Broaddus Breakdown: Wide receivers

Third in a series breaking down the Cowboys by position (previous entries):

Roster locks: Miles Austin, Roy Williams, Dez Bryant

Good bet: Kevin Ogletree, Patrick Crayton

On the bubble: Sam Hurd

Long shots: Verran Tucker, Terrell Hudgins, Manuel Johnson, Jesse Holley, Titus Ryan

This is the position group that’s the most under the microscope.

You hope Miles Austin does what he did last year. You hope Dez Bryant can be everything you thought when you evaluated him. You hope Roy Williams can be better than he’s been. You hope Kevin Ogletree continues to show signs of improvement. You know Patrick Crayton can play. You know Sam Hurd can play special teams.

One of the most impressive things about Austin is his ability to run routes at the same speed. He puts defensive backs under huge pressure because he can do that. He never changes speed. Everything is run at one speed. It’s hard to cover a guy like that, because there’s no hesitation to break on. He knows how to get separation. His run-after-catch ability is among the best in the NFL. He’s a physical player that will go get the football -- good in traffic, good in the middle of the field. Teams will try to take him out of the game, and he’ll just create opportunities for somebody else. The only knock on him is that he hasn’t done it for a full season. You see all the talent and traits and believe, but is he capable of putting back-to-back seasons together? The great ones do. I believe he can.

Williams may be the most misevaluated player on the team. When the quarterback lost confidence in him, he had no chance. I applaud him for trying to be a stand-up guy and acknowledging that he needs to play better, but can he play better? The ability has not matched the hype. He’s not a consistent route runner. Roy is a stop-start-stop kind of route runner. He tends to get high, has to settle his feet and turn. He’s mechanical. He doesn’t have consistent hands. He will fight through press coverage much better than Terrell Owens ever did, but once you get open, you have to make plays. The best thing this guy does is block. You can’t question his desire or toughness, but he’s not paid to block. He’s paid to make plays, and he doesn’t make nearly enough. I’m willing to give him another year before declaring him an expensive mistake. At least there are options behind him.

The thing about Bryant is that the learning curve does not appear very steep. He has size, and you can see the playmaking ability. His route running will need work, but when he’s open, he’s magical catching the football. I’ve seen him contort his body to catch balls behind him, low, over his head and in front of him. His hands are outstanding. His body type equates to a good run-after-catch guy because he’s so strong and is an explosive player. He seems to relish going against good competition. They need to continue to feed him as much as possible. They need to find out how much he can really absorb, because he has a chance to help this team this season.

Crayton is the most dependable receiver on the team. He’s outstanding at working the middle of the field. He has a real feel for how to get open and has the best natural hands of the veteran receivers. He makes the most out of limited speed. Competitive, tough player. He is the reliable one. If something happens to one of the other guys, plug him in and play. He’s worth his $2 million salary.

I like Ogletree. I like what he brings to the game. He’s a solid route runner. He’s got good hands. But the best thing is his ability with the ball in his hands. His run-after-catch is very good. You saw it with the screens in Philadelphia. He has the ability to catch the ball in traffic and make something happen. The question is: Will he get a chance with this crew? Will they find ways to get him touches? His situation is similar to Tashard Choice’s.

Hurd is strictly on this team because of his special teams ability. Someone is always going to play ahead of him in the offense. He can make a circus catch every once in a while – especially in the Alamodome – and he’s the best blocker among the wide receivers. But he’s just not talented enough to crack this receiver rotation.