump ball situations. The Cowboys brought in Deonte Thompson on a one-year 2.5 million dollar contract this offseason. He had 27 catches, 430 yards, and a touchdown for the Buffalo Bills last season. He will hope to find a role in the offense during the preseason in the hope the team will want to retain him next offseason.
Dallas traded a sixth-round pick (192nd overall) for Tavon Austin in this year’s draft. Austin never lived up to the 8th overall selection when the Los Angeles Rams picked him in the 2013 draft. It does sound like the Cowboys plan on lining him up all over the offense, including at running back. It will be interesting to see if a change of scenery helps resurrect Austin’s career. UDFA rookie Malik Earl out of Missouri St. is a player I would pay attention to during the preseason as the team looks to cut down to the 53-man roster.
The Group- At this point of the offseason, this group appears to have the most impact out of the two departures the team saw this offseason. Until we see who finds a role in this offense, it appears it will be a group effort to replace Witten’s production. Geoff Swaim is the veteran of the group, he was selected in seventh round of the 2015 draft by Dallas. He is the only one out of the group that has seen the regular season play but only accounts for 9 catches for 94 yards. While it looks like he is in line to be the starter, we still have training camp and preseason to determine that.
The Cowboys did address the position in the draft with the selection of Dalton Schultz in the fourth round with the 137th pick. Schultz can come in and start in two-tight sets, but he is more of a blocking tight end at this point. During the three seasons at Stanford, he accounted for a total of 55 catches, 555 yards, and 5 touchdowns. Stanford coach David Shaw called him the most complete tight end he has coached so he should be able to find a role in the offense, but I wouldn’t expect him to be a big receiving threat at the next level.
Rico Gathers has the highest ceiling out of all the players in this position group. Dallas selected him in the sixth round of the 2016 draft. Gathers is a former college basketball player from Baylor University. He hasn’t played football since he was in middle school prior to joining the Cowboys. After showing some flashes of promise during the preseason last year, unfortunately, Gathers suffered a concussion which ended up costing him to miss the entire season. If he is healthy and has continued to develop during the offseason, then he can emerge as the starter for Week 1.
Blake Jarwin should have some focus on him as we watch the preseason unfold. He was a UDFA last season who entered the season on the Cowboys’ practice squad. During the season the Philadelphia Eagles attempted to sign him, but Dallas prevented that by promoting Jarwin to the 53-man roster. That move shows the organization is a big fan of what they think he has the potential as a player for their team. With a big spot to fill, he should see plenty of opportunities to earn his share of snaps. Until we see what happens throughout training camp and preseason, we will have to wait to see who grabs Dak’s attention from this group.
Who Will Be Dak’s Favorite Target?
Michael Gallup is my favorite to become that guy Dak wants to look to when Dallas decides to take it to the air. He is an efficient route runner and can go up and win 50/50 balls. While it may be a group effort at the beginning of the season, as everyone gets comfortable in their roles, I believe Gallup will seize the all the opportunities thrown his way and become the guy Dak can depend upon when they are in crucial moments of the game. If Dak can develop chemistry with him and all the targets he should get, I would not be surprised if Gallup leads all rookie receivers in catches and/or yards.