Dallas Cowboys: Were the receivers the problem in 2017?

ARLINGTON, TX - DECEMBER 24: Wide receivers Cole Beasley
ARLINGTON, TX - DECEMBER 24: Wide receivers Cole Beasley /

The Dallas Cowboys saw a significant decline in passing production last season leading many to believe an overhaul at the receiver position is needed, but were they really the problem?

Dallas Cowboys fans love to debate. A fanbase made up of equal parts optimists and pessimists usually comes to vastly different conclusions in all areas of the team. The questions facing the poor-performing passing game is certainly no different.

Some Cowboys fans blame the receivers for their poor routes, questionable hands, and sporadic effort. Others blame the quarterback for his suspect timing, inaccurate delivery, and limited experience.

But rather than just argue which side is more to blame we must first admit both sides have valid points. Dak Prescott didn’t run through his progressions with the efficiency of a Romo. Nor did he deliver the ball as accurately as ‘ol Number Nine.

But we also must admit that his first 32 games are better than nearly any other QB’s first 32 – ever.  And while he declined this season, the offense was still averaging nearly 30 points per game at the halfway point, and he slumped at the same time the offensive line fell apart. It’s like getting drilled repeatedly in the back has some sort of negative effect. Crazy (sarcasm intended)!

So while we may argue who shares more blame, we need to admit they both share some blame. We also must admit the Dallas Cowboys appear pretty committed to Dak Prescott and will replace the personnel around him long before they look to replace the quarterback himself. So with that we turn to the receiving corps…

The Receivers

Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams, and Cole Beasley round out the top of the Cowboys’ receiving corps. The trio, regarded at this time last year as one of the top-10 in the NFL, face many questions regarding their worth and may face the ax as a result.

No player falls under more scrutiny than No. 88 himself, Dez Bryant.

Dez Bryant

Dez dropped balls, ran lazy routes, and made less-than-full effort on far too many plays this last season. You can say he had to deal with too many poorly located/poorly timed passes (and I’d agree with you) but you can’t deny Dez tanked way too many plays. Just check out Bob Strum’s low-light reel above.

contrary to popular belief, NFL’s next gen stats say all three created separation on par with the rest of the NFL.

Even worse, some of Dez’s mistakes ended up in a turnover. You expect passers to occasionally turn the ball over but you never tolerate it from your receivers or running backs. There were multiple times that Dez could have made a catch but the play ended in an interception. That’s unacceptable for any starting receiver, let alone one who considers himself to be elite.

Last offseason I preached that for Dak to take the next step he needs to trust Dez. This offseason I’m saying quite the opposite. Dez has to regain trust.

Terrance Williams

Terrance Williams somehow failed to live up to his expectations as well. Last spring he gave Dallas a hometown discount when he agreed to a 4-year/ $17 million deal. In return Dallas got career lows from Williams in both yardage (568) and touchdowns (zero). I guess you get what you pay for.

Terrance Williams has proven over the years he’s good for a big play here or there. He’s never been a reliable target that imposes his will, but he’s certainly one to take advantage of opponents if they take him too lightly. But Williams’ extremely small catching radius combined with his limited routes and less-than-accurate passes resulted in his worst season as a pro.

Cole Beasley

Cole Beasley, the top returning receiver from ’16, was held in check this season. Facing more double teams than Dez, Beasley was effectively eliminated from the gameplan and Dak struggled to adjust as a result.

At this time last season Beasley was regarded as one of the best slot receivers in the game. Dubbed as “uncoverable” in training camp, his limited routes caught up with him once the season began.


Predictability is the name of the game. Brice Butler said it best when he spilled the beans last month about Cowboys coaches type-casting players into specific routes. Dez ran the same couple routes. Williams ran a couple different ones. And Bease ran his own handful of predictable routes.

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Opponents had no problems covering this trio because they knew what to expect. Until Jason Garrett and Scott Linehan expands the arsenal, we won’t know how good or how bad these guys really are. And contrary to popular belief, NFL’s next gen stats say they all created separation on par with the rest of the NFL.

Dez Bryant isn’t as bad or over-the-hill as many of his distractors say he is. He may not be a top-10 elite guy like he was in 2014, but he’s still a true #1 and worthy of respect. Dez, like the Williams and like Beasley, would greatly benefit from a more diverse route tree.

Dez will be asked for a modest pay cut this season. What becomes of that remains to be seen. Terrance Williams is cheap for one more season and then expendable (only $2.5M in dead money if cut next offseason) so he’ll get another try.

Beasley is in the last year of his deal and could be gone at this time next year as well. This is a “prove-it” year for all three players so everyone will be motivated to perform.

Were the receivers the problem in Dallas last season? Yes. No matter how you look at it, all of them disappointed and all will need to improve in ’18 if the Cowboys hope to be a contender. But they aren’t solely to blame and there are plenty of reasons to expect better things next year. Just look at their contract situations.

Next: Top-5 free agent WRs this offseason

The Dallas Cowboys passing game struggled last season and the Dallas receivers carry some of the blame. But Dak Prescott and the Dallas coaching staff must also do their part or no combination of receivers will change the fortunes of the Cowboys’ passing game.