Last year, the Dallas Cowboys started the season with one of the worst receiving corps in the entire NFL. This year, they might have one of the best.
You probably don’t remember just how bad the Dallas Cowboys receiver and tight end corps were at the beginning of the season last year. My bet is you’ve blocked out the memory. I didn’t. I mean, I tried to, but you can only drink so much without risking permanent liver damage.
In any event, let me remind you. In last year’s season opener against the Carolina Panthers, Cowboys soon-to-be-immensely-wealthy quarterback Dak Prescott did not have an impressive outing. He threw for 170 yards with zero touchdowns, and his top receiver was Cole Beasley with seven catches for 73 yards.
Three receivers caught three passes apiece: wide receiver Deonte Thompson, tight end Geoff Swaim, and Pro Bowl running back Ezekiel Elliott, the Cowboys’ most recent member of the $100 million club. The Dallas brass were so impressed with these performances that three of these four guys aren’t even on the team anymore.
By midseason, the Cowboys brain trust was so concerned that they traded one of their precious first-round draft picks for Pro Bowl wide receiver Amari Cooper. It was a wise choice.
Since then, second year receiver Michael Gallup and tight end Blake Jarwin have matured into truly dangerous receivers, the Cowboys let Beasley walk in free agency, then signed former Green Bay Packers slot receiver Randall Cobb and brought back all-world tight end Jason Witten, delaying his unanimous ratification into the Hall of Fame by at least a year.
In short, the receiver room looks almost completely different from a year ago. And that is a very good thing. Let’s compare the two openers.
Instead of 170 yards passing with only one receiver hauling in more than three passes like last year, this past Sunday against the New York Giants, Prescott passed for 405 yards and four touchdowns. His top three receivers, Gallup, Cooper, and Cobb combined for over 300 yards receiving and two touchdowns.
And that’s without even mentioning the tight ends, Witten and Jarwin, who scored the Cowboys’ first two touchdowns of the game. In one year, Dallas has gone from having one of the worst wide receiver and tight ends corps in the league to having one of the best.
Amazingly, they did it without drafting a single pass-catcher. Of course, we know how they did it. In addition to the roster changes, and the truly impressive improvement of their second-year receiver and tight end, they also promoted 30-year old Kellen Moore from quarterbacks coach to offensive coordinator after only holding his first coaching job for a single year.
Knowing all of the Cowboys personnel machinations, however, doesn’t make the feat any less impressive. If anything, it makes it more impressive.
Perhaps we shouldn’t get overly excited. This was only one game, and it was against the Giants, not exactly the NFL’s gold standard right now. Nevertheless, it did feel good. I’m not even sure I can count the number of times I jumped off my couch, cheering in triumph.
So, who wants to be realistic? This was a very fun game to watch. There were so many great moments. There were the spectacular long bombs to Cooper and Gallup. There was the return of Elliott, brushing off defenders like gnats on his way to the end zone.
But my favorite moment might have been Randall Cobb’s first down conversion in the 2nd quarter. It was third and ten, and Cobb caught the pass with three yards to go. Not willing to settle, he stiff-armed the tackler, throwing him to the ground before picking up his first down. It was great.
I love Cole Beasley, and I was sad when the Cowboys let the shifty and sure-handed receiver go in free agency, but Beasley could not have made that play. He’s just too small.
In fact, Beasley, who was Prescott’s number one target for the first half of last season, likely couldn’t even crack the starting line-up of this year’s squad. He’d probably be the team’s number four receiver, behind Cobb.
So, for now, to heck with being realistic. I have no idea how the rest of the season will go, whether the Dallas Cowboys will make the playoffs or go to the Super Bowl for the first time in the Jason Garrett era. Just for a moment, I just want to savor this great game, and maybe watch some more highlights of Dallas’ now-dominant receiver corps. It’s a great feeling, especially after last year.