Dallas Cowboys Sport Best Group Of Pass Catchers in The NFC East

Mike CarleyCorrespondent IAugust 1, 2009

PHILADELPHIA - DECEMBER 28:  Jason Witten #82 of the Dallas Cowboys runs the ball against the Philadelphia Eagles on December 28, 2008 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

"Nobody is afraid of those receivers in Dallas."

"With T.O. gone, who is Romo going to throw to?"

"If Romo couldn't win with T.O., how's he going to win now?"

I have had these fallacies spat at me with equal vitriol and incredulity everytime I try to explain what to me is overwhelmingly obvious fact regarding the upcoming 2009 NFL Season.

I realize I might be in the minority of most NFL fans and experts, but after close examination I cannot understand how, when asked to point out the best group of receivers in the NFC East, one could choose any other team but the legendary Dallas Cowboys.

Before I begin, let me point out the fact that I am rating "groups of receivers," not "groups of wide receivers" specifically, and the reason for this is simple.

It's 2009, and over the last two to three decades, formerly hyper-specialized positions such as running back and tight end have increasingly diversified their capabilities, making them much more essential to the strength of the passing game than they were 30 years ago.

Therefore, judging the strength of a given team's passing attack based on the strength of the wide receiver corp alone seems ridiculous.

That being said, onto the team-by-team breakdowns, after which it should be readily apparent why the Cowboys will have the strongest passing attack in the division, with or without T.O.

New York Giants

On defense, the Giants are scary, and are only getting better with the return of Osi Umenyiora. Even though all of the NFC East contenders boast extremely strong defenses, this group probably heads up the pack.

However, jumping from this fact alone to the conclusion that the Giants are going to repeat as NFC East champions is almost as ridiculous as watching Stephon Marbury weep and eat vaseline like it's ice cream from Cold Stone.

Contrary to popular belief, the Giants lost a lot more than one crucial passing option this offseason.

Unfortunately, only one decided to go N.W.A. on his own thigh while showing off a gun in a night club, thus learning the hard way that there are better ways an All Pro wide receiver can spend his time than drunkenly displaying his gun to a bunch of club chicks like an overzealous fifth grader showing his collection of South Park pogs to a group of third graders behind the monkey bars.

The importance of the loss of a game changer like Burress is obvious to even the most rudimentary NFL fanatic. 

However, Derrick Ward also took his services (and his 44 receptions in '08) elsewhere. That loss, when combined with the retirement of 600-year veteran Amani Toomer, leaves the G-Men's passing game in the hands of a group of youngsters that seem more comfortable in the slot than as starting WR's.

In 2008, Burress, Ward, and Toomer caught 124 passes (and that was with Burress only playing in part the of the season that preceded the whole shooting himself in the leg like Yosemite Sam thing.)

If the Cowboys are in trouble because they lost T.O.'s 69 receptions in 2008, what does it mean if the Giants have to replace almost twice that in lost production?

The best-option replacements for those three play makers aren't promising either.

Derrick Ward had 44 receptions in 2008. The two backs that still remain on the team, Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw, had 11 receptions combined in 2006.

To replace Burress and Toomer, the Giants will look to the young duo of Domenik Hixon and Steve Smith.

Hixon, standing at an "imposing" 6'2", 185 lbs., recorded 43 receptions for 596 yards and two touchdowns last year, making him slightly less effective than the Cowboys' third option Patrick Crayton, who recored 39 receptions for 550 yards and four touchdowns in 2008.

Super Bowl heroics aside, Steve Smith is also undersized at 5'11", 195 lbs, and has yet to prove he can be a reliable option outside of the slot. Ironically, his 2008 numbers closely resemble that of Crayton's as well (55 catches, 576 yards, one touchdown).

At tight end, the Giants will turn to Kevin Boss, whose 384 receiving yards (despite starting 16 of 16 games) are much more indicative of his talent than his eyebrow- raising six receiving touchdowns in 2008.

The rest of NY's receivers are composed of potential busts (Mario Manningham and Sinorice Moss) and a rookie (Ramses Barden). Granted that rookie wide receiver might have had the most terrifying highlight reel in the entire 2009 draft, he is still a rookie wide receiver in the NFL. Anybody who has even sniffed a fantasy football league can recall the abysmal success rate among rookie wide receivers.

To summarize, the Giants are replacing their two most productive and experienced wide receivers with two young, undersized Patrick Craytons and a rookie. The back that bolted during free agency had four times more receptions last year than the two backs they kept. They sport a middle-of-the-pack tight end that won't even get drafted in most fantasy leagues.

The G-Men have a stellar defense, but I cannot sit here and watch people hand them the NFC East againt his year as they conveniently gloss over the fact that Eli Manning has nobody to throw to this year.


Washington Redskins

Just so you know, I can't think of the Washington Redskins without envisioning Santana Moss, and I can't think of Santana Moss without envisioning him sprinting by Roy Williams the safety for twoo touchdowns in the last two minutes of Monday Night Football in 2006.

I can't picture that MNF game in 2006 without having a completely mental breakdown in which I forget things pretty crucial to living like my middle name, how to breathe, or even where I am at the time, so if this analysis becomes a little less than coherent, I apologize.

That being said, most people would rate the Redskins' group of receivers as the most recognizable in the division, with T.O. and "Wyatt Earp" Burress gone.

I mean, the Redskins have Santana Moss and Chris Cooley, two of the more productive players in the division at their respective positions.

Yes they do, but that's all they have, and upon closer inspection, that still might not be all that much.

For starters, I have nothing but respect for Chris Cooley. He can be counted on for around 75 catches, 800 yards and five or six scores per year.

However, if Jason Campbell throws for 75 completions, 800 yards, and five or six touchdowns next year, I don't think he will be coming back in 2010.

Translation: There needs to be plenty more production alongside Cooley in order for the Redskins' passing attack to get off the ground in 2009.

But wait, what about Santana Moss, one of the most potent deep threats in the entire game? True, he did record an impressive 79 catches for 1,044 yards and six touchdowns.

A closer look at his numbers, and an intimate knowledge of what he did to my fantasy team last year, will reveal that Santana Moss is nowhere near the reliable No. 1 his numbers suggest him to be.

1,044 yards and six touchdowns is by all accounts a respectable year. However, it's the distribution of these yards and touchdowns that cast a far more dubious pall over the otherwise-positive outlook these numbers suggest.

In reality, as anybody who had Santana on their fantasy team last year can testify, Santana Moss is streakier than the soiled undergarments bin at your local mental institution.

Out of those 1,044 yards and six TD's Moss racked up in 2008, he accumulated a whopping 72.7 percent of those yards and five of his six touchdowns...in only 7 games.

He had eight games under 70 receiving yards and zero touchdowns (with the remaining ninth game being a smashing five reception, 35 yards, one TD effort).

Santana Moss is literally a flip-of-the-coin player. One out of every two games, he is stellar; the other is deplorable.

Despite his feast or famine nature, Moss and Cooley still accounted for more than 58 percent of all the Redskins' receiving yards.

Behind Moss and Cooley sits the consistently mediocre Antwaan Randle El, who has only eclipsed 600 yards receiving twice in his eight-year career.

We also can't forget about the accumulation of 2009 second round draft picks: Devin Thomas, Fred Davis, and Malcolm Kelly.

Those three rookies had 21 receptions for 165 yards in 2008...combined.

Clinton Portis is an absolutely dynamic threat on the ground, but coming out of the backfield as a receiver he only recorded 28 catches for 218 yards and no touchdowns in 16 games, and only has four total receiving touchdowns in his eight-year career.

The Redskins' passing attack is, for all intents and purposes, a two-man attack, and, considering one of those options only shows up one out of every two games, it's more like a 1.5 man attack that accounts for almost 60 percent of Washington's offense through the air.

A passing game with no depth is defendable with the right schemes, especially against the the talented defenses in the NFC East. 

The attack becomes even more managable when the No. 1 receiver doesn't show up every other game.  Chris Cooley is a pillar of consistency, but outside of Cooley the Redskins' passing game is hit or miss at best.


Philadelphia Eagles

I need to qualify the following paragraphs with this admission: even as a lifelong Cowboys fan, I will gladly admit that, over the past decade, Donovan McNabb has been the most impressive quarterback in the league not named Tom or Peyton, and that isn't even a debate.

Nobody has ever been a more productive quarterback with less talented receivers. 


And you can't truly appreciate McNabb until you have seen him destroy your favorite team twice in one year throwing to Freddie Mitchell and Greg "I Must Have A Parasite Inside Me Because That's The Only Explanation For How Skinny I Am" Lewis.

However, even with that in mind, I simply can't buy into all the hype surrounding this "exciting" Eagles passing attack.

Believe me, I more than recognize the potential the Eagles have to be exciting.

However, it's ridiculous hearing people talking about this group like they are the Greatest Show on Turf when in actuality it is a group of receivers surrounded by more questions than that little kid from Jerry MacGuire fighting the Riddler.

Brian Westbrook is one of the best players in the entire league, and I will even assume for the purposes of this article that he will be healthy come Week 1. 

When healthy, Westbrook is unstoppable, and will get his 80 receptions for 800+ receiving yards again in 2009. He is by far the best receiving option out of the backfield in the NFC East, if not the entire league.

The keywords there are "when healthy." If you have played fantasy football and/or have been a fan of the NFC East, then you are familiar with Westbrook's injury history, which can be summarized as follows: "Westbrook has never had a year in which he started all 16 games of the season."

By all accounts, LeSean McCoy is just as dynamic and explosive of a receiver, and if that serves to be true, then the Eagles hit a homerun with the young rookie from Pittsburg.  However, we have yet to see him take an NFL snap yet.

If McCoy isn't as physically or mentally able to handle the NFL game as most experts predict him to be, then the Eagles will find themselves in dire straights if/when Westbrook goes down.

DeSean Jackson had a nice rookie year, a rookie year that is completely atypical for most rookie receivers (even those drafted as high as Jackson). In 2008, Jackson had 62 catches for 912 yards and two touchdowns in which he thankfully remembered to take the ball with him into the endzone.

However, DeSean Jackson is only 5'10", 175 lbs.

There is a reason most No. 1 wide receivers are closer to 6'2" than they are 5'10".

Speedy as he is, DeSean Jackson will have to prove to me he can make it through the beating of another NFL season unscathed before I will truly buy into him being a viable long term No. 1 for the Eagles at that small a size.

The remainders of the Eagles' passing attack absolutely has promise, but could just as easily flop as fly.

Jeremey Maclin was an exciting college wide receiver. I understand that. DeSean Jackson had an amazing year by rookie wide receiver standards. I understand that, as well. Jeremey Maclin is now playing for the Eagles, the same team DeSean Jackson had such a successful rookie season with.

Any student of logic will gladly point out that the conclusion that so many of you want to make doesn't at all follow from the premises above given the past evidence.

The OVERWHELMING MAJORITY of rookie wide receivers have little-to-no impact on their teams during their rookie years. Just ask the Redskins and their trio of second rounders.

Just because Jeremey Maclin is a speedy wide receiver going to the Eagles doesn't mean he will have the success of DeSean Jackson, and if Maclin has anywhere near as average a year as most rookies do, he will be a slot receiver at best.

The remaining receivers that will have to step up if Maclin is unable to do so don't inspire any more confidence than the promising-yet-unproven rookie from Missouri.

Kevin Curtis has as many size and injury concerns as anybody on the Eagles roster, while last year Jason Avant and Hank Baskett didn't have as many receiving yards combined as did rookie DeSean Jackson.

Oh, yeah—and they have Brent Celek at tight end replacing "fan favorite" LJ Smith.  I think that statement alone is sufficient.

So to summarize, IF Westbrook stays healthy, IF DeSean Jackson's rookie season wasn't a fluke/he is able to stay healthy, IF LeSean McCoy and Jeremey Maclin are as preternaturally amazing as advertised, and IF the gaggle of third-and-fourth tier receivers on that team don't need to be anything more than third and fourth receivers, then the Eagles will have an awesome passing game.

See my point?


Dallas Cowboys

Arguably the biggest subplot coming into the Dallas Cowboys' training camp this year is how the Cowboys are going to replace the lost production of T.O., who amounted to around 80 catches a season in his three seasons as a Cowboy.

Some people are so concerned about the Cowboys' inability to replace this production that they have already written off the Cowbooys' chances to win the NFC East.

A closer look at the Cowboys' roster will demonstrate that the Cowboys possess more than enough talent on offense to replace the production T.O. took with him to Buffalo.

2007 was Romo's first full year as a starter, and was also the year in which he broke virtually every Cowboys' single season passing record. That season, he recorded 335 completions.

To be reasonable, let's assume that Romo needs 320 completions in 2009 to be successful.

The reason I felt the need to evaluate receiver groups instead of groups of wide receivers was, I admit, to make my own argument slightly easier...because the No. 1 receiver on the Cowboys isn't a receiver at all.

With the departure of T.O., Pro Bowl tight end Jason Witten is unquestionably the No. 1 option in this passing attack. 

Witten and his roommate Tony Romo have established quite the rapport over Romo's first two full seasons as a starter, in which the yeomen-like tight end has averaged 89 catches, 1,049 yards and five touchdowns.

Let's chalk up another 90 catch season in 2009 for Witten, who remains in the prime of his career.

For a second option in a passing attack, Roy Williams isn't half bad.

I have no problem disregarding the fact that Williams was completely ineffective in the second half of 2008 upon his arrival from Detroit. The NFL playbook is far too complicated and dynamic, and the speed of the NFL game far too fast for any quarterback and wide receiver to get on the same page mid-season.

An entire offseason of learning the playbook combined with a multitude of throwing time with his new, recently single quarterback should work wonders for Williams' comfort level in 2009.

The propensity for pundits to write off Roy Williams after one half season has been equally amazing to me. The laws of fantasy football state that most young wide receivers don't fully come into their own until their third year in the league.

During Williams' third year in the league he caught 82 passes for 1,310 yards and seven scores.

The following year Williams only played in 12 games due to injury, yet still recorded 64 catches for 838 yards and five scores. If he had played all 16 games, he may have recorded 85 receptions, 1,117 yards, and about seven touchdowns that season.

All this was with absolutely no defense to keep games balanced (so defenses were always expecting pass), with absolutely no line, starting opposite two first round busts (Mike Williams and Charles Rogers) with Jon Kitna, and his current team's backup quarterback throwing to him.

Why people can't see a tenured and immensely talented veteran like Roy Williams being able to respond to a full offseason of learning a new system, but are willing to anoint sophomore DeSean Jackson and rookie Jeremy Maclin as the next Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald is beyond me.

I'll be conservative, and predict 65 catches for Roy Williams in 2009.

Marion Barber has consistently been an awesome receiving option out of the backfield, second in the division only to Brian Westbrook in Philadelphia.

Barber recorded 44 receptions in 2007, and 52 receptions in 2008, a year in which he missed a few games due to injury. Clearly, a much more effective option than Portis' 28 catches, or Bradshaw and Jacobs' 11.

Tashard Choice is also a reliable option out of the backfield.  Starting the 2008 season as the third string back, the rookie tallied 21 receptions in the seven games he played a significant role in.

Felix Jones will catch a few balls, but for the purposes of this argument he isn't considered a top weapon in the passing game.

Choice should be playing a more significant role in both the passing and running games, and might take a few catches away from Marion Barber. Between Barber and Choice, I believe it's safe to chalk up about 60 receptions out of the backfield in 2009.

Say what you want about Patrick Crayton, but he is an established veteran who is capable of making a difference on the football field. As the No. 2 option starting opposite T.O. in 2007, Crayton had 50 catches for 697 yards and seven touchdowns. In 2008, behind T.O. and Roy Williams for a majority of the season, Crayton recorded 39 receptions for 550 yards and four touchdowns.

At the very least, he can be counted on for 40 receptions this year.

My favorite newcomer of the year, Martellus Bennett, rounds out the last pass catcher in this potent group of receivers.

At 6'6", 265, this former Texas A&M hoops player has great hands, phenomenal body control, and great hops. As a rookie second string tight end in 2008, Martellus Bennett caught 20 passes, four of which went for scores.

With promises from the coaching staff to run many more two tight end formations, as well as plans to split Martellus out in the slot more often, Bennett will have a breakout year in 2009, hauling in 40 receptions.

To recap, the Cowboys have two of the best three tight ends in the division, two more-than-viable receiving options out of the backfield, and two productive veteran wideouts (one of whom has game breaking ability).

The Cowboys receivers' possess more consistency and depth than the Redskins, more experience than the Eagles, and more talent than the Giants.

For the upcoming season, I predicted Witten would have 90 receptions, Williams with 65, 60 catches coming out of the backfield from Barber/Choice, and 40 catches from Crayton and Bennett each, for a grand total of 295 receptions. 

None of those assumptions are unreasonable I believe, yet if the 2010 season plays out as above, Romo will only need 25 more completion among the likes of Miles Austin, Sam Hurd, and Felix Jones to reach 320 completions on the year.

The Cowboys will be more than fine without T.O., which is a point that has pretty much permeated every single Cowboys article I have written since Owens left for Buffalo.

The Cowboys will succeed not because Owens wasn't talented, or because Roy Williams himself is equally as good as T.O., but because Owens' absence will allow Romo and Jason Garrett to utilize the plethora of talent that was by all accounts underutilized last year in far more creative and innovative ways.

The Giants weren't able to make the trade they needed to replace the receiving talent they lost in the offseason.

The Redskins have a few marquee talents who don't always necessarily show up every week.

The Eagles have outstanding potential that remains to be realized.

Even without Owens, the Dallas Cowboys have a far deeper, more talented and more experienced group of receivers than any of their NFC East counterparts.

All we are waiting for now is for Martellus Bennet to come after Chris Cooley's King of the Internet title. Unlike Cooley, let's just hope Bennett remembers to put pants on before he does so.