Now the lead horse is Roy Williams, despite his puny numbers since arriving from Detroit. He's probably a step faster than T.O., not as productive as T.O., not as neurotic as T.O. and not nearly as annoying as T.O. But he's the best receiver in town now.
Patrick Crayton is very good ... as a No. 3 guy. Miles Austin looks like a guy who has the size and speed and ability to be a terrific No. 2, but until he does it with some consistency, we don't know. Sam Hurd? Isaiah Stanback? Um .... who knows?
So there are options out there:
Marvin Harrison - if his legal issues go away, I'd say go get him. Great citizen (to everyone except the guy he fought with outside his bar in Philly, apparently), great locker room guy - the anti-T.O. Oh yeah, when he's healthy, one of the greatest receivers of all time, too (which is a little weird when you consider the fact that aside from Art Monk and Moose Johnston and Donovan McNabb, they've had an amazing number of "great" college players turn into NFL journeymen). Despite his assured first-ballot entry in the Hall of Fame five years after he retires, Harrison would arrive with numerous questions:
1. Are his legal troubles behind him?
2. Can he stay healthy?
3. Does he have anything left?
4. Would he work for a contract that would fit under the Cowboys' financial structure, which has limited money available now and has to be ready to absorb the massive hit that will come when DeMarcus Ware re-signs?
Matt Jones – Everyone knows that Jerry Jones is enamored with fast receivers and with big receivers, and Matt Jones is both of those. The Cowboys' owner also has a thing for guys who played their college ball at Arkansas, which is where Matt Jones made his name, albeit as a quarterback. But Jerry looked foolish enough when he said, basically, that he took the $9 million cap hit that came with T.O.'s release "so that Miles Austin and Sam Hurd could continue to develop" or something along those lines. If he followed that up by getting rid of the bad boys from the Dallas locker room and then signing Matt Jones, he'd get laughed at even harder than the radio commercials the team is running for season tickets (when of course Jerry would have people believe that everyone in north Texas is ready to sell plasma to afford his personal seat license fees….)
Jerry Porter – Remember this guy? A few years ago, the Raiders were gushing that Porter (another converted college quarterback) was the best athlete on their team, was a superstar-in-waiting who was simply overshadowed by Randy Moss, etc. Then he got sidetracked by a blown Achilles tendon, but upon his return, he wasn't what Al Davis had envisioned, after all (who is?) He got dumped by Oakland and resurfaced in Jacksonville, where he was so impressive that the receiver-starved Jags also cut him.
Reggie Williams – The ninth player in the 2004 draft is the third recent ex-Jaguar looking for work. Projecting wide receivers is a dicey proposition, at best, but he was thought to be as promising as just about anyone coming into the league in recent years not named Calvin Johnson. Big, strong, good speed, good hands … the man has talent, as shown by his 189 receptions for 2,322 yards and 18 touchdowns – not star numbers, but of some value … until he got arrested last month and charged with DWI and possession of marijuana. Somewhere David Letterman is writing a joke about Williams and Jones being the two best possession receivers in the game.
The two most appealing options would require trades, and the compensation would be very steep. Cardinals wideout Anquan Boldin wants Larry Fitzgerald-like money (which he won't get) or he wants out of Arizona. With two years remaining on his contract, the Cards have absolutely no reason to trade him, unless someone makes an enormous offer. Want to give up Felix Jones AND Jay Ratliff (in case they can't extend Darnell Dockett) AND a No. 1 pick? No? Then the Cards won't give him away. They haven't specifically asked for that compensation, because publically they're saying they have no interest in trading him, but it's a safe bet that any behind-the-scenes discussions have centered around compensation in that stratosphere.
Oh … Boldin's new team will have to pay him, too. Considering DeMarcus Ware is about to get a contract that might be lucrative enough to include naming rights on JerryWorld Stadium, Dallas isn't likely to go after Boldin.
Finally, there's Plaxico Burress. Sigh … just got rid of one talented-but-knuckleheaded receiver, so can Burress really be the solution? To be fair, he is taller, younger and faster. But in addition to shooting himself in the leg in a club, he also has shown the ability to shoot his mouth off in a locker room and blow a gasket on the field. His talent is beyond question, but if part of the reasoning behind the offseason purge of Owens, Pacman Jones, Tank Johnson, etc., is to keep team babysitter Calvin Hill from working 24 hours a day in the asylum that was the locker room last season, then Burress would be a case of subtraction by addition.
So that leaves the draft, and the Cowboys need to find one or more rookies who can make the roster as a receiver. This year's first-round pick already is in town and playing receiver (the pick went to Detroit in the Roy Williams trade), so chances are good that the Cowboys won't grab a receiver in the second. With that in mind, the four guys considered the cream of the crop – Texas Tech's Michael Crabtree, Maryland's Darrius Heyward-Bey, Missouri's Jeremy Maclin and Florida's Percy Harvin – will be long gone. Chances are good that Rutgers' Kenny Britt, Ohio State's Brian Robiskie and Oklahoma's Juaquin Iglesias also will be someone else's property by the time the Cowboys get around to spending a mid-round pick on a receiver. So who are some guys worth considering … and worth avoiding?
LSU's Demetrius Byrd is an unbelievable athlete. At 6-0, 199 and running a 4.42 in the 40, he has the strength and speed to go over the middle or get deep. He was a productive player on college team that had a lot of other offensive options (he caught 72 passes for an average of 15.8 yards per catch and 11 touchdowns in two seasons in Baton Rouge), and he might be just starting to scratch the surface of what he can do: before playing his two seasons at LSU, he played two seasons of junior college and just one season of high school football, so he doesn't have a lot of miles on his tires and he's still learning the game.
Nevada's Marko Mitchell is another guy who has both size (6-3.5, 218) and speed (4.47). He caught 147 passes over three seasons for the Wolf Pack for an average of 18.1 yards per catch, and found the end zone 22 times. In fact, several scouts have compared him to Roy Williams without the Big 12 hype machine behind him.
Jarett Dillard of Rice is going to see his draft stock hurt by the fact that he's only 5-10 and the perceived level of competition his team played. But Jerry Rice didn't play USC and Florida every week, either, and he turned out OK. No, that's not to suggest Dillard is the next Jerry Rice, but he is a guy who does everything well. He's exceptionally smart, has consistently clocked in the 4.5s in the 40, is an outstanding leaper (recording the highest vertical leap at the NFL Combine), runs very precise routes and catches everything near him. More than anything, Dillard is productive: his 60 career touchdown receptions are the most (by 10) in NCAA history, and he ranks ninth all-time in receptions and yards. And he's consistent – he, Randy Moss and Larry Fitzgerald are the only wideouts in NCAA history to catch at least one touchdown in 12 games in a single season, and he is the only player to have two seasons in which he caught at least 19 touchdowns. Speculation is all over the place for Dillard's draft status: some see him going as low as the fifth round, while others have projected him as high as the mid-second.
Dallas would be wise to avoid three guys who will get talked about on Draft weekend because of their marquee college careers but very well could struggle at the next level.
Penn State's Derrick Williams was a very good college player. Hailed as the No. 1 recruit in the nation coming out of high school, he was expected to make the Nittany Lion offense electric, and at times, he did. For someone who was supposed to be Desmond Howard-like, Williams ran just a 4.62 in the 40, which is tolerable for guys built like Matt Jones (who famously ran a sub-4.4). But at a shade under 6 feet and 194 pounds, that speed isn't enough, and he's nowhere near as elusive as Dillard.
Texas wideout Quan Cosby is a very good player who will make someone's team, but he has two things going against him: he's 5-8.5 and he's already 26 years old. The Cowboys have several guys who can return kicks – an area in which Cosby excels – and would be better served getting a bigger, younger wideout to develop. If Cosby goes undrafted, sure – bring him in on a free agent tryout basis. But other than that, spend draft picks to address other needs.
Take a look at USC's Patrick Turner, and the words that come to mind will be: Mike Williams. Like Williams, Turner is huge (6-5, 223) and was a star for the Trojans. But like Williams, Turner lacks speed, clocking in the 4.7s. Williams posted similar times, but the common thinking was that his strength, aggressiveness when going for the ball and route running would make up for what he lacked in speed. Detroit famously grabbed him in the first round, and he did little for the Lions. Turner is a slightly better athlete than Williams, but unless he lands on a team that uses college defensive backs, he very well could have a career similar to Williams' career, too.
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