We're taking a look back at the 2012 season by analyzing the work done by all of the Cowboys position groups by themselves. The wide receivers and tight ends are up next.
The Players: Dez Bryant and Miles Austin were the starters at receiver with Kevin Ogletree, Dwayne Harris and Cole Beasley all cycling through the third and fourth receiver spots over the course of the season. Rookie Danny Coale spent the year on the practice squad and tore his ACL in November.
Jason Witten turned in another memorable year as the team's starting tight end. James Hanna and John Phillips filled in the backup roles.
2012 Performance: Let's start with the good. Bryant closed the season on a serious roll, looking every inch the bright shining star that the Cowboys hoped to get when they drafted him in the first round in 2010. Witten became the Cowboys' franchise leader in receptions and set a new record for catches by a tight end in a season with 110.
Austin's year was less gaudy, although he did have a few big performances here and there. Injuries slowed Austin at a couple of different points, something that's become a chronic issue the last two years.
Ogletree disappeared after a huge opener, Beasley floated in and out of the offense while showing some ability in the slot and Harris came on strong in the second half of the season.
Hanna flashed some talent as a receiver, although he finished with just eight catches on the year. Phillips also had eight catches, but he makes his bones as a blocker.
Room for Improvement: Nailing down the pecking order of the complementary receivers would be a good thing, if only because it would allow the Cowboys to plan their offense with a bit more certainty. Harris and Beasley both showed skills that fit well with the starters and a full year in those roles should bear more fruit.
Utilizing Hanna's receiving skills more frequently would also make the Cowboys a more difficult team to defend in 2013. There are enough pieces here for the Cowboys to be a very aggressive passing team next season and Hanna fits well as part of that puzzle.
The Cowboys need more from Austin as well. He's no longer the marquee name of the receiving corps, but he's still a key player that should be able to produce more now that Bryant is dominating the defense's attention every week.
Chances of Improvement: Beasley and Harris are a pretty good bet to have better seasons, although the overall impact of their play could be mitigated a bit if Austin leaves or continues to decline. Witten's unlikely to turn in a better season than he had in 2012, but more Hanna could wind up making things essentially a wash.
And then there's Bryant, who may just be scratching the surface of what he's capable of doing in the NFL.
Long-Term Outlook: Austin is the key here. He's got four years of big salaries coming his way without any cap penalty to the Cowboys if they decide to move on from him this offseason. At the very least, there should be a discussion of renegotiating a smaller deal for a player who no longer plays like the No. 1 receiver he's paid to be.
If Austin does leave, the team will need to find a reliable player to slot in across from Bryant, a role neither Beasley nor Harris seems particularly suited to filling. Whether it is Hanna or not, the Cowboys also need to start preparing for the time when Witten isn't a reception machine.
Conclusion: Things are strong at the top among Tony Romo's targets, but there's definitely some uncertainty once you get down the depth chart. It's a much better state of affairs than if the strength and weaknesses were reversed, albeit one that will still demand some attention when the Cowboys put together their personnel for next season.