Does Dwayne Harris Have What It Takes to Be the Cowboys' No. 3 Wide Receiver?

Brad Gagnon NFL National ColumnistApril 11, 2013

Dec 16, 2012; Arlington, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys receiver Dwayne Harris (17) returns a punt against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Cowboys Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

When the cap-strapped Dallas Cowboys let Kevin Ogletree walk in free agency, they were opening the door for Dwayne Harris to become the team's permanent third option at wide receiver. Now we'll likely have a chance to see if the 2011 sixth-round pick out of East Carolina can emerge in the same way Laurent Robinson did two years ago.

On paper, there's reason to be excited. 

Ogltree received 474 snaps last year, which was nearly twice the amount Harris was in for (264), per Pro Football Focus. But when both were active and healthy during the final four weeks of the year, Harris began getting more reps than his veteran teammate. In that time frame, Harris was on the field for 108 snaps, while Ogletree saw 95. 

Harris was targeted 14 times during that stretch, catching as many passes (nine) as Ogletree had thrown his way. He also caught a touchdown pass and scored on a critical punt return, for what it's worth. Ogletree dropped three passes, while Harris had just a single drop. 

Head coach Jason Garrett recently spoke about Harris' situation (per's Calvin Watkins):

Sometimes guys come in and they want to be good but they don't kind of know what they need to do on a daily basis to get better. I think he's understood that over the last couple years. He was on and off our roster for a little bit, if you remember, and I think a couple of those experiences helped in his response to say, 'Hey, I've got to bear down, I've got to start practicing better on a more consistent basis.' I think when he started doing that, he started getting better and really being able to tap into his potential.

However, Harris could still face some serious competition for a role that is more coveted than most because it means a lot of snaps lined up against weak coverage opposite Dez Bryant on the outside.

There's Danny Coale, whom the Cowboys spent a fifth-round pick on last year. Injuries derailed his rookie campaign, but they like his versatility. 

And then there are two veteran options in Anthony Armstrong and Robinson.

Armstrong has been bouncing around and has been on and off of the Dallas roster, making it easy to forget that the 30-year-old had 871 receiving yards with the Redskins in 2010. 

Robinson and Romo developed immediate chemistry in 2011, as the young journeyman and former third-round pick experienced a breakout season. The only problem with him is that he's not currently on the Dallas roster. The 27-year-old cashed in with Jacksonville after that 11-touchdown 2011 campaign, but he was released after a disappointing, injury-plagued season. 

The Cowboys are open to a possible Robinson return, according to David Moore of the Dallas Morning News, but there are concerns regarding his history with concussions. 

Cole Beasley also had a nice 2012 campaign as a reserve wideout, but he ran 97 percent of his routes from the slot and has unofficially become Miles Austin's backup.

That's why, ultimately, the favorite right now has to be Harris. Circumstances aside, he's earned it.