If only. Were the Dallas Cowboys going into the season with the top three wideouts that finished 2011 and all of them were healthy, the team would arguably have the best three-deep wide receiving group in the NFL. It certainly would be a shoe-in for the top 5, at least from my sometimes blue-and-silver colored perspective.
But Laurent Robinson cashed in on his excellent year with the Cowboys and left for the Jaguars. This left the team with a very strong top two and more questions for the rest of the wide receiver positions than a week of Jeopardy episodes.
Figuring out how this position stacks up against the competition is a bit of a guessing game, because so much is unknown. This is true in many parts of the roster this year: Dallas has a big group of rookies and the biggest free agent haul in franchise history, so it is to be expected. And the past week only added to the state of tumult at receiver for the Cowboys.
The only given is that Miles Austin is the incumbent number one. He was hampered by injury (another statement that keeps cropping up with distressing frequency in talking about the 2011 season) but he still is a top flight receiver, and he seems to be entering the season in very good shape. He should be primed for a good year, and will hopefully bring back memories of his breakout 2009 season.
Up until a few days ago, Dez Bryant was showing all the signs of having his own breakout year. He claimed to be in his best shape ever, was focused, and working diligently. And then came a 9-1-1 call, some accusations, and an arrest.
Now some, such Rick Gosselin at the Dallas Morning News, are calling for a "maximum suspension", which seems to equate to about a month. Missing your number two receiver, who also may be the most physically gifted member of the unit, for a quarter of the season does not seem like much of a plan for success. I have laid out my own perspective on this over at Blogging the Boys, and won't go into great detail here. I'll just say that the facts need to be in and we need to see what the final outcome of the charges being forwarded to the DA's office is before we decide what, if anything, needs to be done.
If, as I hope, Bryant is available for the entire season, I do think he is on track for his best season with the Cowboys. The third year is the usual year NFL wide receivers come into their own, and from a football perspective, he has been doing everything right. If he can overcome the family and legal tribulations and keep his focus, the Cowboys should see some great things from him.
After Austin and Bryant, it is all guesswork and speculation at this point. Here are the candidates, alphabetically:
Cole Beasley: He made a splash in the OTAs and minicamp. But the conventional wisdom is that his small size will not let him stand up to the bigger bodies in the NFL. However, conventional wisdom does not always get it right.
Tim Benford: Going into the offseason practices, many thought he would be the one that stood out, not Beasley. Now he looks like practice squad material, at best, but he may make a move in camp.
Danny Coale: Probably will make the team based on his draft status and if he lives up to his "always open" reputation. At least, if his foot does not take too long to finish healing.
Saalim Hakim: Blinding speed. Iffy hands. Another guy whose best chance is probably the practice squad.
Dwayne Harris: Has the advantage of experience. A good showing in camp would give him a good chance, especially if the team keeps six receivers.
Andre Holmes: Based on the observations of the reporters at the open practices, he may be the leader for the third position now. Jerry Jones is high on him, and that counts for a lot, as does his size.
Donovan Kemp: Camp body from all reports.
Kevin Ogletree: The third WR slot should be his to lose. But he is not living up to expectations, at least judging from reports. I think he is going to be looked at more critically than anyone else, and I am not very optimistic he will make it out of camp.
Raymond Radway: The hard luck story of last year, he is showing signs he is not recovered from his shattered leg. If he cannot come back, it will be a sad end to his story. I would like to see the team put him on IR or PUP and try to give him another year before they give up on him.
Veteran receiver: The team may try to catch lightning in a bottle again, but the odds are long against finding another Robinson. But signing the best option available after the other NFL teams make their cuts may be the safe move if the team is not happy with their options at the end of camp.
This will likely be an exciting battle to watch in the preseason. Hopefully, the picture will come into focus quickly for the Cowboys.