The 2018 Dallas Cowboys will look considerably different at wide receiver, most notably being without No. 88. Dez Bryant’s release created a major hole to fill at the position, one which vacated 132 targets in 2017. Removing Ryan Switzer and Brice Butler from the receiving corps frees up 162 total looks from a year ago.
This brings us to the current, post-draft crop of talent in the Big D. Former Jacksonville Jaguars once-promising wideout Allen Hurns will join rookie Michael Gallup as the two new faces most likely to be involved, adding to the stable of veterans Terrance Williams and Cole Beasley. Rookie Cedrick Wilson could have an inroad to playing time, as well.
Beasley saw 63 targets in 15 contests a year prior, while Williams landed 53 of his 78 looks, registering 568 yards and failing to find the end zone. Beasley ended the campaign with an unimpressive 36-314-4 line. The shifty slot receiver broke out in quarterback Dak Prescott’s rookie year, finishing the 2016 season with 75 grabs for 833 yards and five touchdowns. All told, Beasley should be more involved with Jason Witten also out of the fold, a move freeing 87 additional targets without a clear-cut replacement at the tight end position.
During the NFL draft, Dallas acquired Los Angeles Rams gadget guy Tavon Austin. He’ll likely see time in the slot and as a third-down weapon out of the backfield. During his career, we’ve seen enough to believe he shouldn’t be trusted in fantasy football, though Austin will be given a fair shake to establish a role in Scott Linehan’s creative offense.
Hurns, standing 6-foot-3, 201 pounds, brings Dez-like size to the position. He’s not as physical as Bryant, nor as talented, but prior to suffering a string of costly injuries, the former Miami Hurricane is was a promising role player in Jacksonville. He scored 16 times in his first 31 NFL games, including 10 in his 15-contest 2015 outing. That year, Hurns played second fiddle to Allen Robinson and mustered a 64-1,031-10 line as one of the most pleasant fantasy surprises of the year. Despite flashing his skills as a rookie the year before, Hurns managed to take his game to a new level even as a No. 2 target. In Dallas, it’s entirely possible he could be the top guy. Injuries and chemistry building have to work in his favor, however.
Since the breakthrough season, Hurns has missed 11 games and has failed to top three touchdown grabs in a single season. He suffered a high ankle sprain last year and remained on the injury list for six weeks. In 2016, Hurns was listed five times for a strained hammy, missing each game, and once for a concussion (cleared before the game).
After four years with the Jags, the veteran will play his age-27 season catching passes from the third-year Prescott. It’s no secret this offense will go as far as the ground game can take it, but having a competent passing attack is a must. Only the Buffalo Bills have been a more balanced offense the past two seasons. In ’17, Dallas, despite not having Zeke for a long stretch, remained divided almost perfectly in play distribution (49.33% run to 50.67% pass).
Fantasy football takeaway
Hurns was used in the slot basically one-third of his routes in the past two seasons, so it will be interesting to see how much Dallas bumps Beasley outside at times to use Hurns’ size as a slot mismatch. Beasley has played in the slot roughly 50 percent of his routes over those same two years.
Given the history and Prescott’s chemistry with Williams and Beasley, Hurns has some catching up to do in this arena. Assuming he can remain healthy, which is a stretch at this stage, he could assume a large portion of Bryant’s looks. Let’s say Hurns is targeted 100 of those 132 Dez targets from 2017. He should catch around 55-60 of them based on his career efficiency numbers. Last year, his personal best, Hurns snagged 69 percent of the balls to come his way.
Giving him credit for even 60 percent translates into a season of approximately 850 yards and six scores using his career rates of 14.1 yards per catch and a TD every nine snares. Consider those numbers to be a victory at his current ADP of pick 9:11 in point-per-reception scoring.