After a historic 13-3 run in 2016, the Dallas Cowboys faltered late last season and finished with a 9-7 record, missing the postseason. Even though the team’s rushing attack was still potent (second in the NFL), the Cowboys mightily struggled through the air as the passing offense fell down two spots (25th in the NFL) in 2017.
Cowboys’ quarterback Dak Prescott saw the biggest drop off in 2017. After having a stellar rookie campaign, the Mississippi State standout threw for more interceptions (13), had lows in passer rating, touchdowns, completion percentage, and passing yards. Prescott struggled to find a consistent target to trust in the corp.
This offseason saw longtime Cowboys tight end Jason Witten retire from football and ended up releasing former Pro Bowl wide receiver Dez Bryant in April. Throughout his eight years in Dallas, Dez Bryant was the Cowboys’ number one wide receiver, leading the team in receiving categories for years. Even with his success, Bryant didn’t seem to connect with his new quarterback as they struggled to find a “click” in Bryant’s last two seasons in the Big D.
Jason Witten was the team’s “ole’ reliable” for many seasons and for Prescott as well. In his last two seasons in Dallas, Witten caught 132 passes for 1,233 receiving yards and eight touchdowns establishing himself as Prescott’s go-to target. Even with Bryant and Witten’s absence, Dallas still has a corps of young wide receivers that will be key for their success and Prescott’s progression in 2018.
During the free agency period, the Cowboys signed former Jaguar Allen Hurns to a two-year deal. The former Miami standout had a 1,000-yard campaign in 2015 before falling victim to nagging injuries which caused him to miss 11 starts in the past two seasons. Hurns is heading into Dallas as the teams new No. 1 receiver and is expected to regain his 2015 form.
After trading away 2017’s fourth-round draft pick Ryan Switzer to Oakland, Dallas acquired Tavon Austin from the Los Angeles Rams for a sixth-round pick. Even though the former first-round pick hasn’t found his step in the league, Austin will be a valuable gadget player and a seasoned return specialist the team needs. Austin’s best season came in 2016 where he hauled 58 receptions for 509 yards and three scores.
The Cowboys also used 2018 draft picks on wide receivers Michael Gallup, Cedrick Wilson, and tight end Dalton Schultz. Gallup, the third round pick from Colorado State, showed his potential with two 1,000-yard seasons in the last two years in college and is expected to become Dallas’ new replacement for Bryant. Sixth-round pick Cedrick Wilson provides much-needed depth at a weak position for the team and could be a valuable slot option in 2018. The Cowboys found Witten’s replacement, Stanford’s Dalton Schultz in the fourth round of this draft. Just like his predecessor, Schultz is a bruiser down the middle and a great run blocker that could be essential for this offense. The goal for Dallas is to make sure Dak can grow an immediate relationship with his new toys.
The three new Cowboys are joining a corps which includes Terrance Williams and Cole Beasley, who have both contributed well over the past two seasons. Beasley enjoined a plentiful 2016 where he had career-highs in receptions (75), receiving yards (833), and touchdowns (5). Terrance has been a decent No. 2 receiver throughout his six-year career, enjoying a 2015 season where he led the team in receiving yards (840) and touchdowns (3).
Even with the shakeup in their receiving corps, Dak Prescott still has a lot of help around him to succeed this season. Prescott still has workhorse running back Ezekiel Elliott, who rushed for nearly 1,000 yards and seven touchdowns even though he missed six games due to a league suspension and has a dominant offensive line with Pro Bowlers Zach Martin, Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick, and La’el Collins. With Prescott’s ability of being a mobile, smart thinking playmaker, the Cowboys will have no trouble finding success in their passing game without two of their brightest stars from the past.