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Dak Prescott DOESN'T need a WR1

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  • Dak Prescott DOESN'T need a WR1

    By Bucky Brooks
    NFL.com Analyst
    Published: June 1, 2018 at 01:43 p.m.
    Updated: June 1, 2018 at 07:50 p.m.


    Dak Prescott made headlines last week when he suggested to reporters that a team doesn't really need a No. 1 wide receiver to succeed. The 2016 Offensive Rookie of the Year recently lost his top two pass catchers -- Dez Bryant (released) and Jason Witten (retired) -- but still believes the Dallas Cowboys' offense can flourish without a bona fide star on the perimeter.

    "I don't know if any team in the league necessarily needs a No. 1 receiver," Prescott said, via Pro Football Talk. "It's about getting the ball out, spreading the ball around, keeping the defense on its toes."

    What?! In a passing league, where it's all about pitch-and-catch aerial acrobatics, this 24-year-old QB is basically saying elite pass catchers are irrelevant?

    As crazy as that initially sounds, the young gunslinger might be right. Just take a deeper look ...

    Eyeing the 10 highest-paid receivers from 2017 -- by average salary, according to Spotrac -- I noticed that just three big-money guys were on playoff teams (Antonio Brown, Julio Jones and Alshon Jeffery). While you could argue that some guys on the list saw their playoff hopes diminish due to injuries to the QB1 (Davante Adams, T.Y. Hilton and DeAndre Hopkins), the fact remains that the overwhelming majority of the league's so-called marquee pass catchers were on the outside looking in when the tournament rolled around last January.

    To be fair, not all WR1s are created equal. Plenty of wideouts make the big bucks ... despite not really being top dogs at the position, based on skill set and relative dominance. A true No. 1 receiver commands double-coverage, yet he's talented enough to consistently produce, even with the extra attention.

    "A real No. 1 receiver will force the defense to use a safety or linebacker to help the corner on most downs," a former NFL defensive coordinator told me. "Despite facing brackets and double-teams, he will still find a way to impact the game, particularly when the game is on the line and everyone knows that he's getting the ball."

    Think about that. A veteran defensive coordinator is not only suggesting that a dominant WR1 will change the numbers in the passing defense, but he'll continue to flourish. Based on that premise alone, I can see why Prescott believes his team doesn't need a so-called WR1. After all, Prescott saw firsthand how Bryant failed in that role over the past two seasons. Say what you want about Prescott and his "sophomore slump," but there's no denying that No. 88's ineffectiveness as the Cowboys' lead receiver impacted the young gunslinger's opinion on the importance of the WR1. Bryant was targeted on 133 pass attempts in 2017, but finished with 69 receptions. A 51.8 percent catch rate just isn't acceptable for such a high-volume wideout, and it certainly isn't efficient enough to prompt unshakeable confidence from the quarterback.

    With that in mind, I can understand why Prescott is suggesting his team might be better off "spreading the ball around," instead of force-feeding one designated playmaker. Prescott watched his efficiency numbers slip when he kept targeting Bryant, instead of utilizing everyone. Freed from the burden of appeasing Dez's desires, the young quarterback can simply make his reads and hit the open man. This is how the majority of elite quarterbacks operate -- and it's the way systematic play callers prefer the offense to flow on game day.

    One thing I learned from Mike Holmgren -- as a player (on the Packers) and as a scout (on the Seahawks) -- is the importance of building the passing game around B and B+ playmakers. This is something he constantly talked about, in terms of salary cap allocation. And when it came to actual skill sets, Holmgren preferred disciplined route runners and dynamic catch-and-run specialists (former punt returners) on the perimeter, instead of explosive athletes with unpolished games. As a Super Bowl-winning head coach and offensive coordinator, Holmgren understood how an elite quarterback and rock-solid scheme could elevate pass catchers, which is why he didn't value No. 1 receivers like some coaches and executives do. Don't believe me? Just look at how three-time NFL MVP Brett Favre helped Antonio Freeman, Robert Brooks, Mark Chmura and others become household names in the Packers' system. Holmgren also guided the Seahawks to Super Bowl XL with Bobby Engram, Joe Jurevicius and Darrell Jackson as Matt Hasselbeck's top three receivers.

    Given the success of those offenses, I can see why the superstar-free receiving corps appeals to some coaches, particularly those with elite quarterbacks in place. Surveying the league, it's not a coincidence Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers and Philip Rivers have posted big numbers in various seasons without a star occupying the WR1 role. As spectacular passers with MVP-caliber games, they are capable of making their pass catchers better by consistently delivering throws right in the strike zone. Those pinpoint passes are nearly impossible to drop, which allows even average players to look like superstars on the perimeter.

    "If you have a great quarterback, he will make the wide receivers better," an AFC wide receivers coach told me. "His timing, accuracy and ball placement make it easy for wide receivers to make plays and move the chains. If you consistently string together first downs, you will eventually score points and win a ton of games.

    "I've seen it done a few different ways, but I've learned that you don't need a great receiver if you have a big-time quarterback. The quarterback can make the receivers better."

    That brings me back to Prescott. He's right -- he doesn't need an elite receiver on the perimeter. An offense's success ultimately rests on the quarterback and his talents. If the QB is legit, he can maximize a starless system with a bunch of B-level playmakers. We've seen it done over and over again, and Dallas should be able to move the ball with the current cast of characters in the WR room. Remember, the Cowboys and others (SEE: the Los Angeles Rams) have been able to alleviate the pressure on receivers by featuring an A-plus playmaker in the backfield. Ezekiel Elliott forces defensive coordinators to put eight or nine defenders in the box, which presents Cowboys receivers with more one-on-one coverage.

    If Scott Linehan can craft an offense that allows his unheralded pass catchers to operate in space, Prescott could show the football world he's not just blowing smoke.
    defense wins championships

  • #2
    Lulz

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    • #3
      Something some of us on this very board have been saying for months.
      2016 DCC LOTY Fantasy Football Champion

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      • #4
        I'm just happy for the talent downgrade because it will probably mean we run the ball more.

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        • #5
          Originally posted by shane View Post
          I'm just happy for the talent downgrade because it will probably mean we run the ball more.
          My hope is that it isn't really a talent down grade. Our depth looks way better at the position. Sure we might not have an A talent WR but better to have a bunch of really good WR's than to have one guy that you funnel everything through. Which I think is the point Dak is making. If you can have 4 WRs who all run really good routes and get open its better to spread the ball around and keep the defense off balance as opposed to one WR and a bunch of shit that basically lets the defense know who you want to pass the ball to on most passing downs.

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          • #6
            Has NE ever had a really dominant #1 WR? Seems like their offense has always been about Brady spreading the ball around to guys like Amendola, Welker, Edelman, et al

            Add in Gronkowski and that's about their whole passing attack.

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            • #7
              Originally posted by deadrise View Post
              Has NE ever had a really dominant #1 WR? Seems like their offense has always been about Brady spreading the ball around to guys like Amendola, Welker, Edelman, et al

              Add in Gronkowski and that's about their whole passing attack.
              The year with Moss was pretty epic. Of course they didn't win the Superbowl when it was all said and done.

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              • #8
                Originally posted by deadrise View Post
                Has NE ever had a really dominant #1 WR? Seems like their offense has always been about Brady spreading the ball around to guys like Amendola, Welker, Edelman, et al

                Add in Gronkowski and that's about their whole passing attack.
                Bottomline is that if this gambit with the WRs fails, it is on the offensive design.

                A strong running game can offset a weaker passing game. The Jags had Bortles (shaddup Deuce) and a collection of WR2s with Fournette and did just fine.

                If they crash and burn, it is on Garrehan.

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                • #9
                  Originally posted by deadrise View Post
                  Has NE ever had a really dominant #1 WR? Seems like their offense has always been about Brady spreading the ball around to guys like Amendola, Welker, Edelman, et al

                  Add in Gronkowski and that's about their whole passing attack.
                  Other than Moss, you're probably right.

                  Teams just need to get themselves a Tom Brady, and they'll be good to go.

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                  • #10
                    Look at what Romo did for WRs...

                    Dak will never be that kind of QB though. He's just not a passing wizard in that manner.

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                    • #11
                      Originally posted by Cowboysrock55 View Post
                      The year with Moss was pretty epic. Of course they didn't win the Superbowl when it was all said and done.
                      It was in response to the previous year where the WR corps was feeble and lucky vs the Chargers and clearly failed the Pats in the AFC Championship game.

                      Moss's record-breaking performance overshadowed the fact that the Pats also added Wes Welker that same year and he utterly dominated the slot position.

                      That offense was so great that even the Pats coaches got stubborn in the Superbowl and kept trying to KO the Giants instead of wearing them out with mismatches. They wasted their opportunities and allowed the Giants to hang around.

                      If you think Garrett's play-calling vs. the Packers in 2013 blowing a multi-TD lead was stupid, that Pats Superbowl run/pass ratio was nearly identical.

                      Conclusion: The #1 WR led offense is both a weapon and a trap if not used properly.

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                      • #12
                        Hurns probably isn't even much of a downgrade from 2017 Dez to begin with. Now, Dez may have a bounce back year in 2018 based on where he goes but that's irrelevant relative to what he did for us last year, which was generally average.

                        Aside from that I'd say Gallup/Austin/Thompson/Wilson will be a clear upgrade and provide much stronger depth and versatility over Butler/Switzer. The real question of course is how much of a hole will Witten's departure leave?

                        Obviously he was a great security blanket but I think there is upside to getting more speed on the field with a guy like Austin or Thompson as opposed to Witten eating up all the snaps and not being any kind of a threat beyond 10 yards.

                        We have a much deeper crop of targets in the passing game than we did last year despite losing the top-heavy talent in Dez/Witten, so ultimately it will be on the coaches to pinpoint ways to spread the ball around effectively. We don't have the talent to trot out the same hierarchy in the passing game every week like we have done for so many years (1. Dez 2. Witten 3/4. Williams/Beasley), the coaches will have to mix it up and get creative on a week to week basis with their alignments, releases, who they want to emphasize/target based on matchups, and so forth.

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                        • #13
                          If any Candidate carches 700 yards they have more than replaced Dez. His reputation was all that kept him in tight coverage the last two seasons. It was also his undoing.
                          Since Day One

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                          • #14
                            Originally posted by Simpleton View Post
                            Hurns probably isn't even much of a downgrade from 2017 Dez to begin with. Now, Dez may have a bounce back year in 2018 based on where he goes but that's irrelevant relative to what he did for us last year, which was generally average.

                            Aside from that I'd say Gallup/Austin/Thompson/Wilson will be a clear upgrade and provide much stronger depth and versatility over Butler/Switzer. The real question of course is how much of a hole will Witten's departure leave?

                            Obviously he was a great security blanket but I think there is upside to getting more speed on the field with a guy like Austin or Thompson as opposed to Witten eating up all the snaps and not being any kind of a threat beyond 10 yards.

                            We have a much deeper crop of targets in the passing game than we did last year despite losing the top-heavy talent in Dez/Witten, so ultimately it will be on the coaches to pinpoint ways to spread the ball around effectively. We don't have the talent to trot out the same hierarchy in the passing game every week like we have done for so many years (1. Dez 2. Witten 3/4. Williams/Beasley), the coaches will have to mix it up and get creative on a week to week basis with their alignments, releases, who they want to emphasize/target based on matchups, and so forth.
                            It will take time to see who emerges and how effective the committee can be, but Im generally hopeful where before I was super frustrated. I imagine Dak is secretly ecstatic to have a youth injection. Once again, he will have his trusty strong running game to count on, accented by a new look passing game. Good stuff, Mainard.
                            defense wins championships

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                            • #15
                              Originally posted by L.T. Fan View Post
                              If any Candidate carches 700 yards they have more than replaced Dez. His reputation was all that kept him in tight coverage the last two seasons. It was also his undoing.
                              Sounds like Hurns and Dak are really building some good chemistry. I'm hoping he can stay healthy and give us at least similar production to what we got from Dez last year. But hopefully a whole lot more efficient when we do throw the balls his direction.

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