Sunday, February 10, 2008

Cowboys Roster Evaluation: Receivers

Greetings, ye comfortably outspread masses! I've held out on this one for a while, primarily due to that bane of all humans (Trigonometry) and a quest to finish Season 2 of Arrested Development (A venture I'd highly reccomend to one and all). But let's get back to business. Today's write-up will focus on the Cowboy prospects at wide receiver and tight end. As usual, I'll begin by running down the current guys in order of prominence and value, then move on to evaluating potential draftees and finally free agent or trade additions.

1. Jason Witten. I know he's a distant second in the Prominence bracket, but whatever you do, don't disparage Jason Witten in my presence. Witten's impact on this team's offensive attack is immeasurable. He's one of the premier blocking tight ends in all of football, and happens to be arguably the best of them all when it comes to receiving. 96 receptions, 1145 yards, 7 TDs. The numbers speak for themselves. Anyone who's watched the Cowboys knows that Witten is Tony Romo's secrity blanket; he makes the big 3rd down plays, he always manages to fall ahead of the first-down marker, and he is one of the toughest players I've ever seen strap on a helmet. Not to say that the headpiece is necessary for a player of his capabilities; I need not remind anyone here of the timeless play against Philadelphia in which he had his helmet dislodged but rumbled on and recorded his longest reception of the season. He's the consummate professional and from all indications a stellar human being. The icing on the cake? The 5th year Tennessee 3rd rounder played this season at the age of Twenty Five.

2. Terrell Owens. This was a terrific year for a large number of the NFL's most infamous, as much-maligned players like Jamal Lewis and Randy Moss revitalized their careers with terrific seasons mired in contentedness. Perhaps most conspicuously inconspicuous amongst that list was our very own star wideout. The 4 year old was a playmaker in every sense of the word. Through fourteen and a half games, TO registered 81 catches, 1355 yards, and a stunning fifteen touchdowns. He seemed virtually unguardable with anything less than a fully devoted secondary. The best part? The only popcorn necessary was that which TO resolved to consume in a celebratory antic. Hyde has become Jekyll. Owens is evidently unaffected by human eventualities like age and prolonged rehabilitation for serious injuries. Barring the unforseen scenario in which he loses immortality, TO will likely submit two or three more productive campaigns.

3. Patrick Crayton. Crayton was thrust into immense shoes this season and delivered beyond all expectations. While not nearly the deep threat that Terry Glenn posed, Crayton proved himself more than a capable #2 receiver playing primarily in the slot. The heartbreaking lapses in the playoff game notwithstanding, Crayton proved that his hands were as good as anyone's on this team. He doesn't have the breakaway speed many imagine when seeing his slight build, but Crayton is quick and elusive. An exemplary third receiver who will likely return to that role next year, Crayton will earn fourteen million dollars over the next four seasons. Not a bad haul for a seventh-round selection out of Northwestern Oklahoma State.

4. Terry Glenn. It may be unconventional for me to list a player who recorded a single reception throughout this team's schedule at #4. Throughout his career, however, Glenn has been a terrific player. Drafted first overall by Tuna's 1996 Patriots team, Glenn has been one of the top deep threats in the NFL when healthy. He's also been a consistently excellent route runner with good hands. His slight, fragile frame is probably the thing going most prominently against him, and that's all that held him back from being an elite player throughout his twelve seasons. Glenn may not be retained for next season, as he will likely opt for microfracture surgery which has ended the career of many an athlete. His contract, however, is very reasonable (1.74 million) and could be restructured further.

5. Sam Hurd. This undrafted free agent has an aura of determination to him. Full of charisma and dead-set on becoming a great receiver, the 22 year old Hurd has shown flashes of what is to come. He lacks the speed to consistently seperate, but can make catches downfield. Hurd has very reliable hands and will fight as hard as anyone for the ball. Most of his receptions come in the air, whether his momentum propels him horizontally or vertically. I'm a big fan of Sam, and if given time I could see him becoming a very capable slot receiver in this league.

6. Anthony Fasano. Many looked at his selection in the second round as dubious. Fasano's not a very good blocker and can't stretch the field any further than most fullbacks. I believe he was taken with the intent of an impending transition to the two-tight end offense. He has, however, disappointed during his first two seasons. Fasano seemed a good receiver during his Notre Dame days, and the Cowboys need that aspect of his game to resurface. He isn't as elusive as described, and while he is courageous, that doesn't translate to production in this case. Fasano will need to step up his game to cement his spot firmly behind Jason Witten on this team.

7 . Miles Austin. 6'3, 215, and speedy. The combination tantalized the Cowboys enough to bring Austin on despite a lack of refinement and hands of stone. While promising, Austin's biggest contributions have come on kickoffs and Defensive Pass Interference Penalties. Frankly, he's not a receiver at this point-just an athlete. A terrific athlete, but one whose game does not translate to the wide receiver position right now. It'd be a shame to see it, but I have a feeling Austin may not be on the team next year. He simply has not shown enough in two years to warrant a spot over the next talented project...

8. Isaiah Stanback. There's no reason to believe that Stanback will be any more successful than Austin, but there's no basis for belief otherwise. Stanback is the unknown; that guy likely to bite you in the ass if you give up on him too early. A natural athlete who actually got drafted by the Orioles despite not playing college baseball, Stanback played QB for the University of Washington but was seen by most as a wildcard coming into the NFL. People had him tabbed at positions as varying as cornerback, running back, and finally wide receiver. He sat out this entire season, both to rehabilitate from injuries and to learn the position. Stanback did return a few kicks, however, and looked impressive doing so. I'm not raising my hopes too high for the immediate future, but for Stanback, the only way to go is up. And the slope could be tremendous.

Tony Curtis. He's succeeded Mike Vrabel as the NFL's best endzone threat. Curtis turns everything he catches into six points. Whether this is due to his enormous frame, cool goatee, or superhuman abilities remains unknown. This mysterious, legendary figure transcends a ranking, and is only listed behind everyone else due to his inhuman humility.

I'm not a fan of drafting first-round wide receivers. The bust rate is high and they're rarely ready to contribute right off the bat. It seems likely that the Cowboys will select a WR fairly early in this years draft, however, due to the fact that their best receiver is 34 and they lack proven commodities behind him.
If anyone wants to bet with me on the odds that they draft another tight end, though, I'm willing to go 10:1. Seriously.

Desean Jackson. The concensus top wideout in the draft, Jackson's.... really, really fast. The Ted Ginn comps are very valid, although to me he seems to be a bit more refined and an even better return man. He's small, though, and his route running could use some work. Jackson will likely be gone before a score of teams make their selections, but if he's there at 22 expect The King to debate the selection long and hard.

Limas Sweed. I hear Roy Williams, and It's a good comp in many respects. When I look at Limas Sweed, though, I see Vincent Jackson. Williams is more of a possession receiver, Sweed and Jackson are big guys with good hands who go up for the deep ball with a fair deal of regularity. I love Sweed's game, and the only thing holding him back from a mid-first round grade is newly established injury concerns. He looked solid as a rock coming into the season, but since then has suffered two worrisome injuries. He'll likely be a late first or early second rounder unless he shows up at the combine and wows people with a no-longer maligned 40 time.

Mario Manningham. Michigan fans fell in love with Super Mario, and It's very likely that the team selecting him will wind up reaping the same windfall. Manningham is fast, strong, and has good hands. His blocking leaves much to be desired and he doesn't escape well from jams, but aside from injuries there's nothing else not to like about Manningham. A concensus first-round talent that could go as early as #15 but will likely fall to the mid-20s. Marvin Harrrison's an awfully ambitious comp, but if everything works out there is that chance.

Early Doucet. Unlikely to become anyone's top threat, Doucet is probably the safest pick of the bunch. He's not especially big, fast, or generally talented. But his hands are excellent, he's elusive, a good blocker and an all-around hard worker. Doucet has never really been 'the man' at LSU, and should play a similar role in the NFL. He compares to our own Patrick Crayton in more ways than one. I expect to see Doucet taken in the early second round, but a team looking for a low-risk contributor could spend their first selection on him.

Malcolm Kelly. Similar to Sweed, Kelly's a big old Texas boy with good hands who's been blessed with enough speed for occasional big plays. He's not quite the deep threat that Sweed presents, but offers less risk of sitting on the IR for prolonged stints. He's a very talented athlete who is known for huge games, but inversely does not offer consistent production on the same level as most first round players. If a lot of things fall into place, he could be a player similar to Braylon Edwards.

There's really only one free agent target who interests me. That's the Bears' Bernard Berrian. Berrian is the consummate deep threat and has been pretty much the only admirable part of the Bears' offense during the past two seasons. Despite the total absence of anything resembling a supporting cast, he's been a consistent threat both in the ball-control offense and when Rex Grossman found it in him to air it out. The catch, as always, is money. Will Berrian want to be paid like a #1, or will he take 6 million or so to play second fiddle to TO?

There are several trade targets who have been mentioned in conjunction with America's Team. The first, and most oft-debated, is Detroit's Roy Williams. Roy is a terrific slot receiver, perhaps the surest-handed big WR in all of football. He's stated his desire to get back to Texas, and the Lions have been linked to rumors involving a first day selection returning in his stead. I don't see it happening; Jerry doesn't need to take on any more highly-paid receivers, and Williams certainly will be that. He's also quite prone to injury. As much as I'd love it, I remain doubtful.
I'll address the second, although I believe the possibility of his arrival to be on the 'extremely low' end of the scale. I'm speaking of Chad Johnson. Ocho Cinco is a king-sized personality and a terrific player. I don't want any possibility of TO returning to his dissatisfied persona, and believe that bringing CJ in here could have that effect. It would make our receiving core beyond incredible but cause more trouble than It's worth.

No comments: