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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.

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Cowboys Training Camp Battles, Part VI: Roy Williams vs. Dez Bryant

By Jonathan Bales

In the first five parts of my Training Camp Battles Series, I analyzed the future of the nickel linebackerdefensive end, free safety, left tackle, and cornerback positions.

Today comes the battle most fans think of as “the big one”–veteran Roy Williams versus rookie Dez Bryant.  I have yet to speak to a fan who doesn’t believe that Bryant and Miles Austin are the future of the Cowboys’ wide receiver position.  If Dallas’ roster decisions were simply a popularity contest, Williams would have been out of Big D awhile ago.

Nonetheless, Williams truly does appear to have a new attitude this season.  He’s been brash.  He’s been talkative.  He’s been conceited.  A few months ago he said:

“Dez Bryant wants to play.  The only way he is going to play is to get No. 11 off the field, and that’s going to be tough to do.”

Sound a bit different from the ’09 version of Roy Williams?  I explained in a previous article why this isn’t a “new” Roy Williams, but instead, we are finally obtaining a glimpse of the “old” Roy Williams–the University of Texas variety.

The quote came just a few weeks after I begged Williams to do whatever he can to regain his “swag. When your team drafts the consensus number one receiver (in terms of pure talent) just months after a breakout season by a young receiver who figures to be in Dallas for quite a few years, you have no choice but to come out swinging.  What does Williams have to lose?

Williams is supremely talented, but in 2010 we will discover if he is a true champion.  If so, Bryant will have to fight like hell to win the No. 2 receiver job.

Scouting Reports

  • Roy Williams

Make no mistake about it–Roy Williams struggled badly in 2009.  I gave him a “D+” in my 2009 Cowboys wide receiver grades.

We all know the sort of routes Williams is comfortable running: ins, digs, slants, posts, i.e. routes where he can catch the ball in stride and get moving downfield.  He actually has fairly good speed once his engine starts running.

Despite the recent drops, Williams also has some of the better hands in the NFL.  He made circus-like catches game after game in Detroit (with few drops), meaning his current struggles are more mental than anything.

Williams’ biggest weakness is a lack of quickness which inhibits his ability to effectively run routes which invoke a quick stop, such as comebacks and curls.

Like I said earlier, Williams should really not worry about his on-field ability for now and concentrate on regaining his confidence.  If he does that, he has a legitimate shot at holding onto his job–for now.

  • Dez Bryant

Taken from my original pre-draft scouting report on Bryant:

Bryant is an absolute beast. There is simply no other way to put it. He is ranked No. 10 in our latest Big Board, and he is only that low due to concerns about his attitude and work ethic.

Bryant is a bit of a mystery to us. He does bone-headed things like show up to his Pro Day with no cleats or (allegedly) arrive late to games. However, one look at the guy lets you know he is a hard-worker. Everybody knows Bryant can play–the question teams must answer will be how much he loves football.

On the field, we are confident in saying Bryant is every bit as talented as Larry Fitzgerald when he left Pitt. That is a gigantic statement, but this kid has gigantic game. His game tape and production are off the charts. He displays top-notch hands and run after the catch ability.

We loved Michael Crabtree coming out of Texas Tech last year, and we will tell you there is really no comparing him to Bryant. Bryant is superior in every aspect of the game–he runs better routes and is even more dangerous once he gets his hands on the ball.

Bryant recorded varying forty times at his Pro Day–from 4.52 (which he ran twice) to 4.68. We are unconcerned about that number. He plays as fast as any receiver in this class and we have yet to see him get caught from behind.

Again, every concern about Bryant is an off-field issue. If he can prove he has the requisite attitude and work ethic to succeed in the NFL, there is simply no way he drops to the Cowboys.


Pros/Cons of Starting. . .

  • Roy Williams

Williams has experience in the Cowboys’ system (even if he has yet to excel in it) and will have an immediate leg up on Bryant due to his knowledge of the playbook.  Don’t forget Williams is a naturally gifted pass-catcher who can be a big-time red zone threat.  He scored seven touchdowns last season despite hauling in just 43 total catches.  He’s also a darn good blocker (he’s not a devastating hitter, but Williams uses his size and excellent body position to open lanes for the backs).

On the downside, the Cowboys may be stunting the growth of Bryant if they hold him back this season.  Everybody and their brother thinks Bryant is the future for Dallas out wide, so why wait?

  • Dez Bryant

The biggest pro of starting Bryant immediately: upside.  The kid could struggle in 2010, or he could be amazing.  If the latter is the case, opposing defenses simply won’t have enough players to effectively stop Bryant, Austin, Witten, Jones & Co.  And as large of a red zone threat as Williams may be, Bryant is even better.  He has perhaps the most polished ball skills of any receiver coming out of college since Larry Fitzgerald.

Bryant’s inexperience does make starting him a risk, however.  He also figures to be dynamite on returns, but his time there could be limited if he is starting opposite Austin.

Advantage

This battle is different from previous ones in that both players can be on the field at the same time.  I explained a few weeks ago why the Cowboys should run more three-receiver sets in 2010.  You can probably expect to see both Williams and Bryant on the field together quite a lot this season.

As of right now, though, Williams is the starter.  Most NFL pundits believe Bryant will overtake him by the start of the season, but I wouldn’t be so sure.  The preseason will be vital for Williams, but if he can make a few plays (and avoid any drops), I wouldn’t bet against him opening the season as the starter.

I’ve been vocal in my support for Williams thus far this offseason, so I won’t stop now.  In reality, it is simple for the former UT star:  if he plays consistently well in both the preseason and regular season, he will retain his job.  If not, he won’t.



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Cowboys Video: Miles Austin’s Contract, Dez Bryant’s Role

We recently took a look at some statistics on the location of the 2009 catches for Roy Williams and Miles Austin.  Both players flourished in the middle of the field (although Austin was outstanding everywhere), leading some to believe both could see more time in the slot this season.

Although we don’t really care for Ed Werder (and by that we mean we cannot stand him and think he is a sub-par gossip columnist), the video below detailing the Cowboys’ wide receiver situation is worth a look.

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Patrick Crayton’s Future in Dallas

Pro Football Talk recently published an article detailing their thoughts on Patrick Crayton’s future with the Dallas Cowboys.  In their opinion, it will be very difficult for the Cowboys to either retain or trade CraytonThey believe his role–which is likely to be diminished in 2010– does not justify his $2 million salary.

Further, they believe (and we agree) that a trade is highly unlikely.  First, the Cowboys had the last two days of the draft (after they selected Dez Bryant) to possibly ship Crayton out of Dallas, meaning if a trade was coming, it probably would have happened by now.

Secondly, if $2 million is too steep of a price for the Cowboys to pay for a slot receiver, why would another team dish out the cash?  Any trade would include Crayton’s contract, and because he doesn’t figure to have an incredibly impactful role on any team, there just aren’t too many teams (perhaps none) knocking on Dallas’ door for Crayton’s services.

Despite Crayton’s contract, however, we disagree with PFT’s assessment that he has no value to the ‘Boys in 2010.  Although he obviously won’t have the same role for the Cowboys as in prior seasons (he is likely to lose punt return duties and will see less offensive snaps), he still has the ability to play well in the slot. 

Roy Williams is obviously not a slot receiver.  Dez Bryant is an option, but if he ends up overtaking Williams in the starting lineup (which will obviously happen eventually), he will be playing outside as the X or Z receiver. 

The Cowboys could also look at Kevin Ogletree, who we believe has the sort of skill set which most resembles that of the prototypical slot receiver (outside of Crayton).  Still, Ogletree is an undrafted second-year player with very limited experience.  Can he be trusted as a slot receiver just yet?  We believe Crayton’s experience in the slot is alone enough to justify his stay in Big D, as he provides a skill set which we cannot be sure would be present following his potential release.

Another thing Crayton has going for him is that he could surely play special teams.  He of course contributed on special teams as a returner previously (and he can still be a backup option as a punt returner), but we don’t see any reason why he couldn’t be placed in the lineup on kickoffs or as a gunner on punts.

Although he has asked for a clarification of his role in Dallas, Crayton says he will attend all mandatory team activities.  That fact may not be the reason the Cowboys keep him, but it certainly won’t hurt.  Crayton has shown and continues to show a loyalty to the Cowboys that the coaches (and fans) certainly respect.

Ultimately, we disagree with PFT’s idea that Crayton will not be on the Cowboys this season.  We placed him on our 53-man roster projection for a reason–he still has value to the team.  His $2 million salary is high for a receiver without a big-time offensive role, but not so much so that he is incapable of being retained.

Expect the Cowboys to be unable to find a trade partner for Crayton, but for the veteran to remain in Dallas this season.  He isn’t a dominant, game-breaking sort of player, but the reliability he brings to Tony Romo and the offense is certainly of value to Dallas.

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Ready to Rumble: Roy Williams vs. Dez Bryant

Good news ladies and gentlemen: Roy Williams has regained his confidence.  It appears that way in the surface, at least.  When recently speaking with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Williams said:  “This ain’t my first rodeo. . . But I know in the back of my mind and the back of his mind, [Dez Bryant] wants to play.  The only way he’s going to play is to get No. 11 off the field, and that’s going to be tough to do.  But it’s going to make us better as a football team.”

For a player who was visibly humble throughout last season and into this off-season, almost to the point of appearing shaken, that is quite a confident quote.  Williams maintained this new-found swagger as he vowed to limit his 2010 dropped passes.

“It won’t even be half,” Williams said about the drops.  “Do you want to take that bet?  I won’t even come close.  I promise you.”

So what are we to make of this “new” Roy Williams?  Some analysts have criticized his attitude, claiming that his on-field play has done nothing to justify it.

We, however, couldn’t be more excited about what we are hearing from Williams.  In an article we published about a month ago (before the selection of Bryant) titled “Supporting Roy E. Williams as Starter in 2010,” we explained why we believe Williams will make a turnaround this season, proposing that the first step in this transformation would be a resurgence of Williams’ confidence–almost to the point of being brash.  We wrote:

Williams primary offseason priority shouldn’t be running routes, or catching balls, or hitting the weight room (of course none of those things are discouraged, Roy). No, Williams should do whatever he can to regain his confidence. His mojo. His swag.

And what is the best way to regain one’s ’swag’? By competing of course–a task Williams is relishing this season. “I’m here to fight for my job,” Williams has claimed. “I’m ready to battle. I think I will win. That’s my mentality.”

So get that swag back, Roy. Be cocky. Be brash. Talk smack–and then back all of it up on the field.

Come September, we will find out if Roy E. Williams has truly regained his confidence. We will find out if he is ready to compete. Most importantly, we will find out if he is a true champion.

Never bet against a man who has nothing to lose.

Now, we assumed Williams primary competition would come from Kevin Ogletree, not the consensus top rookie wide receiver–a player who already has seemingly everyone within the Cowboys’ organization gushing over his talent.

No problem, though.  If Williams wasn’t set to receive a perhaps much-needed kick in the butt from Ogletree, he has certainly had a fire lit under him due to the addition of Bryant.  There were mixed reports on the effect of Bryant’s mini-camp success, but the person who may have benefited most from it, ironically, could be Williams.

Ultimately, there is nothing new about the “new” Roy Williams.  Instead, we are finally getting a glimpse of the “old” Roy Williams–the one who flourished at the University of Texas and in Detroit. . . the true Roy Williams.

That player was always ready to compete.  Luckily for the Cowboys, it appears the “new” Roy Williams is eager to do the same.

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Cowboys’ Wide Receiver Situation: A Closer Look



Earlier today we posted our Dallas Cowboys 2010 projected depth chart.  We are predicting that, barring a trade, the ‘Boys will keep six wide receivers on the roster. Since neither Patrick Crayton nor Sam Hurd were dealt on draft day, it is unlikely another team is going to yield a draft pick for them.

But will one of the Cowboys’ pass-catchers be released?  NFL Network recently took a look at the situation:

If a Cowboys’ wide receiver is cut, it will almost certainly be either Crayton or Hurd. Obviously Miles Austin and Dez Bryant are locks to make the roster.  It won’t make many fans happy, but Roy Williams isn’t going anywhere either.  We can also throw Kevin Ogletree in that group, as his play in 2009 justifies his stay (particularly at such a young age).

While Crayton and Hurd were on the trade block, both still have valuable roles in Dallas.  Crayton may have lost his return duties, but he is still the team’s only true slot receiver. He doesn’t do anything extraordinary, but he is a reliable player who goes over the middle and rarely drops balls.  The #1 reason he would be released is financial–he is certainly getting paid more than a #4 WR should make.  Still, Austin, Bryant, Williams, and Ogletree are big, physical receivers who aren’t necessarily well-suited for slot duties.

Hurd’s main role on the Cowboys is on special teams. He is arguably the team’s best player in that area.  Don’t think for a second the Cowboys don’t value his contributions in the oft-overlooked third phase of the game.

If the Cowboys do release a wide receiver, we expect Hurd to be the one to leave. However, the Cowboys are in a position to truly keep the best (or near the best) 53 players.  Is Hurd really on the fringe with players like Curtis Johnson, Marcus Dixon, and Travis Bright?  We don’t think so.

Ironically, the Cowboys’ wide receiver situation may be linked to the foot of kicker David Buehler.  If Buehler can win all kicking duties and save a roster position, Dallas may be able to afford the luxury of keeping six wide receivers.  If Buehler struggles, the most likely roster spot to suffer would be the sixth receiver spot.