Cowboys have no doubt Dez Bryant will return to form

Cowboys have no doubt Dez Bryant will return to form

Overview

NFL Nation reporter Todd Archer breaks down the Dallas Cowboys, position by position, analyzing what the players did in 2015, what they can do in the future and what the team can do to improve the position in 2016.

WIDE RECEIVERS

Under contract: Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams, Cole Beasley, Brice Butler, Devin Street, Lucky Whitehead, Vince Mayle, Rodney Smith, Donte Foster.

Free agents: None.

A look back: Dez Bryant was never really Dez Bryant at any point in 2015, resulting in career lows for catches (31), yards (401), touchdowns (three) and games (nine).

He missed the offseason program in a contract dispute. He suffered a hamstring strain early in training camp and missed half of the summer practices and the four preseason games. He suffered a broken right foot in the season opener.

As supremely talented as Bryant is, he could not make up for the missed time on the practice field. He missed five games because of right foot surgery but was unable to practice fully, which affected his timing with whoever played quarterback.

Williams ended the season on a bright note, but despite career highs in catches (52) and yards (840), there were too many games — in Bryant’s absence especially — where Williams did not make a difference. Beasley had career highs in catches, yards and touchdowns as well, but he had three games without a catch and two more with one each.

Butler was picked up in a trade from the Oakland Raiders after Bryant broke his foot and it took time for him to make an impact because of a hamstring injury. Street did not make the year-two jump some had hoped he might. Whitehead made the team as an undrafted free agent but made his biggest plays in the return game or on jet sweeps.

Judging the receivers is a difficult task because of the quarterback play in Tony Romo’s absence, but as a group more was expected.

A look ahead: Bryant is recovering from a second bone graft to his right foot performed after the season but he is expected to be back for the offseason program.

The Cowboys need Bryant to be the dominant player he was from 2011 to 2014 that helped him earn that five-year, $70 million deal he signed last summer. They have no doubt Bryant will be healthy again and emerge as a touchdown machine.

Williams is going into the final year of his contract and needs a big year as well. He has had moments in his first three years and has a feel for getting open when things break down. But can he be an every-down threat? The Cowboys love how he works and practices.

Beasley is a top slot threat and has the trust of Romo to deliver in tight situations. Butler showed some playmaking ability late but will have to show consistency in his work in practice to earn more playing time. Street will have to do the same. Whitehead has grown as a receiver but for now he is a niche player.

A look out: Is it unreasonable to think the Cowboys could take a receiver with the No. 4 overall pick in the draft next spring? No.

Ole Miss’ Laquon Treadwell appears to be the top receiver at the moment and would bring big-play ability to the Cowboys’ passing game. He has skills similar to Bryant’s. Remember, Williams is going into the final year of his deal, so finding a possible replacement will be a key.

The Cowboys knew going into last season that they were thin if something happened to Bryant or Williams. When they lost Bryant, the lack of depth was exposed, but Romo would have been able to make things work better than Brandon Weeden, Matt Cassel or Kellen Moore did. They have the same question this season behind Bryant and Williams.

Signing a veteran free agent will be difficult. Receivers want opportunities and potential options will see Bryant, Williams and Beasley as well as Jason Witten and not see a great opportunity to produce.

As a result, the draft would be the best place to replenish the position.