Secret Superstars 2014: Cowboys
It’s safe to say 2013 didn’t live up to expectations for the Dallas Cowboys, with a loss in the final game of the year at home to the Philadelphia Eagles keeping them out of the playoffs once again. That, coupled with the late season to injury left a bitter taste in Cowboys fans mouths heading into 2014.
The biggest move they’ve made this offseason won’t have filled fans with much confidence either, cutting loose veteran pass rusher DeMarcus Ware, but with the cap hit he carried, they didn’t have much choice their when they couldn’t get him to agree to a restructured deal.
Still, all is not lost in Dallas and, while the roster still have plenty of holes, they do still have some talented players on their roster. One such player is slot receiver Cole Beasley, who might not have put up eye popping stats last year, but showed the potential to up his play in a larger role.
Despite pulling in more than 80 receptions, and for more than 1,000 yards, in each of his final two seasons at Southern Methodist University, Beasley didn’t attract much attention on his way to the NFL, going undrafted. Perhaps that was to do with his small frame, at just 5-foot-8 and 169 pounds heading into the draft, or perhaps running the 40-yard dash in 4.54 seconds in that frame just didn’t impress anyone. Whatever the reason, he eventually made the Cowboys 53-man roster heading into the 2012 season.
His first season in the league was fairly quiet, seeing just 128 snaps on offense, and catching just 15 passes. One thing that did stand out however, was that he was able to force three missed tackles from those 15 catches. Now that in itself comes with an asterisk, as it’s an incredibly small sample size to base his elusiveness on but, as we’ll go into shortly, he was no slouch again in 2013.
His second season in the league saw his snaps on the field increase, although still only as high as 247, but this time he caught 39 passes, forcing five missed tackles in the process. More importantly, from the 40 catchable passes thrown his way in 2013, just one was dropped, giving him a Drop Rate of 2.50, the sixth-best mark amongst wide receivers with at least 44 targets.
One thing that has helped Beasley find success is that he is a good route runner and a good example of this, and his elusiveness, came in the Week 9 game against the Minnesota Vikings. Facing 2nd-and-4 with 2:00 left in the 4th Quarter, and the Cowboys trailing by three, he would run a hitch route to pick up the first down. With the first down secured, he sped past the attempted tackle of linebacker Chad Greenway to pick up an additional 12 yards. Later on the same drive he would also pick up nine yards on an out route, getting out of bounds and stopping the clock to set the Cowboys up inside the Vikings 15-yard line just three plays before Romo’s game winning pass.
Opportunity for More
While he won’t be unseating Dez Bryant at the top of the Cowboys’ depth chart anytime soon, there is a pretty big opportunity for Beasley to establish himself as the team’s third wide receiver heading into 2014. With Miles Austin also a cap casualty in Dallas this offseason, Beasley will likely be battling with Dwayne Harris and recent fifth-round draft pick Devin Street for that third wide receiver role, and his play from the slot should give him the edge.
Of his 39 receptions in 2013, 35 came in the slot as he averaged 1.81 Yards Per Route Run, the 15th-best mark from the slot from the 60 receivers who ran at least 100 routes from the slot, sandwiched between Jordy Nelson and Andre Johnson on the list.
Expectations shouldn’t be too high for Beasley, as we’ve still seen just 375 snaps from him on offense, but there’s no denying that he’s been effective in those snaps. Plenty of receivers have made a name for themselves for their work in the slot and, after being targeted on 25.5% of his routes run from the slot, he has established himself as someone who his quarterback trusts in that role, so it makes sense for his role to grow.
Not all Secret Superstars will have breakout seasons when it comes to box score stats, but there’s little to suggest that Beasley isn’t good enough to step up more and make some big catches for the Cowboys as they look to bounce back in 2014. With that in mind, we expect him to have a very solid third season in the league, making a few big plays along the way.
Follow Gordon on Twitter.