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Grading the ‘Boys in 2010, Part VIII: Wide Receivers

Jonathan Bales

Already graded: Defensive lineinside linebackersoutside linebackerssafetiescornerbacks, tight ends, and offensive line.

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The 2009 season saw the simultaneous emergence of one star–Miles Austin–and the decline of another–Roy Williams.  2010 was similar in that the Cowboys discovered rookie Dez Bryant is the real deal, while Austin (many claim) plummeted in terms of efficiency.  Let’s examine.

My 2010 wide receiver rankings are based less on totals and more on efficiency.  A team’s No. 1 wide receiver will get more opportunities than the No. 2, who will get more than the No. 3, and so on.  Thus, reception and yardage totals (although very important to a team) are less indicative of a player’s efficiency than yards-per-attempt or reception percentage.

Notes

  • Chart Key:  TA=Thrown at, Yds/Att=Yards-per-attempt, TD and Drop %=Percentage of attempts which resulted in a touchdown or drop, respectively, YAC/Rec=Yards after catch per reception
  • The best stats are circled in blue and the worst in red.
  • Some of the stats are courtesy of ProFootballFocus.com.
  • The final grade is weighted 4:1 in terms of receiving versus run blocking.

Grades

  • Roy Williams

Receiving:  C

Snap Counts: Williams-690, Austin-1019, Bryant-431, Hurd-214

Although Williams’ reception total decreased in 2010, he was much more efficient.  Williams was targeted only 59 times but recorded superior stats (as compared to 2009) in yards-per-attempt, touchdown rate, drop percentage, and YAC-per-reception.  There’s something to be said for a player who puts the ball in the end zone, and Williams’ touchdown rate of 13.5 percent is outstanding.

Run Blocking: B

Williams has always been an adequate blocker.  He doesn’t possess the ferocity of Hines Ward, but he does do a good job of positioning his body between the ball-carrier and the defender.

  • Miles Austin

Receiving: B

Although others are claiming Austin was horrible this season, that wasn’t the case.  Austin certainly took a step back, as he was targeted 23 fewer times and caught 23 less balls as compared to 2009.  Austin’s efficiency stats decreased as well, but not as greatly as some might assume (YPA down 1.3 yards, YAC/rec down 0.9 yards).

The real reason people are so down on Austin is his drops.  After dropping only three balls in 2009, Austin mishandled 11 this past season.  Even worse, they generally came at inopportune times.

Many of you know, however, that I consider drops to be a poor barometer of a receiver’s worth.  Not only are they not as costly as some people assume, but they’re also a fluky stat.  Austin doesn’t have the league’s best hands, but he certainly doesn’t have awful hands either.  My guess is that Austin dropped a few passes early and it got into his head.  Expect him to rebound in that department next season.

Run Blocking: C+

Austin has a good attitude when it comes to blocking, but for whatever reason he appeared to regress in 2010.  He missed a couple “easy” blocks and just didn’t seem to put himself in proper position at times.

  • Dez Bryant

Receiving:  B

Bryant is a future All-Pro who showed flashes of brilliance as a rookie, but there are still plenty of things he needs to work on.  First, he needs to get upfield immediately.  On certain passes, particularly quick screens, he tends to dance around too much, expecting to overpower defenders without first building momentum.  He possesses dynamite after-the-catch ability, but he needs to realize he’s not at Oklahoma State anymore.

Bryant did prove that his hands are as good as billed.  He led the receivers (in a good way) with a 4.2 percent drop rate.  Don’t worry about his yards-per-attempt and YAC-per-reception numbers–those stats will improve when Jason Garrett learns how generally ineffective quick screens are.

Run Blocking: B-

Bryant will need to work on this aspect of his game.  It isn’t that he’s not a willing blocker, but rather he needs to learn technique.  He too often goes for kill shots when, as a receiver, he really only needs to “get in the way.”

  • Sam Hurd

Receiving:  C-

We don’t have an amazing sample size here, but I think we’re all starting to realize that Hurd is a great special teams player and a good teammate, but an average (at best) wide receiver.  He doesn’t have great hands and doesn’t seem to ever create tremendous separation.

Run Blocking: B+

Hurd is the best blocking receiver on the team.  This is evidenced by the fact that he is the “closer” at receiver for Dallas.  In the few games that Dallas had a late lead, Hurd was the only receiver on the field in single-receiver personnel groupings because of his blocking ability.

2010 Cowboys Wide Receiver Grades

1. Dez Bryant: B (84.6)

2. Miles Austin: B- (83.4)

3. Roy Williams: C+ (77.0)

4. Sam Hurd: C (75.8)

Wide receiver is one of the few positions that isn’t a big concern for Dallas.  I personally think they could benefit from a small, quick slot receiver, but that need isn’t pressing.

Of course, that could all change in a hurry.  The futures of every receiver other than Austin and Bryant are cloudy.  Williams rebounded pretty well in 2010, but it wasn’t like he was incredible.  Rather, low expectations made people believe he played better than what was the case.  The Cowboys could go either way with him right now (and no, a trade is not possible due to his contract).

The same is true of Hurd, Kevin Ogletree, Jesse Holley, and Manuel Johnson.  Of those players, I believe Holley deserves a roster spot the most.  He possesses some upside as a receiver and his special teams play is great.  Ogletree has potential, of course, but he seems to have a poor attitude and doesn’t fight on special teams.  For a No. 4 or 5 receiver, that isn’t going to cut it.

Don’t rule out the possibility of the Cowboys selecting a receiver in the late rounds of the draft.  Although the ‘Boys generally favor big, strong pass-catchers, a small burner could really benefit the offense and return game (so Bryant doesn’t have to risk injury).  Kentucky’s Randal Cobb, USC’s Ronald Johnson, TCU’s Jeremy Kerley, and San Diego State’s Vincent Brown could all be possibilities.

By

Dallas Cowboys 2010 Quarter-Season Player Grades


Jonathan Bales

In my 2009 “Grading the ‘Boys” segments, I used math and statistics to create as objective of grades as possible for each player.  These grades are a bit different.  Not only have I not had adequate time to collect all useful data on each player, but those numbers would also be quite useless.  Through four games, no player has played enough reps for their statistics to be significant.  Instead, these grades are the culmination of what I have seen on film.

WR Miles Austin:  A

Austin has been the Cowboys’ best player all season, hands down.  No one is even close.  He’s caught the ball, run after the catch, and blocked well.  He’s one of the best in the NFL.

OLB DeMarcus Ware:  A-

He’s a beast.  There’s not really much I can tell you about Ware that you don’t already know.

CB Terence Newman:  A-

A healthy Newman has always been a productive one.  At his best, he’s one of the top cornerbacks in the league.  Mike Jenkins’ tackling makes you appreciate how talented Newman is in that department too.

WR Roy Williams:  B+

Don’t forget that in March I proclaimed my support for Roy Williams, telling you to not give up on the former UT star just yet.  Well, he’s making me look good so far this season.  The ‘Boys are utilizing his strengths by using him on fades and in-breaking routes.  It’s clear he’s regained his confidence, displaying what have always been above-average hands and body control.

WR Dez Bryant:  B+

Bryant’s opportunities have been limited, but he’s made the most of them.  He has yet to drop a pass and he’s looked explosive after the catch.  The Cowboys need to find a way to get the ball to him more often, even if it means stealing passes from another receiver (anyone except Austin).  And let’s not forget his punt return touchdown.

TE Martellus Bennett:  B+

Bennett with a higher grade than Witten?  He’s earned it.  The kid’s blocking has been extraordinary (as it was last year) and he finally seems to be coming along in the passing game.  Don’t forget that if Bennett “gets it,” which appears to be happening, he’s a much, much more athletic version of Witten.

ILB Bradie James:  B+

James has been one of the lone bright spots for Dallas on defense.  He’s been everywhere, and I’m really shocked at how well he’s played when in coverage.  When he was out for a short time against the Titans, you saw how vital he truly is to the Cowboys.  His only weakness has been pass rushing.

LT Doug Free:  B+

Free has been tremendous this season, exceeding my own expectations by leaps and bounds.  I can only imagine how poor this offensive line would be if Flozell Adams was still here.

TE Jason Witten:  B

Outside circumstances have forced Witten to become less involved than usual thus far in 2010.  The Cowboys lost Marc Colombo early, forcing Witten to stay in to block often.  He’s also suffered a concussion and been forced to play fullback in Chris Gronkowski’s absence.  His blocking has been solid, but he has yet to dominate.

OG Montrae Holland:  B

I wasn’t confident in Holland in the beginning of the season, but he’s played well.  He held his own in the opener in Washington and looked really good after replacing Leonard Davis last week (before going down to injury).

NT Jay Ratliff:  B

Ratliff hasn’t played poorly, but he also hasn’t been his dominant self.  I think he’ll have a hell of a second quarter (of the season), as his motor makes it just a matter of time before he breaks out.

DE Marcus Spears:  B

Spears has been really solid against the run.  That’s all that the ‘Boys really ask of him.

QB Tony Romo:  B-

Romo’s play has been quite fluky this season, which is of course never a good thing for a quarterback.  He hasn’t played poorly, but he also hasn’t been the same play-making gunslinger to which we’ve become accustomed in years past.  I have confidence this grade will rise by the end of the year.

S Gerald Sensabaugh:  B-

Sensy has stepped up as more of a vocal leader this year.  He played well against Chicago, but he needs to make more plays.  The Cowboys do view their safeties as somewhat interchangeable, but Sensabaugh is usually put in a position in which he can make more plays than Ball, particularly against the run.

OLB Anthony Spencer:  B-

Spencer has always been great against the run, but this season seems to be a repeat of last: Spencer is getting pressure but unable to get the quarterback to the ground.  Hopefully this season ends as last year’s did as well, with Spencer going off in the second half.

RB Felix Jones:  B-

Jones had a tremendous game last week as the Cowboys finally utilized him in the proper manner: on counters and other misdirection plays.  He did look hesitant in the first three weeks of the season, though.

CB Mike Jenkins:  C+

Jenkins really struggled last week against the pass, which is rare.  Hopefully he doesn’t lose his confidence.  He really, really needs to improve his tackling, and that starts with just becoming more willing to do so.  At this point, it is detrimental to the defense.

LG Kyle Kosier:  C+

Kosier has gotten overpowered at times this year, but he’s been the ‘Boys most consistent lineman behind Free.  That’s sad.  He was the lone lineman to play well last week versus Tennessee.

DE Igor Olshansky:  C

Like Spears, Olshansky is a run-stopper.  He did well in that role last season, but this year he’s gotten blown off the ball at times.  Spears is the superior player at this time.

Offensive Coordinator Jason Garrett: C-

Garrett’s play-calling may not look all that different, but trust me when I say it is.  It is far, far less predictable and, despite the outcries of “imbalance,” I actually like the timing of his runs and passes this season.  Note that the offense has not been aided much by the defense.  Still, Garrett’s grade can’t be that high since the Cowboys’ offense struggled mightily in the first two games.

RB Marion Barber:  C-

Barber does the little things like catching the ball out of the backfield and excelling in pass protection, but I just don’t think he’s regained the explosion and power that marked the start of his career.

C Andre Gurode:  C-

Gurode’s been bad.  As usual, he’s struggled with speed rushers inside and seems to get fooled easily by twists.  That’s not good for a player who is supposed to be the “quarterback” of the offensive line.

RG Leonard Davis:  C-

We all know how poorly Davis played last week, and it actually took a lot of guts for the coaches to bench him.  After reviewing the film, it was the right move, but I also think putting him back into the starting lineup is the correct call as well.  He wasn’t horrible in the first three games and hopefully he’ll come back more motivated than ever.

ILB Keith Brooking:  C-

Brooking hasn’t played very well in 2010.  He’s a vocal leader and a personal favorite of mine, but on the field he’s seemed lost.  He’s been just so-so against the run and horrendous in coverage.  He’s also gotten blocked virtually every time he’s blitzed, although I think that has a bit to do with the Cowboys’ predictable blitz packages.

DE Stephen Bowen:  C-

Bowen was incredible in the preseason, but that intensity hasn’t carried over to the regular season.

DE Jason Hatcher:  C-

I thought Hatcher would have a breakout season, but when was the last time you even heard his name called?

K David Buehler: D+

He’s shown the potential the Cowboys love, but the consistency just isn’t there yet.  His kickoffs have suffered as well.

RT Marc Colombo:  D+

Colombo has been awful.  Even before yielding two sacks last week, Colombo struggled against Chicago and Houston.  Even more concerning for Dallas is the fact that he hasn’t looked good in the running game (where he should thrive), to the point that the team has run to the left again and again.

CB Orlando Scandrick:  D+

Scandrick was a candidate to break out this year (for me at least) because he always seemed to be just a half-step behind his man.  Well, he’s still a half-step behind.  Some of that is due to the nature of the nickel cornerback position, but Scandrick has also exhibited poor awareness and ball skills–the two traits he needed to improve most in the offseason.

S Alan Ball:  D+

With the way Coach Phillips’ defense is set up, the free safety will never be the “ball-hawk” fans want.  The responsibility of Ball, and Ken Hamlin last year, is generally to limit the big play.  The Cowboys haven’t done that very well this season, and Ball’s tackling has been poor as well.

Head Coach/Defensive Coordinator Wade Phillips: D

I’m one of the few who still supports Phillips, but my patience is wearing thin.  He isn’t properly motivating the players and he’s even struggled some as a defensive coordinator.  He needs to get this thing turned around fast or he’ll be gone by season’s end.

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