Jerry Jones made a difficult decision last Friday to let go of the Dallas Cowboys’ all-time leader in touchdown receptions, Dez Bryant. Bryant had a stellar eight seasons in Dallas accumulating 531 catches for 7,459 yards and 73 touchdowns during that span. However, a majority of the aforementioned production was collected during his first five seasons in the league. Bryant’s receptions, yards and touchdowns per season averages have all trended downward from 2015-2017 in comparison to his first half decade in Dallas. He recorded 76 receptions, 1,085 yards and 11 touchdowns on average from 2010-2014 while regressing to an average of 50 receptions, 678 yards and 6 touchdowns the last three seasons.
As former Carolina Panthers and Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Steve Smith said prior to a Thursday Night game featuring Dallas and Washington, “With Dez as he’s becoming older we have to be able to run all those routes because of your speed. You lose a step a little bit. You’re not as fast as you used to be when you were 20-something. He doesn’t seem to be running every route on the route tree.”
After an exchange with Hall of Fame wide receiver Michael Irvin, Smith put three fingers up and said, “You see this number? That’s the three routes he runs. A push off hitch. A jump ball go…. And a slant.”
Bryant never did develop his route running technique throughout his career and his lack of attention to detail in this area of his game prevented him from creating separation consistently. Age and injuries took their toll on Bryant’s freak athleticism that originally allowed him to get away with not refining his route tree. Bryant heavily relied on his athletic ability to carry his game, but it’s evident that he’s lost the speed and explosiveness that he once used to outrun and out jump defensive backs while bullying them downfield. Now Bryant’s game is limited to mainly contested catches with minimal separation at the catch point which cause him to disappear during games for drives at a time.
The Dallas offense that was once led by Tony Romo is going in another direction with Dak Prescott at the helm. And it’s not without good reason. Romo had the pinpoint ball placement to accurately put the ball anywhere he wanted. This type of accuracy aligns with a possession receiver like Bryant who doesn’t create much separation. This is a major reason why I think he would be best suited to play in Green Bay with Aaron Rodgers who can throw his receivers open with pinpoint accuracy and placement, especially on 50/50 balls and back shoulder throws.
Dak on the other hand isn’t a pinpoint accurate passer. His ball placement is good and he’s made significant strides since coming out of Mississippi State, but it can be better. There were several missed opportunities to Bryant due to Prescott’s inability to perfectly place the ball on Bryant’s person.
Bryant’s style didn’t fit perfectly into the offense that offensive coordinator Scott Linehan wanted to run with Prescott behind center. A quarterback like Prescott needs sudden and quick receivers that can create immediate separation into their routes to have an offense running at a high level. During Prescott’s rookie season slot receiver Cole Beasley was Prescott’s favorite target for the majority of the season due to possessing those valued traits.
With all that being said – the Cowboys are in dire need of receiving help. The team attempted to add talent to the receiver room by signing former Jaguars wide receiver Allen Hurns this off-season. Yet, Hurns alone won’t be able to raise the unit’s level of play and the NFL Draft is seemingly the team’s only option at improving the mediocre position group before September. The team has shown high levels of interest in many of the top receivers in this class indicating they plan on taking a wide receiver in the early rounds of the draft. Although it’s not set in stone, there is a good chance Dallas selects Prescott’s future WR1 with the 19th selection.
Here are the three names that fit best in Dallas at pick 19.
Calvin Ridley, Alabama, 6-0, 189 pounds
Ridley is the ideal selection for Dallas should he be available at 19. The Cowboys only competition for the Alabama receiver is probably the Baltimore Ravens, who are slotted to pick 16th overall. Concerns with Ridley’s age, production and Combine measurables have been overblown this draft season which may be enough to allow him to fall into the Cowboys’ laps.
The 23 year old receiver is extremely refined and his game should immediately translate to the NFL. He’s the best pure route runner in this class with the ability to crisply run the entire route tree. His possesses top end suddenness and change of direction ability to stop and restart on double moves as well as with the ball in his hands to create run after the catch. Ridley’s quickness to create immediate separation in combination with his long speed would be desired traits for the Cowboys offense that has lacked a true deep threat in recent seasons.
Additionally, Ridley has experience playing with a mobile quarterback who can create when the play breaks down. He displays an excellent ability to improvise and work himself open when his quarterback is flushed outside the pocket. This would be an added bonus for Prescott, as he’s a very good passer on the move.
D.J. Moore, Maryland, 6-0, 210 pounds
Moore is definitely in the conversation for first wide receiver taken in the 2018 NFL Draft. The Maryland receiver is advanced for a 20 year old player coming out of college. Moore is an excellent athlete and uses his speed, quickness and acceleration to create separation to all levels of the field. He possesses strong hands to pluck passes thrown out in front of him.
Moore plays bigger than his size indicates, as he’s not afraid to go over the middle in traffic, make a play on a contested grab, or barrel through a defender with the ball in his hands. His toughness is reminiscent of Steve Smith Sr.
Moore is a competitor in every sense of the word. In 2017 he caught a touchdown pass from four different quarterbacks and put up 1,000 yards despite the inconsistencies in who was throwing him the ball. Should he be the pick for the Cowboys, Moore would have plenty of opportunities to make use of his after the catch ability with plenty of touches to go around.
Courtland Sutton, Southern Methodist University, 6-3, 218 pounds
Sutton isn’t the Z type that Ridley and Moore most resemble. However, despite being the most similar to Bryant of the group, Sutton possesses excellent fluidity to sink his hips and create separation for a possession receiver. He’s the class’s best pure X receiver by a wide margin and has many of the late 1st round wide receiver needy teams hoping he falls to them.
Dallas is one of those teams. The Cowboys coaching staff, including head coach Jason Garrett, have shown strong interest in the SMU receiver, as Garrett aided in working out Sutton at SMU’s pro day last month.
Sutton is technically a raw receiver and needs to develop areas of his game like his release and hand technique when positioning for the ball. Yet, he did make significant strides from 2016 to 2017 as a receiver. Sutton’s rare blend of size and body control have many excited for the potential force he can become as a true WR1.
Should Dallas pass on any of the day one receivers there are also some solid day two options to pursue. Anthony Miller, Equanimeous St. Brown, DaeSean Hamilton and Dante Pettis would all fit the mold the Cowboys want in their wide receivers. The NFL Draft is a highly unpredictable market, but expect Dallas to take a receiver within the first three rounds later this month.
You can read my full scouting reports on Calvin Ridley, D.J. Moore and many other receivers in the 2018 Inside The Pylon Draft Guide! Click here to purchase!
Related content on Draft eligible wide receivers:
- DaeSean Hamilton on Four: Hands and Contested Catches by Joseph Ferraiola
- You Can Still Build Around Big Bodied Wide Receivers by Joseph Ferraiola
- Dispelling Calvin Ridley’s Lack of Production by Joseph Ferraiola
- Equamineous St. Brown: Expectations and Projections by Joseph Ferraiola
- Evaluating Live and James Washington by Joseph Ferraiola