And to think there was a time Cole Beasley didn’t want to play football anymore.
You remember, right? Training camp in 2012. Beasley suddenly bolts, considers retirement and then returns? I was thinking the same thing you were thinking back then.
Short-timer. Flake. Final cut.
(When I watch football, I can certainly understand why a guy might wish to give it up. Consider early on in Sunday's 31-17 drubbing of the Bears:)
"I'm OK,'' he said afterwards in the winning locker room. "I made it through.''
Indeed he has. And now? Cole Beasley is this team’s No. 2 wide receiver, and not just because he has the numbers. He’s being looked upon as the No. 2 option by a rookie quarterback who feels comfortable with him and is contributing to the “Rise of the Bease.”
Now, there is no such title as "No. 2 Wide Receiver.'' There is "X'' and "Y'' and whatnot. And yeah, Terrance Williams is still on the roster and he stands to be productive this season. In fact, Williams technically led the Cowboys in receiving on Sunday night against Chicago with 88 receiving yards. But let’s not forget that 47 of that came on one reception that resulted in Williams fumbling and surrendering possession to the Bears.
Beasley had the more consequential night. He caught all seven of his targets for 73 yards. Three of his receptions were second- or third-down catches that he converted into first downs. Two other set up short-yardage situations for the offense. Most of his catches came on scoring drives.
I was actually a bit stunned when I saw Williams streaking down the field on that third-quarter reception. His disappearance act against Washington last week made some waves. We’re beyond the days where Beasley catching a pass was an event that usually signified a blowout. He’s clearly overtaken Williams as the team’s best option opposite Dez Bryant because of his consistency, hands and chemistry with both Prescott and the injured Tony Romo.
In other words, like Bryant, Beasley engenders trust in his quarterback when he hits the field. Beasley is not just a third or fourth option anymore. He is becoming a receiver you look for first, a "read'' that you design plays for.
You remember 2014, right? It seemed that whenever Romo needed a third down he looked Beasley’s way. Last year without Romo, Beasley carved out a role that actually produced "No. 2 numbers'' with Brandon Weeden, Matt Cassel and Kellen Moore throwing passes to him.
Beasley’s receptions last year — 52 — were identical to Williams’. Yes, Williams had more yards. But Beasley actually had more touchdowns.
Now, it’s Prescott. The rookie’s comfort in the pocket extends to how he throws the ball to Beasley. It doesn’t matter if he’s wide open or if there’s a sliver of room to get the football in there. Prescott has faith Beasley will make the catch and do something with it.
That first pass he threw Beasley’s way on Sunday night? That’s his bread and butter. Give him the ball in stride, let him pivot and head upfield. The only thing that kept him from a first down was a huge hit by Chicago’s Adrian Amos, a hit that briefly put Beasley out of the game.
But on Sunday night he also proved he could get down the field, too. His 29-yard reception on the Cowboys’ second touchdown drive set the team up at the Bears 1. More importantly, he caught the ball in tight coverage going to the ground. It was the longest catch of his career.
When this many different quarterbacks, with varying grasps of the Cowboys’ offense, put their faith in a player like Beasley there must be something to it, right? All of them have put their trust in Beasley consistently. That’s the sign of a wide receiver that understands the game, understands what his quarterbacks want and gives it to them every single game.
Through three games Beasley has been targeted 25 times, caught 20 passes and rattled off 213 receiving yards. Now that might not seem like much to you, but extrapolate that for a full season — 104 receptions, 144 targets and 1,120 yards.
"We have a lot of weapons,'' says coach Jason Garrett, making sure to include Jason Witten on this list, and he's another reliable for a QB.
But those Bease numbers? Those are Wes Welker-type numbers. That’s the role the Cowboys maybe dreamed of for Beasley, though certainly not to that statistical extent. But it’s why they committed a long-term deal to Beasley before last season, one that will ultimately pay him $13.6 million through 2018.
At the rate Beasley is going it will be a bargain. We may be looking at the rise of the NFL’s next great slot receiving threat.
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