Dallas Cowboys wide receiver and return man Ryan Switzer was drafted specifically to provide some explosiveness in the return game and the rookie from North Carolina gave them that value on Sunday in a win over the Washington Redskins.
Switzer fielded a punt in the second quarter on Thursday night and bought some time before finding a seam and rocketing through the middle of the Washington punt team. However, in that moment, it also became clear that the Cowboys should be getting more from him on the offensive side of the ball.
The fourth-round pick had a brilliant career as both a slot receiver and return man for the Tar Heels, but up until you see that his brand of elusiveness translates at the next level, you simply can’t be certain he’ll be as productive as he was in college. After all, he’s 5-foot-8 and 181 pounds and he’s not exceptionally fast, as proven by his 4.51-second time in the 40-yard dash at the 2017 NFL Scouting Combine.
But the return on Thursday was his coming of age moment. He’s got the necessary wiggle to make defenders miss in space and the quickness and acceleration to get to that top speed in a hurry and run by people.
Now, it’d be in offensive coordinator Scott Linehan’s best interest to find ways to get him the ball in space a few times a game on offense. Not to excess, as Switzer still has some developing to do, but the 4 touches Switzer has in 12 games aren’t enough.
Switzer should be getting at least as many opportunities in the Cowboys offense as Linehan used to give to Lucky Whitehead in his two seasons as the team’s return man and designated quick guy (listed as a wide receiver) on offense. For two years, the Cowboys had occasional success using Whitehead on an end-around where he averaged 9.5 yards per pop on 20 carries.
And Switzer is a more polished receiver, even at this stage, than Whitehead ever was. So you could certainly get him more than the 9 catches Whitehead had in his Cowboys career.
The expectation doesn’t have to be that packages are created from scratch to get him the ball 8-10 times a game, but there are ways to incorporate Switzer into this offense and get him 2-3 offensive touches a game that helps him get into the game flow and it could even be beneficial to his return duties, as well.
Getting chances to feel the speed and the rhythm of the game before catching that first kickoff or punt might help him be a more consistently productive specialist. And it doesn’t have to be an act born in concession either with the Cowboys holding slim but not impossible playoff chances either.
Cole Beasley hasn’t given the Cowboys what they’ve needed out of the slot in 2017. He hasn’t had more than 4 catches or 33 yards receiving in any game this season and he’s catching just 60 percent of his targets a year after hauling in 76.5 percent of his targets.
Most importantly, he hasn’t been moving the chains as frequently. In 2017, just 56.7 percent of his receptions have been for first downs whereas 68 percent of his catches went for first downs. On third downs, Beasley has produced a first down on just 6-of-20 targets in 2017 after getting the Cowboys 22 first downs on 31 third-down targets in 2016.
Switzer doesn’t necessarily solve all those issues, but allowing him to gently carve into Beasley’s reps (10-12 snaps a game) and getting him 2 or 3 touches would certainly give the offense chances to find an explosive play or two along the way. And that’s certainly something that Beasley isn’t providing for them, with just 2 catches of longer than 15 yards all season and a long reception of 24 yards.
Given that Linehan hasn’t already found those opportunities, it might be time for Jason Garrett to insist we see more of Switzer in the final four weeks.