The Dallas Cowboys passing offense has struggled in historic fashion through the team’s first three games of 2018, two of which resulting in road losses. Pushed to the brink on defense thanks to their inability to find a rhythm on offense, it’s safe to say this isn’t what the Cowboys brass had in mind when overhauling their skill positions in the offseason.
While the outside world was skeptical of the Cowboys’ ability to function on offense without both Dez Bryant and Jason Witten, The Star (Cowboys headquarters) was a beacon of optimism for this young group.
Regardless of how the rest of this season turns out for Dallas, it feels inevitable the Cowboys are on a collision course with similar offseason concerns. Finding play makers at wide receiver will remain a need for the Cowboys until proven otherwise, and 13 games may not even be enough to do that comfortably.
With that, here is an early look at four of the top receivers in college football to keep an eye on.
Kelvin Harmon – North Carolina State
Weight: 213 pounds
2018 Statistics through September 29: 18 catches, 312 yards
NC State’s Kelvin Harmon has progressed quickly as a big target for the Wolfpack of NC State, going over 1,000 yards as a sophomore last season.
Harmon is an incredibly smooth, deep-route runner with the long speed to beat a defense over the top. Once Harmon has the ball in his hands, often securing it away from his frame at its highest point, he’s capable of finding a special gear that creates explosive plays.
Such plays are glaringly absent from the Cowboys attack this season, and adding a complete player like Harmon could go a long way. This is a receiver that plays with a clear “alpha” mentality, possessing the quick foot speed and release to free himself at the stem and box out any defender.
Deebo Samuel – South Carolina
Weight: 215 pounds
2018 Statistics: 20 catches, 145 yards, 1 TD
It’s no secret the Cowboys offense lacks creativity, making Samuel’s game of breath of fresh air to watch on tape.
This is a smaller receiver who is an absolute menace for opposing cornerbacks, capable of playing bigger than his size at the catch point. Exploding out of his breaks with great leverage, Samuel is a precise route runner with ideal spacial awareness.
Samuel may not be much of a rebounder with the ball in the air, but when given touches, he’s quick to read his keys and get up the field. The Senior has handled kickoff return duties throughout his career at South Carolina, averaging just over 33 yards a return.
One thing the Cowboys currently have is depth at wide receiver. By the time the 2019 NFL Draft rolls around though, things could look a lot different in Sanjay Lal’s meeting room. The team’s top two players, Cole Beasley and Tavon Austin, are free agents.
For the time being though, adding as many capable bodies to this receiver by committee approach may be the only way for the Cowboys to resurrect Prescott.
Samuel is an exciting player to follow in this regard for Cowboys fans.
AJ Brown – Ole Miss
Weight: 225 pounds
2018 Statistics: 26 catches, 381 yards, 3 TDs
The NFL has slowly but surely trended away from big-bodied receivers in favor of shiftier athletes that can line up all over the field. The Ole Miss junior happens to be the best of both worlds.
Mostly used as a mismatch inside for the Rebels offense, Brown’s length and toughness make him a nearly impossible cover for any secondary player – particularly smaller slot cornerbacks.
Though it takes some time for Brown to build up speed in and out of his routes, he’s as reliable a target in the country at arriving on time with the ball to move the chains.
Thriving on in-breaking routes that show off Brown’s ability to create leverage and use his lankiness at the stem, Brown finds a way to play bigger than his 6’1″ stature.
Whether or not the Cowboys believe that Brown is the type of receiver that Prescott can work with is far from being determined. Should the Ole Miss product be in this year’s draft, his next team is getting a receiver that plays with an edge on every single snap.
N’Keal Harry – Arizona State
Weight: 216 pounds
2018 Statistics: 26 catches, 335 yards, 4 TDs
Harry is the best pure deep threat out of the four profiled here, making him an enticing target for a Cowboys team that failed to complete a pass longer than 20 yards in their most recent loss to the Seahawks.
Watching Harry glide down the field at his height puts him in rare company as an athlete. Arizona State takes full advantage of this ability from Harry, getting him in space whenever possible.
Harry excels at playing small out of his release, not giving his defender a real target to latch onto before creating separation vertically. Harry also has NFL-ready finishing ability, tracking the ball exceptionally well and adjusting to it on the fly.
Once the ball is in Harry’s hands, he looks every part the towering receiver that his raw numbers would imply. Often having to slow his process down to receive the ball, Harry is not afraid to play physical and lower the shoulder to create extra yards.
With a lot of room to improve as a polished and complete route runner, Harry is a work in progress that the Cowboys could immediately work into their game plan as he develops into a true outside threat.
For More —