A few weeks ago, people were marveling over how Miles Austin had effectively been obsoleted by a new, young member of Dallas' receiving corps. The same receiver who is now second on the team among pass catchers in Win Percentage Added (WPA) and has the highest Completion Rate of any receiver who's had more than ten targets.
The whole gist of the above paragraph is to make you think of Terrence Williams and how good he's been. Then, the twist hits you, and you realize I'm talking about Cole Beasley.
Unless they put a big picture of Cole Beasley up at the top of the page. Note to Editors – is it possible to have, like, a picture of a ham or something up there? Or title this Focus On: The Mystery Receiver Who Is Really Strangely Productive?
Cole Beasley is tiny (listed generously at 5'8'', 174), not particularly fast (40 times in college ranged around 4.5), and hasn't really been that productive 18 games into his NFL career (46 career receptions, 421 yards). But his sense of timing, much like his fashion sense, has been impeccable.
In the fourth quarter of close games (+/- seven points), Beasley has 13 receptions for 125 yards and a TD this season. In total, Beasley has 31 receptions for 293 yards.
In a town that is obsessed with the narrative (Hey, Tony Romo!), producing 41 percent of your catches and 43 percent of your yards in do-or-die time will get you far. And in a world that breaks down NFL plays into how they change the odds of your team winning, you will also be adored – and that's the case with Beasley. He's a .99 WPA for the season, which doesn't sound that great but it's tied for third amongst the offense- only Romo (1.93) and Dez (1.63) are better. He's beating Jason Witten (.97), which seems astounding, but that's the power of the leverage concept in sports (not unrelated: this concept just got Joe Nathan a twenty million dollar deal today).
To really compare the production of the two, Witten has 54 receptions for 622 yards. Beasley, 31 for 293. If you remove the leverage from the equation (this is basically the difference between Expected Points Added- EPA- and Win Percentage Added- WPA), Witten crushes Beasley, 35.1 to 17.2. Timing is everything, friends- Witten has 9 catches for 91 yards in the 4th quarters of close games.
Does something magic happen in the fourth, whereby Beasley is suddenly able to get open and get Romo's attention? Does the Cowboys game plan revolve around hiding Beasley, who then sneaks under unsuspecting defenders in the fourth? Is Beasley some kind of superhero whose power revolves around the number 'four'? I don't know the answer to these questions, but I can tell you that answer is 'no'. It's likely just a fluke that could happen over any stretch of a season that will likely play itself out over time.
Something we all can hope doesn't play out, though, is for Beasley's efficiency to drop off. Currently, 72.1 percent of all passes thrown Beasley's way this year have turned into receptions, which is pretty great. It's actually second in the league right now, to Doug Baldwin. Before you go get your custom made Beasley jersey, though, consider this: Baldwin is producing that rate despite an average yards per target of 12.1, while Beasley's average yards per target is 6.8 (that's 58th in the league among qualified receivers). Beasley's efficient, sure, but he's not taking that efficiency down the field.
Side note- Terrence Williams was, at one time, leading the league in completion rate. He's since... um... not led the league... in that particular stat. The less said, the better.
There's plenty of money to be made in the possession receiver field, though, and for good reason. I'm not knocking Beasley, who's been a fantastic undrafted find and offers a dimension the Cowboys' receivers don't have. With Witten's inevitable (but hopefully slow) decline, a possession guy like Beasley is definitely needed. And on a field that includes Bryant, Williams, and Witten, Beasley has the potential to create and exploit matchup problems for defenses, which is, like, super important. Consider this – on a third-and-medium, you need to find a guy to cover Jason Witten, who's 6'6'', and a guy to cover Beasley, who's probably actually about 5'5''. Oh, and two guys to cover the other wideouts, who are big, strong, and fast. And Dez is probably angry, too, because he's angry a lot.
It doesn't guarantee success, particularly in the strange Dallas Football Cowboys Universe. But if part of the game is to build up your options, Beasley's a good one to have – as your third or fourth guy. Beasley's the kind of player that tends to get overrated, because he really obviously tries hard and plays hard and somehow is better in the fourth quarter than at any other point, plus we can all look at the tiny guy who's somehow succeeding surrounded by giants and see something we can all relate with. Given that, I think it's important to note that he does have his limitations, and hopefully a more physically talented player will eventually eclipse him.
But until the team takes James Hanna off the bench, Beasley's our guy.