There are position battles all over the field in Oxnard for the Cowboys’ 2012 training camp, but you wouldn’t know it. Nope, all eyes are on Kevin Ogletree, Andre Holmes, Dwayne Harris, and the rest of the candidates to win the No. 3 receiver job.
In reality, the third receiver might not be as important as people believe. Yes, the NFL has transformed into a pass-first league in which the third receiver garners significant snaps. In the ‘Boys offense, however, there are at least four stronger options in the passing game.
Sure, Laurent Robinson was sensational in Big D in 2011, but don’t forget that 53 percent of his yards and 54.5 percent of his touchdowns came when Miles Austin was out of the lineup. That’s not to say that Robinson wasn’t important, but rather that his value was amplified due to an injury ahead of him.
On top of that, lining up in three-receiver sets doesn’t necessarily equate to wins. Since 2009, the top 10 teams in three-receiver sets have averaged only 6.6 wins per season, compared to 8.5 wins per season for the 10 teams that have lined up in the fewest number of three-receiver sets.
Over that same time, the Cowboys have been below the league average in three-receiver sets each season. The number peaked at 46 percent in 2010, but that was still five percent below the league average. You might see formations with three or more receivers with Martellus Bennett out of town, but I wouldn’t count on it.
So if the Cowboys don’t need a ton of production from their third receiver, what traits are they seeking? Many fans believe the offense is in desperate need of a slot receiver, but that’s not really the case. See, the Cowboys already have a great slot receiver, and his name is Miles Austin.
Believe it or not, Austin is almost always in the slot in three-receiver sets. Last year, 44 percent of all of his snaps came in the slot, and an astounding 62.5 percent of his targets came when he lined up there. And Austin has thrived in the slot in the past few seasons. On passes that traveled under 10 yards, Cowboys’ quarterbacks have generated a 127.9 passer rating when throwing to Austin (compared to 94.8 for Dez Bryant). Although a large receiver, Austin possesses the quickness and run-after-catch ability to succeed in the slot.
Thus, when watching the receivers battle it out in camp for No. 3 receiving duties, don’t think Ogletree or Harris have a leg up on the competition simply because they often play in the slot. In reality, the ‘Boys are likely looking for the best overall receiver of the bunch, regardless of where he plays. That’s good news for a guy like Andre Holmes.
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