Sun, 25 Oct 2020

WR: Can This Group Deliver On Potential

Dallas Cowboys
27 Jun 2020, 20:24 GMT+10

With the NFL Draft completed and free agency at least slowing down here as the summer approaches, it's time to take a closer look at every position.

Each day, we will dissect a different aspect about the position, ranging from position battles, to under-the-radar players, to simply answering questions that have yet to be resolved.

This week, we continue the series with the wide receiver position:

Friday: Need to Figure Out Thursday: Ready to Compete Wednesday: Don't Forget About Tuesday: What We Know Monday: What's New?

Can This Group Deliver On Potential?

We can talk all day about how much potential has, but it's all wasted effort if they don't deliver.

Take your pick of which issue you want to address. Amari Cooper is one of the 10 best receivers in the NFL, but it's hard to ignore his issues with consistency. He finished with 48 yards and two offensive pass interference penalties in the loss to New Orleans last year. He left the loss to the New York Jets with an injury after just a handful of snaps. He didn't catch a single pass in the rain-soaked loss to New England, and he managed just four catches for 24 yards in the loss to Philadelphia that ultimately knocked the Cowboys out of the playoffs.

With a $100 million price tag now attached to his name, the scrutiny isn't going to go away.

As we noted earlier, Gallup was one of the league leaders in wide receiver drops, with 11. There's every reason to believe his trajectory is headed upward, but consistency is still going to be key.

Then there's Lamb, who carries the most obvious question marks.

The recent history of first-round wide receivers is awfully curious. It has only been six years since the legendary receiver class of 2014, when Sammy Watkins, Mike Evans and Odell Beckham Jr. took the league by storm right away.

Since then, though? Between 2015 and 2019, NFL teams drafted 17 receivers in the first round. Only five of them - Marquise Brown, D.J. Moore, Calvin Ridley, Will Fuller and Amari Cooper - had big-time impacts during their rookie season.

Lamb is widely regarded as this draft's best receiver, and the talent surrounding him should make it easier for him to thrive right away. But there's no such thing as a guarantee. It's on him to deliver on that promise, and how well he lives up to that will be one of the dominant storylines of 2020.

What About The Rest Of The Depth Chart?

Ready to Compete

For as much as we talk about the Cowboys' top three receivers, we know next to nothing about the rest of the depth chart.

Conventional wisdom says that an NFL team is going to keep at least five receivers, and in recent years, the Cowboys haven't been opposed to keeping six. Now that the league has increased its roster limit to 55, keeping an extra guy could be even more justifiable.

But who would that be? Behind the trio of Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup and Randall Cobb, the Cowboys' No. 4 receiver last year was Tavon Austin. He remains unsigned and it doesn't currently look like the front office is interested in bringing him back.

That leaves a group of mostly unproven players jockeying for position.

Devin Smith caught five balls for 113 yards last season, including a 51-yard touchdown - but he inexplicably fell out of favor with the coaching staff about a month into the season.

Ventell Bryant caught one pass last year - a 15-yard touchdown in the loss to Buffalo. But he was mainly used as a special teamer. Prior to getting hurt, Cedrick Wilson appeared in six games and caught five passed for 46 yards. There's also Tevin Jones, who signed to a futures contract in January. Jones caught four passes for 61 yards in five games for the Pittsburgh Steelers last season.

Behind them, there's a trio of unknowns. Noah Brown was drafted in 2017 and played a sizable role in his first two seasons, but it's safe to say injuries have derailed his career a bit. Brown spent last season on injured reserve and enters his fourth year in uncertain territory.

Jon'Vea Johnson is also back. An undrafted free agent in 2019, Johnson had an up-and-down training camp, and a shoulder injury landed him on injured reserve at the end of the preseason. Johnson finds himself in a similar place to Cedrick Wilson last season - hoping to build on his rookie training camp after an untimely injury.

Kendrick Rogers, an undrafted rookie out of Texas A&M, rounds out the group. Rogers' 6-4, 204-pound frame is impressive, and he made some undoubtedly impressive catches in college. But he was never able to find true consistency.

To recap, that's seven players fighting for two, perhaps three roster spots on the back end of the depth chart. As always, special teams ability will likely play a big role in who wins them - in addition to who can piece together the most consistent training camp.

It’s A Mistake To Sleep On Michael Gallup

Don't Forget About

If the past few months have taught us anything, it's that some people need to put some respect on Michael Gallup's name.

Everyone knows Amari Cooper is one of the best receivers in football, and everyone is excited about CeeDee Lamb. But that doesn't exactly make Gallup chopped liver.

Don't tell the league that. It seems like every time we talk about the Cowboys' offense, Gallup gets left out in favor of Cooper, Lamb, Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott. It's understandable, but it's dead wrong.

Only 25 receivers finished with 1,000 yards last year, and Gallup was one of them. On top of that, he's not even the Cowboys' primary receiver. Surpassing 1,000 yards despite not being the No. 1 receiver is tough to do. That's probably why Gallup, Chris Godwin, Jarvis Landry, Robert Woods and Mike Williams were the only guys who pulled it off last season.

Again, that's not to say Gallup is perfect. He struggled with drops last season, and it's something he'll need to clean up in Year 3.

But those that are forgetting about him because of the other talent on this offense? They're doing so at their own peril.

Where Do Cooper & Gallup Go From Here?

What We Know

We know the Cowboys already had a pretty damn good pair of receivers to begin with - which is why some were reluctant to spend a first-round pick on the position.

Amari Cooper has more than delivered on the price the Cowboys paid for him. Even with his admitted struggles in road games, Cooper has caught 132 passes for 1,914 yards and 14 touchdowns in just 25 games with Dallas. He single-handedly saved the Cowboys' offense in 2018, and he built on that with a 1,189-yard season in 2019.

To the surprise of very few, Gallup is also developing into a steal of a third-round pick. The Cowboys selected him with the 81st overall pick back in 2018, and he enjoyed a solid - if inconsistent - rookie season.

He took a step last fall. In Year 2, Gallup literally doubled his stat line - jumping from 33 catches for 507 yards and two touchdowns, to 66 catches for 1,107 yards and six touchdowns.

If you're keeping track at home, that means the Cowboys are one of seven NFL clubs to employ two 1,000-yard receivers from the 2019 season - along with the Bills, Browns, Buccaneers, Chargers, Panthers and Rams.

Despite that, we also know there's room for improvement. Among quarterbacks with 250 or more attempts, Dak Prescott dealt with a 7.2% drop rate last year - the highest in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus.

Gallup is credited with a whopping 11 of those, while Cooper had five. As has been discussed, Cooper also had several disappointing outings, with the Week 16 loss to Philadelphia being the most notable.

There's even reason to believe this is one of the best duos in the league, but that's not to say they can't get better.

A Reasonable Expectation For CeeDee Lamb?

What's New?

Well, you're familiar with Cedarian, no doubt.

Receiver is arguably the newest and most exciting thing about this Cowboys team, after the front office selected CeeDee Lamb with the No. 17 overall pick in this year's NFL draft.

There are plenty of pundits who thought Lamb was the best overall receiver in a loaded draft class, but the was the third receiver taken - slipping all the way to No. 17 in the process. With a choice between Lamb and pass rusher K'Lavon Chaisson, the Cowboys opted to boost their offense in a big way.

Obviously, the expectations are going to be sky high. Lamb will be wearing No. 88, which has been worn by several of the best receivers in franchise history. In a league where teams deploy three receivers more than 60% of the time, he's going to be a Day 1 starter. You don't add CeeDee Lamb to an offense that sports five Pro Bowlers and expect him to start slow. The hope is that this guy can contend for NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year.

It's strange to think that, just two years ago, the Cowboys tried to execute a committee approach. They started the 2018 season with a rookie and a handful of journeymen comprising their receiver corps.

Two years later, they have two 1,000-yard receivers - one of whom is playing on a $100 million contract - and one of the best rookies in this year's class.

It's not a stretch to say the Cowboys have one of the best receiver corps in the NFL - and that's definitely new.

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