Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant had an enormous opportunity to prove his value once again to the organization when Ezekiel Elliott began serving his six-game suspension for alleged domestic violence earlier this month.
Bryant has underperformed his contract since signing a new deal after the 2014 season, and the Cowboys are approaching an important decision on either restructuring or outright releasing Bryant to get what has been a bad contract off the books. Unfortunately, Bryant hasn’t been able to dominate the way the Cowboys need him to with Elliott out, and it’s time for another receiver to start getting more targets in an effort to jump-start the offense.
Over an admittedly skewed sample size, Brice Butler has been the most efficient receiver on the Dallas roster. On 20 targets, he has produced 267 yards receiving, good for an average of 13.3 yards per pass attempt in his direction.
For comparison’s sake, Bryant is averaging about 5.7 yards per attempt. Meanwhile, Cowboys slot receiver Cole Beasley has averaged 4.6 yards per target, and tight end Jason Witten has been good for 6.8 yards per attempt.
Butler has predominantly been a downfield threat in the Cowboys offense since joining the team in 2015. He has averaged 9.5 yards per target in Dallas with 8 of his 41 catches going for 30 yards or more.
And 5 of those 30-yard receptions have come in 2017, despite 13 catches this season. So it’s at least a little curious that he hasn’t gotten more than 3 targets in a game during a season in which he has had a career-high 65 percent catch rate.
Perhaps Butler’s production would drop off if you suddenly thrust him into a starring role in the offense. However, he should still be a more prominent piece given his recent success.
If he could keep up his productivity (or at least similar productivity) over the course of an average of 5 targets per game, it’d be an enormous benefit to a Cowboys offense that needs it desperately. An extra 27 yards of offense is a boost in and of itself. When you consider how it could stretch defenses, there is additional benefit to the running game.
If it doesn’t work out, you’re not really in any worse of a position, either, given that the offense has managed 22 points in the last three weeks.
Bryant only got 5 targets against the Los Angeles Chargers on Thanksgiving Day, and people are making a big deal about that. However, you could argue that it’s justified to start spreading the wealth a little considering his career worsts in yards per target and yards per reception (10.9) along with his abysmal 52 percent catch rate.
Instead, it’s about what the Cowboys choose to do with those targets, and the numbers indicate that getting the ball to Butler more frequently might be in their best interest. Yes, Cowboys fans might have a lasting image of the several costly mistakes he made against the Green Bay Packers in the NFC divisional round last season, but he’s doing everything he can to make up for that in 2017.