Here's the Cowboys' current depth chart at wide receiver: Terrance Williams, Deonte Thompson, Allen Hurns, Tavon Austin, Cole Beasley, and rookie draft picks Michael Gallup and Cedrick Wilson. Of those seven, five are newcomers and none are considered your typical NFL No. 1 receiver. For quarterback Dak Prescott, who came out of nowhere as a rookie in 2016 but struggled at times last season, this is not a problem.
"I don't know if any team in the league necessarily needs a No. 1 receiver," Prescott said via Pro Football Talk. "It's about getting the ball out, spreading the ball around, keeping the defense on its toes."
Fair enough, but having a go-to guy -- whether it's Dez Bryant or even tight end Jason Witten -- forces opponents to adjust how they defend you. Having a bunch of players who are considered second and third options makes life considerably easier on that defense.
The counterargument would be the 2017 Panthers; their leading receiver was running back Christian McCaffrey (80 catches) followed by wideout Devin Funchess (63) and then Kelvin Benjamin (51), who was traded midway through the season.
The Panthers, who finished 11-5 and made the playoffs, ranked 17th in offensive efficiency, according to Football Outsiders, seven spots behind the 9-7 Cowboys, who didn't qualify for the postseason. But Carolina also had the league's seventh-ranked defense; Dallas' was 25th.
So although the Panthers had success without a No. 1 wide receiver in 2017, they were looking to upgrade the position in the offseason. It's why they took big-play threat D.J. Moore in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft. Meanwhile, the Cowboys' receivers corps -- on paper, anyway -- got worse. There's also the lack of familiarity with a lot of the new faces, something Prescott also isn't worried about.
"I mean the only thing you can do is just get out there with routes on air, things like that," he said. "We did a bunch together. Me and these young guys have been here before we even started OTAs, getting that timing down so we can get in OTAs and have good feel for each other and now with the defense in front of us, grow off of that and grow from what we've already accomplished. That's the best thing I can do."
Cowboys OC Scott Linehan's vision for newly acquired Tavon Austin is in the Lance Dunbar mode as a specialty back who can be deployed to help create favorable match-ups and, hopefully, explosive plays.— Chris Mortensen (@mortreport) April 28, 2018
Worth noting: Prescott has previously implied that the Cowboys would be worse off without a No. 1 receiver. Here he is in mid-April, days after the team released Bryant.
"He's a great player. He did a lot of great things for us," Prescott said at the time. "He was a guy, man-to-man, you go to. At this point, we've got to figure that out with the guys we've got. I'm sure we'll go after guys in the draft or free agency. All I can do is continue to get better at my job.
"Dez is going to be a hard guy to replace. He's a talented guy. He will be missed."
The Cowboys could win without a true No. 1 receiver but having one makes things immeasurably easier for a team without a top-flight defense to pick up the slack.