There are some Dallas Cowboys players that create an instant memory highlight reel at the very mention of their name. Jason Witten’s name may cause you to picture our Pro Bowl tight end running down the field without his helmet for a 53 yard reception against the Philadelphia Eagles. What happens when you hear Emmit Smith’s name? I remember Smith rushing for 168 yards against the New York Giants with a dislocated shoulder in 1994. Tony Dorsett? I see him streaking down the sideline for a 99 yard touchdown on Monday Night Football. Of the current crop of Cowboys’, there is one player that gives my mind a highlight overload - Dwayne Harris.
When Dwayne Harris was drafted in the sixth round of the 2011 NFL draft, I did a little research. I checked his college stats, watched videos and left impressed but reserved judgement until I saw him on the field. I watched his first preseason game against Tim Tebow and the Denver Broncos. Harris finished that game with 5 catches for 127 yards including a 76 yard touchdown. Although Harris led all Cowboys’ receivers in yards at the end of the preseason, Laurent Robinson got the nod and fortunately that worked out. Harris made an impression on me and an impact on the Dallas Cowboys’ special teams unit. I found a spot for Harris on my fantasy football team as he averaged 28.9 yards per kick return but only 5.3 yards per punt return.
In 2012, Harris had another memorable preseason performance, finishing with 8 catches, 173 yards and 3 touchdowns. My highlight reel play for Dwayne Harris came against the St. Louis Rams. In that game, Harris was on the receiving end of two touchdown passes of 61 and 38 yards from Tony Romo. I’m surprised his 38 yard touchdown didn’t go viral on the internet because it was definitely a highlight moment. A receiver facing two defenders along the sideline in preseason could’ve stepped out of bounds, but that’s not what happened. Harris dipped his shoulder and somehow popped out the other side and ran fifteen yards for the touchdown. My campaign for Harris to secure the third receiver position fell short as Kevin Ogletree got the nod on opening day. Again, Harris made my fantasy team and stayed a personal favorite. As a result, his play was placed under my magnifying glass.
What I saw didn’t surprise me and justified the praise I heaped upon this talented receiver. Not only did Harris make plays with the ball, he displayed heart and hustle away from the ball as well. When Tony Romo hit Dez Bryant for an 85 yard touchdown against the Washington Redskins on November 22, 2012, Dwayne Harris was downfield blocking. In another game, there was a fake end around to Dwayne Harris. The ball was tossed to DeMarco Murray, but Harris, instead of ending the play as a decoy, hustled back diagonally downfield to throw a block. Harris was effective as a receiver on the outside, even though most think he is best suited to be a slot receiver. Harris was on the left side when he got free in press coverage to convert a two point conversion against the Redskins. Harris was in the same position when he executed a double move against a New Orleans Saints defender for his first NFL receiving touchdown. He displayed remarkable body control to adjust to the back shoulder pass and complete the sideline toe tap inside the pylon.
There was one play I must mention, that I saw live, which left a negative impression. The Cowboys were playing the Cincinnati Bengals. It was near the end of the half and Harris beat his defender. Romo’s pass was under thrown and Harris was out positioned and out jumped as the pass was intercepted. It was like a punt as the Bengals took a knee to end the half but the game was close. The Cowboys were trailing by three points and if Harris couldn’t catch the pass, I would have preferred he made sure that it wasn’t intercepted.
The theory with NFL receivers is that they come into their own in their third year. Holding true to form, last season was Dez Bryant’s breakout year and it was his third year in the league. This is also Dwayne Harris’ third year and I believe he could be dominant in the slot like New York Giants’ receiver Victor Cruz. Harris has improved steadily indicating hard work, focus and maturity as he doesn’t attract headlines due to off-field or off-season issues. Harris is listed as being 5′ 11″ tall, slightly shorter than Dez Bryant, Miles Austin and Terrance Williams. Receivers under six feet are often placed in the slot, I point to Carolina Panthers’ receiver Steve Smith, the Redskins’ Santana Moss and former Pittsburgh Steelers receiver Hines Ward as myth busters. As mentioned earlier, in past opportunities Harris played on the edge and was not proven to be a disappointment or a liability.
I looked at film of Terrance Williams and noticed he catches a lot of passes with his body instead of his hands. This is probably why it is already being reported that he has a problem with drops. Dropped passes never helps a receiver win a roster spot. Comparing the two, Harris and Williams had similar numbers in a few events at the NFL combine but I’m looking beyond the measurables. Things like hustling downfield to throw a block or not quitting on a route when you aren’t the primary receiver doesn’t show up on a stat sheet but is highly visible on film. To have the best players on the field, roster spots should be earned, not given as a result of your draft position. Harris has proven he belongs not only on the roster, but on the field.
During official team activities (OTA’s), training camp and preseason, we should watch to see if Terrance Williams has cured his problem with dropping passes, displays the willingness to block downfield, beats press coverage, completes routes and makes hustle plays. Until then, I would not pencil Williams in as our number two or three receiver just yet. Williams is still just a rookie and a third round draft pick with a lot to prove. Experts considered his selection “shocking” and many felt that Keenan Allen or Quinton Patton would have been better selections. According to National Football Post, Williams was the 19th ranked wide receiver in the draft, yet Cowboy Nation is ready to believe he will skip Harris and battle Miles Austin for the number two spot. With the talent and experience currently on our roster, Williams could be given time to develop before having the spotlight thrust upon him.
I expect numbers for the wide receivers to take a dip if the Cowboys successfully utilize the two tight end offense as often as rumored. To intimidate defenses, the ball needs to be evenly distributed between Dez Bryant, Jason Witten, DeMarco Murray, Miles Austin, Dwayne Harris, Gavin Escobar and Terrance Williams. Increasing the number of running plays will also have the consequence of decreasing the total number of Tony Romo’s pass attempts and limit numbers for receivers. Romo has an average completion percentage of 67.13 over the past three years and attempted 648 passes last season. If Romo attempts 500 passes at that completion percentage, it would equal 335 receptions. With that many receptions, the Cowboys should expect to have three 1000 yard receivers or four receivers with a minimum of 75 receptions at the end of the year.
Entering the season, many have their eyes currently on Terrance Williams versus Dwayne Harris for the third receiver spot. It’s hard to forget that Austin’s numbers have steadily declined since 2009 often due to his injured hamstrings keeping him off the field. Harris, on the other hand, does less damage to the salary cap, has been healthy during the season, does the little things and still possesses those magical words — upside and potential. I believe if Miles Austin isn’t 100% and provide some highlight reel plays, Austin versus Harris may become the battle to watch.