It’s pretty much a word that Cole Beasley uses to sum up his ability to create separation with defenders last season. Because of Dez Bryant’s injury, Beasley developed a special chemistry with quarterback Dak Prescott early on and had a career season, catching 75 passes for 833 yards and five touchdowns. Beasley even put together a celebration after scoring touchdowns where he pantomimes pouring sauce into his hand which can often be confused with LeBron James’s old pre-game warmup:
Despite Beasley having a career year, the Cowboys entered the draft with the goal of adding depth at the WR position after tending to obvious needs on the defensive side of the ball. To improve upon that need, Dallas selected North Carolina slot receiver/return man, Ryan Switzer, in the fourth round. Switzer – no relation to coaching legend Barry Switzer – possesses many of the skills Beasley does as a receiver which has me asking myself – Is that too much sauce?
I’m sure Beasley would say, “There’s never too much sauce.”
And I think he would be right. A couple weeks ago when I analyzed the Dallas Cowboys’ 2017 Draft, I mentioned how tedious it will be for opposing defenses to cover both Beasley and his clone. The potential is there for Beasley and Switzer to be on the field at the same time as part of special personnel packages, most importantly on third downs. I’m sure offensive coordinator Scott Linehan already has something in mind on the matter.
Switzer is insurance if Beasley goes down in 2017 and beyond. The added benefit of Switzer is his return ability as the Cowboys haven’t had much success with Lucky Whitehead as their punt returner the last couple seasons. Whitehead could be replaceable on the 53-man roster as Switzer also can also take jet sweeps. As of now Switzer is likely projected to be a backup receiver and a punt returner.
However, let’s further explore this possibility of them both being used simultaneously by looking at how Beasley was deployed last year and then extrapolating on that with Switzer.
On a critical 3rd and 5 on the Cowboys own 30-yard line with Dallas up 24-17 against Baltimore late in the fourth quarter, Prescott completes a pass to Beasley for a gain of 17 to move the chains. On the play, Beasley is lined up against cornerback Jerraud Powers (#26) in the slot. He runs a pivot route, meaning he initially breaks to the inside portion of the field quickly and then cuts to the outside. While working the inside, he gets Powers to commit to the middle of the field and creates leverage when he stops, turns, and runs toward the boundary. Beasley then shows off his yards-after-catch ability with a stop and go move along with a bit of a swipe that makes Powers overrun his man resulting in a few extra yards on the play.
Beasley is deadly on short and intermediate routes working the inside/outside portions of the field with quick slants and pivots. He isn’t much of a deep threat, but his quickness and route running create separation in the short game which allows him to be one of the better slots in the NFL.
Switzer has the quickness and sound route-running ability suitable for quick slants, quick outs, corners, and pivots just like Beasley displayed on that play against the Ravens. On this 4th-down play, Switzer is lined up in the slot with his defender playing off coverage. Switzer knows where the 1st down marker is and and breaks to the outside quickly. Mitchell Trubisky completes the pass to Switzer, who leans forward to earn a first down.
On this next play, Switzer’s mental processing is on display allowing him to settle in space.
It’s another 4th down, but this time it’s 4th and 9 from Pitt’s 27-yard line. Switzer has been one of the key contributors to North Carolina’s comeback effort at this point in the game. When the ball is snapped he runs to the middle of the field and sits in a zone. The linebacker, Oluwaseun Idowu (#23), is responsible for Switzer on this play when the receiver enters his zone. Switzer displays very good mental processing ability here to read the defense. He also makes Idowu believe he’s going to continue running across the field, but he stops and allows Trubisky to have an open target toward his left shoulder to the boundary. Idowu has no chance to make a play on this ball after he commits to the middle of the field, allowing Switzer to make a tough catch on a high throw. Switzer’s efforts were a large part of North Carolina’s comeback win, while tying an ACC record of 16 catches.
Recently, on ITP’s Breaking the Plane podcast Mark Schofield brought up the possibility of Switzer playing the Z while Beasley plays the slot. Schofield’s point was that Switzer has shown the ability to play on the outside and beat press coverage making it something Dallas may want to utilize next season.
In 10 personnel the Cowboys can line up in a 2×2 or 3×1 set. In a 2×2 set they can have mirroring concepts like a curl/flat, slant/flat, or post/pivot where Prescott can pick which side is optimal given the defense. With both slot receivers being very good in the screen game, this could allow Dallas to run smoke screens to each side of the field with a blocking wide receiver in front.
While in a 3×1 set with Williams, Switzer, and Beasley in a trips formation the Cowboys can potentially run a sail concept – a passing concept that Dallas ran many times a season ago. On this three-level concept Williams would run a go route with Switzer running an intermediate corner and Beasley running a pivot route to the flat. On the opposite side of the field Linehan can call for Bryant to run a back shoulder, giving Prescott another option in case he doesn’t like what the trips side of the field is offering.
Linehan is going to have to be creative to get Beasley and Switzer on the field at the same time without taking out tight end Jason Witten. Taking Witten off the field may hurt the team’s blocking ability on the field for a running play, but the potential tradeoff is that it could mean the opposing defense replacing a LB with an extra DB. On a running play this could allow Ezekiel Elliott more room to run with one less LB in the box. Overall, the Dallas offense is extremely diverse with the various packages it can employ. With its two tight-end sets and now two slot-receiver formations, there’s a lot to choose from schematically. The offense’s diversity is an embarrassment of riches that will give the Cowboys the ability to lessen the load on Elliott and their veteran tight end, Witten.
Switzer is a matchup player and he’ll likely be a key third-down player. Having two shifty players who are always open bodes well for a third-down offense. Especially when you have an X receiver like Bryant and a strong running game to account for. As Jeremy Bergman of NFL.com writes, moving toward a smaller, quicker personnel grouping has worked out pretty well for the New England Patriots the last decade or so with a mixture of Wes Welker, Julian Edelman, and Danny Amendola. And don’t forget their shifty running backs like James White and Dion Lewis who have slot receiver traits. It may also be something the league moves toward in the future as Bergman also points out that the Carolina Panthers now possess two hybrid types in Christian McCaffrey and Curtis Samuel. In 2016, Dallas tailored its offense to methodically work downfield with the short and intermediate passing game. The addition of Switzer alongside Beasley will only strengthen that component of their offense.