This is the third part in my series analyzing the Cowboys roster.
Former Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Bob Hayes earned the nickname "World's Fastest Man" and he changed the way the game of football is played. He couldn't be covered man to man, and the zone defense was invented just to try and stop him. Drew Pearson made as many big catches as any receiver that has ever played. How many times can you recall Pearson making a catch in a big game to seal a win? He was as clutch as they come. Michael Irvin was the heart and soul of a dynasty. When the Cowboys of the early 90's needed a play, Irvin was always there to make it. More than that, he was the team's emotional leader. Yes, the Cowboys have had many great receivers through the years, but the starting twosome they have right now is as good as any duo they have ever put on the field.
Terrell Owens comes attached with plenty of baggage. I don't have to get into his history of non-conformance here to make you understand that, but Owens' work ethic and his desire to win is as high as anyone. As long as he shows up to work and he works hard and he plays nice, the Cowboys can put up with T.O. And frankly, though Owens is still one to challenge authority on occasion, I think he's past the stage of bickering with teammates. When the Cowboys lost to Seattle in the playoffs last year because of Tony Romo's bobble, it was Owens that left the young quarterback phone messages and kept calling him to try and pick up his teammate. Owens was seen working with young player Sam Hurd almost every day in training camp last year and teaching him the nuances of playing wide receiver. He didn't have to do it; Hurd was an undrafted free agent and a longshot to make the team. But T.O. saw something he liked in the kid, and whether it had anything to do with Hurd's performance in preseason or not, the fact is he made the team and he looks like a very good prospect. And working hard is not anything we have to worry about with Owens. He's a game breaker on the field, and despite his drops last year, remains one of the best wideouts playing today. Jason Garrett will move T.O. around a lot this season to try and create mismatches, and I expect the offense as a whole to show a lot more creativity with Garrett than what we saw out of Bill Parcells and Tony Sparano, or whoever was running it last year, and Owens should benefit from this more than any other player. (I accept T.O. as a Cowboy now. But I couldn't resist putting in the picture of George Teague defending The Star, a moment that made me proud to be a Cowboys fan. Picture courtesy of The Dallas Morning News.)
Terry Glenn just keeps on going. He's one of the more underrated wide receivers in the league. Many offenses would be happy with him as the number one option, but on the Cowboys he's no better than second, and at times third behind Jason Witten. Glenn has battled injuries thoughout his career, mostly hamstring and ankle injuries, but he's stayed relatively healthy four out of the last five seasons, the longest such healthy stretch of his career. Glenn will be 33-years old when the 2007 season gets underway and perhaps he has changed his workout regimen over the years to keep the hamstrings healthy. The Cowboys and their fans can only hope. The freak injuries like the torn tendon in his foot in 2004 and the fractured ankle he suffered in 1998 likely can't be avoided, but the nagging hamstrings can be prevented and hopefully Glenn has figured out how to do it. That's why it doesn't bother me when I see Glenn and Owens missing some voluntary OTA's from time to time. At their ages, they need to rest themselves so they can be ready to go when the season starts, because Glenn, like Owens, produces when he's on the field. He caught 70 passes, for 1,047 yards and 6 TD's last year, and even at his age he's still the best deep threat on the team. Glenn looks like he has a lot of football left in him, if he can just keep the hamstrings healthy.
Patrick Crayton was drafted in the 7th round of the 2004 draft, and he has developed into a clutch third down receiver for the Cowboys. He caught 36 passes, for 516 yards and 4 TD's last year, very good numbers for a third wideout, and especially considering he was in an offense with Owens, Glenn and Witten. He had 17 receptions on third down, his most of any down. Crayton has sure hands and is a very reliable target over the middle when the quarterback has to get rid of the ball quickly. There are a lot of Cowboys fans that believe Crayton could be a very good starting receiver in the NFL, and while I'm not ready to make that leap yet, I really like what he brings to the offense in his current role. He can consistently beat man coverage, which he sees almost exclusively. Crayton will be an unrestricted free agent after the 2007 season, and I expect the Cowboys to try and get a deal done with him in training camp.
The Cowboys drafted Isaiah Stanback in the 4th round this year and he is a very interesting player. Stanback (6-2, 216) played wide receiver at Washington his freshman season and then moved to quarterback for the rest of his college career and put up pretty good passing numbers. Stanback also ran track and he finished 5th in the Pac-10 Conference in the 100 meters in 2005, and had the best overall time (10.48) in the conference that year. Stanback is an explosive open field runner with quickness and acceleration. He's a long strider, so his speed may not show up in a 40 test, but I do believe he's faster than he showed in his campus test (4.58). Stanback is a tough receiver, who can easily beat the jam and he has very good ball skills and concentration. He had a serious foot injury (Lisfranc strain) that cut his senior season short, but Stanback will be ready to go before training camp and maybe sooner. The Cowboys are excited about this player and it's going to be fun to see how they use him.
I really like what I've seen out of Sam Hurd so far, both in the preseason and regular season last year. He has good size (6-3, 195), enough speed and I've seen him make some fantastic, acrobatic catches. He needs to improve his route running, that was Bill Parcells biggest complaint, but he boxes out defenders and adjusts to the ball in the air. He also played on special teams coverage units last year and did it very well. Hurd was the go-to receiver on his Northern Illinois team, and even though I try not to get too excited about undrafted free agents, I can see him developing into a very good NFL receiver. It's surprising some team didn't take a chance on him in the late rounds of the draft last year, given his size and production in the MAC conference.
Miles Austin is another receiver that could have easily been plucked in the 2006 draft. Austin has a little more size than Hurd (6-3, 215) and he's a little faster (4.51) and he also makes tough catches. Austin was his college's (Monmouth) go-to receiver, but he wasn't as productive as Hurd was at Northern Illinois and not nearly as productive as he should have been given his size and speed and playing at such a small school. Austin filled in returning kicks when Tyson Thompson went down last year and he averaged 26.0 yards per return and took one to the house in the playoff game. He will compete in training camp to return kickoffs again. Austin also played well on the coverage units last year. The Cowboys have had starting wide receivers in the recent past that weren't as good as Hurd and Austin (Billy Davis and Jason Tucker come to mind), but both players will have to produce in the preseason again to make the team because the top four are secured in their roster spots.
The Cowboys signed Jamaica Rector as an undrafted free agent after the 2005 draft and he quickly became a Bill Parcells favorite. Rector (5-10, 186) was very productive at Northwestern Missouri State, setting many receiving records at the school. He's a hard worker and will do anything asked of him. Rector has pretty good speed (4.47), reliable hands and he is a good route runner. He also has the experience edge on many of the younger receivers on the team. Rector doesn't do anything extremely well, he's just a good football player, and since he's out of practice squad time and given the Cowboys depth at wide receiver, it will take an excellent preseason for him to stay in the mix for a roster spot.
From the Syracuse Post-Standard:
"The Dallas Cowboys asked former Corcoran wide receiver Jamel Richardson if he could postpone his workout for a week. A member of the Cowboy's staff had a conflict and was requesting a delay so he could personally attend Richardson's tryout. The staff member was owner Jerry Jones.
Last Tuesday, on the same day Syracuse University was conducting it's Pro Day workout at the Carrier Dome, Richardson was at Valley Ranch in Dallas wowing Jones and the Cowboys. Within minutes of emerging from the showers after the workout, the Cowboys extended a three-year free agent contract offer to Richardson. Before Richardson could say yes, his agent asked for a delay."
Needless to say, the Cowboys are excited about Richardson, too. The reason his agent asked for a delay is because the Indianapolis Colts were also hot after the young receiver. The Cowboys tried to sign him last summer but the CFL Saskatchewan Roughriders wouldn't let him out of his contract. Richardson (6-3, 220) catches everything thrown at him and he recently got his speed back down to the 4.50 range, after a broken foot had him running slower last year. The Cowboys saw all they needed to see out of Richardson in his workout, and quickly grabbed their guy. So, if Richardson is such a hot commodity, why, you ask, is he in this position, undrafted and coming out of the CFL? Well, he was recruited to play at Michigan State but he couldn't get in because of grades. Then he played at Victor Valley (J.C.) College and left there before he was NFL draft eligible to sign in the CFL, due to financial needs. He was extremely productive in the CFL, before breaking his foot. He's obviously healed. The Cowboys really have some good, young wide receiver prospects.
Mike Jefferson (6-2, 203) broke out with Montana St. last year, with 66 catches, 1,023 yards and 9 Td's. He has size, hands and the concentration and toughness to make the big catches over the middle. Jefferson's scouting report says he needs to work on the finer points of the postion, like blocking. He's not extremely fast, but at his size he doesn't need to be. Jefferson looks like a good candidate for the practice squad if he plays well in camp and preseason.
Jerrard Rabb played two seasons at Saddleback (J.C.) Community College and two seasons with the Boise St. Broncos, where he put up solid numbers. His senior season he caught 37 passes, for 586 yards and 4 Td's with the pass happy Broncos. Rabb (6-2, 201) is a great leaper, physical and tough. He ran a 4.61 in front of the scouts. He will likely battle Jefferson and possibly Richardson (if the Cowboys can get him through) for a practice squad spot.
Jerheme Urban played at Trinity University and was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Seattle Seahawks after the 2003 draft. Urban (6-3, 212) spent all of 2003 and part of 2004 on Seattle's practice squad. He caught a total of 13 passes, for 268 yards, and 1 Td (against the Cowboys) with the Seahawks in 2004 and 2005. His 2005 season ended with a left foot stress fracture and Seattle did not re-sign him. He was signed by the Cowboys in 2006 and joined the practive squad. Urban faces some pretty long odds because he's out of practice squad time. (A player is allowed two seasons on a practice squad and three weeks in any season count as a full season. I'm surprised The Cowboys were able to sign Urban to the practice squad last October, actually. He must have spent less than 3 weeks in 2004 on Seattle's practice squad.)
The Cowboys haven't used a high draft choice on a wide receiver in a long time but they are well fortified at the position. The only question marks with Owens and Glenn are their age/health, because if they stay on the field they will produce big numbers. Crayton is a solid third wide receiver and Hurd and Austin look capable of contributing. Stanback is the X factor. The Cowboys believe he can be really good. If he's as good as they think and a few of the other young players pan out, the Cowboys may not need to draft a wide receiver early in 2008 as most people assume. I'm really looking forward to seeing some of these young wide receivers play in preseason, especially Richardson.