Long time fans will remember that Jimmy Johnson started a trend in the 1990’s by targeting tall wide receivers to play on the perimeter. Alvin Harper provided a large catch radius and became a nice bailout option for Troy Aikman and Jason Garrett. During a game in which Garrett started in place of an injured Aikman, John Madden quoted Garrett as saying his wife told him that “if no one was open, just throw it up to Alvin Harper – it seems to work for Troy.”
Garrett has continued the preference for having tall wide receivers to play on the outside. Terrell Owens, Roy Williams, Miles Austin, Dez Bryant, and Terrence Williams are all 6’2″ or taller.
A recent podcast from Pro Football Focus touched on how all of the experts got it wrong with Dak Prescott and whether there was anything, in retrospect, that could offer clues as to the reason why. One item mentioned was that Prescott was very accurate, both last season and in college, when the intended target had good separation from the defender. His accuracy was sub-par when the intended target did not have good separation.
How are these two items related? They very well may not be related, but it did provide something to consider. When evaluating receivers, should the Cowboys more heavily weight the ability to create separation as opposed to other positive traits like size, the ability to grab contested balls and other contested catches, and the ability to box out defenders?
While there are always exceptions, smaller receivers, with a lower center of gravity allowing quick change of direction, often excel at creating separation. Taller receivers tend to be be better at boxing out defenders and making contested catches, which are often over the head catches where height is crucial.
Remember who Prescott’s favorite receiver was early in the season – Cole Beasley. Defenses eventually reduced the damage done by Beasley, likely by providing extra attention to him. Beasley is extremely adept at creating separation. It is the one area that Beasley is better than Dez Bryant, the Cowboys best receiver. While the prevailing theory as to why Dez Bryant was not heavily involved after his return from injury was that Prescott and Bryant didn’t have time to develop chemistry, it may be that Beasley’s ability to create separation played right into Prescott’s strength as a passer, while Prescott wasn’t as good at or was less willing to attempt to take advantage of Bryant’s strengths – using his size to make contested catches and to box out defenders.
Looking at two of the top receivers available in the draft, Mike Williams and John Ross, Mike Williams is the type of receiver that the Cowboys historically would consider as a first round choice, while Ross is not. With Prescott as quarterback, would Ross be the more effective receiver?
What do you think Cowboys Nation? Should the Cowboys re-think their strategy of focusing on tall receivers to play on the perimeter?