Po­ten­tial land­ing spots for Dez Bryant

USA TODAY Sports Weekly - - FRONT PAGE - Lorenzo Reyes

For the first time since Dez Bryant led the team in catches in 2011, the Cow­boys will be tran­si­tion­ing to a new No. 1 wide re­ceiver.

Dal­las last week re­leased the sta­ple of the fran­chise for eight sea­sons and a player who col­lected nearly 7,500 yards and hauled in a fran­chise-record 73 touch­down catches.

The of­fense likely will con­tinue to be cen­tered on a power-rush­ing scheme, led by run­ning back Ezekiel El­liott. But now, quar­ter­back Dak Prescott will have his chance to put his stamp on the pass­ing of­fense and the di­rec­tion it takes. Most im­por­tant, the Cow­boys will look to es­tab­lish a new top tar­get.

The ob­vi­ous in-house choices to play a big­ger role are Ter­rance Williams, a 28-year-old tar­get en­ter­ing his sixth sea­son with Dal­las, and for­mer Jaguars re­ceiver Allen Hurns, who is 26 and signed with the Cow­boys in March af­ter Jack­sonville re­leased him.

Williams’ ex­pe­ri­ence in Dal­las’ scheme could give him an early edge for a big­ger role than Hurns, but his in­con­sis­tency has been prob­lem­atic. Nei­ther has flashed the pure ex­plo­sive­ness and abil­ity to over­power de­fen­sive backs that Bryant once dis­played.

Hold­ing the No. 19 over­all se­lec­tion in the first round, Dal­las could look to the draft to fill the void at re­ceiver. Alabama’s Calvin Ri­d­ley — a pol­ished route run­ner and likely Day 1 starter — and SMU’s Court­land Sut­ton — a raw but tall (6-3, 218) and phys­i­cal pos­ses­sion re­ceiver — could both be tar­gets.

The is­sue dur­ing the last three years of Bryant’s ten­ure in Dal­las, in­clud­ing a short­ened 2015 sea­son in which he suf­fered a bro­ken bone in his foot, was that he was sim­ply far too in­ef­fi­cient. In 2017, Bryant ranked 12th in the NFL with 132 tar­gets but caught only a shade more than half of them (69) for 838 yards.

In fact, Bryant’s catch per­cent­age from last sea­son (52.27%) ranked 103rd in the NFL, be­hind team­mates Williams (67.95%) and tight end Ja­son Wit­ten (72.41%), as well as Hurns (69.64%), who tracked down passes from Jaguars quar­ter­back Blake Bor­tles.

The ar­gu­ment could be made that Prescott tried to force the ball to Bryant, a no­tably out­spo­ken per­son­al­ity who de­manded a high vol­ume of tar­gets. Re­gard­less, when Bryant had the ball thrown his way in re­cent sea­sons, he did not do enough with those op­por­tu­ni­ties.

The pass­ing of­fense now should flow more nat­u­rally and throws should fun­nel more freely to open tar­gets.

The team bank­ing on big gains out of El­liott in the rush­ing game con­tin­ues to make sense as the of­fen­sive iden­tity.

KEVIN JAIRAJ/USA TO­DAY SPORTS

Cow­boys quar­ter­back Dak Prescott will have to find a new go-to No. 1 re­ceiver af­ter the team re­leased Dez Bryant.

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