In this series we break down the potential Dallas Cowboys depth chart, rotations and snap counts for the 2017 season.
It’s the modern NFL. Free agency is here to stay and organizations have to deal with moving parts each season. There is more to building a team each year than just finding the best 11 starters for each side of the ball. In this era of specialization and pass-happy offenses a “starter” is a fluid term to say the least. Teams employing three and four receiver sets have to be countered with defenses that echo that alignment. Ultimately it comes down to not only your starters, but your positional depth and/or the snap counts players get. It’s not getting the best 53 players to put a pen on a contract. It’s getting the right 53.
Ed Note: Click here for the latest Dallas Cowboys Depth Chart. It’s interactive and exportable.
As of today rookies are rookies and have yet to earn stars on their helmets. However these players were obtained for a reason and our lineups reflects that. Today we’re going to look at the potential 2017 Cowboys wide receiver rotations.
Wide Receiver Starters
Dez and Terrance will (again) man the outside for Dallas. Da Bease will (again) handle underneath duties. This is a dangerous, talented, veteran group. They lose a tic of value because they don’t return with the same QB they’ve had their entire careers. They gain that back and more due to their incredible work ethic AND returning to the same offense all but Bryant have ever known. Continuity is huge.
When Bryant is on he is almost uncoverable and to the chagrin of the NFC East he and Dax Prescott were finding their groove by the end of last season. Boo-hoo TWill all you want. He got his second contract and the Cowboys got one of if not THE best blocking WR in the NFL who has a knack for coming back to the ball, toe-tapping sideline catches and is a threat to score whenever he gets the rock in his hands.
Jason Garrett wants his XX3 players (RB3, WR3, TE3, etc) to be contributors on special teams and Beasely is (for now) the primary punt returner and backup kick off man. This “should” change in 2017 however with the addition of versatile WR Ryan Switzer.
Wide Receiver Run Blocking Alignment
Check out any long run Zeke had in 2016 and you will find at least one but most likely both Dez and TWill dominating DB’s at various spots during the highlight. I use the word “various” because on more than a few of them the WR wrecking crew got in more than one potential tacklers grill and often put the player on the ground but most assuredly out of the play. On Zeke’s 83 yard screen scoring play I believe Williams got his hands on three (count em!) DB’s up the sideline shoving the last guy out of Zeke’s way. These two guys can deliver in the passing game to be sure. However in the run game you name me a better blocking duo in the NFL today …. waiting …. waiting ….
Still waiting …..
Wide Receiver Passing Alignment
It used to be if the Cowboys went four wide Beasely handled underneath and Scott Linehan would turn to an outside guy (Brice Butler as an example) to expand the attack if the ‘Boys were going deep. Sometimes the team would turn to Lucky Whitehead if they wanted to widen the field or run a jet sweep on a passing down. A wee bit predictable.
Look for all of that to change in 2017.
The team has been working Beasely more and more up the field every year. It’s not his strong suit, but he is quite capable. Lucky Whitehead on the other hand has had enough issues with the underneath routes he is suited for without pressing him into any vertical assignments. To be frank, you could somewhat predict where the Cowboys were going to attack on passing downs based on their alignments. However after adding WR Ryan Switzer in the 2017 NFL Draft the Cowboys no longer need to look at multiple players in order to vary their game plan when it’s obvious they are going to throw. That should be huge.
Due to injures in the WR corps during OTA’s Switzer got a lot of reps with the fist team and he did not disappoint. Quite the opposite as he proceeded to validate the teams expectations of him as a guy that could/should take over punt return duties, handle the underneath routes in case da Bease is unavailable and has the speed and route running savvy to get open up the field as well.
The Carolina Panthers got huge props for snapping up WR Curtis Samuel in the second round of this years draft. The former RB speedster is tabbed for the slot in the NFL and should be a miss-match nightmare on game day especially once he gets better at route running. Switzer is already there and unlike former RB Samuel has been working from the WR position his entire collegiate career being an accomplished route runner NOW.
Could it get any more fun for Dak Prescott?
Wide Receiver Rotation
- WR-X – Dez Bryant
- WR-Y – Terrance Williams
- WR-F – Cole Beasely / Ryan Switzer
- WR – Brice Butler / Andy Jones / Noah Brown
The rotation heading into camp is pretty much set. Butler has outplayed both Noah Brown and Andy Jones at this point. For what that’s worth (being OTA’s.) Behind the first four NOTHING is set in stone. There should be some incredible competition in camp.
SIDEBAR – Is Williams in danger of losing his WR2 position? Not really. Yes, Butler has (a lot) more speed and can take the top off a D and yes …. that would be awesome. However Dallas uses the threat of the run on passing downs as a tool to pry the defense open and Butler is just not anywhere near the capable blocker as Williams (or Bryant) in this regard. This keeps him at the bottom of the rotation. Andy Jones on the other hand likes the contact and is more of a Williams clone. Noah Brown is a cross between the two. For 2017 injury would be the cause for one of these guys to climb the depth chart. In 2018 however either Jones or Brown offer very intriguing options.
Wide Receivers On The Bubble
- WR – Lucky Whitehead
- WR – Brice Butler
I don’t believe Whitehead is going to find his Lucky Charm in Dallas this season. Though a talented guy he doesn’t seem to have the requisite skills to excel in the passing games and was inactive quite often last season. Valuable as a Jet Sweep guy the Cowboys offense is more talented than in years past which puts Whitehead solidly on the outside looking in.
Butler is a guy who has serious wheels and has improved his game every season. I believe the team would be better on game day early in the season with Butler on the roster. However he doesn’t contribute on special teams (at this point) and is a bit of a progress stopper for either Brown or Jones. If either of the young guys has an outstanding camp Butler is replaceable. He is the Cowboys best downfield threat. Is that alone enough to keep him on the roster? He better be working hard on those blocking skills.
Wide Receiver Dark Horses
- WR – Andy Jones
- WR – Noah Brown
We covered their skill sets above. Injury will almost assuredly have a big impact on the final numbers however if the team goes (again) big at TE that usually means going small (again) at WR. Ryan Switzer changes the numbers game for the Cowboys at WR as they now have a guy who can backup the inside AND outside positions to a degree. The ‘Boys can also flex one of the TE’s outside to create confusion if required. It’s a steep hill for either Jones or Brown. Look for both to probably make the practice squad if the Cowboys can get them past waivers. However the talent is there for either player to make the decision quite difficult come the final cuts.
We will move back to the defensive side of the ball next. Til then.
What say you Sports Nation?
Another Left Coast Sports Post: on Twitter – Steven Van Over