Was Cowboys’ addition of Brandin Cooks influenced by the 2023 WR draft class?
I can’t help but think about the past when I consider the future of the Cowboys‘ receiver corps.
The present is obviously plenty exciting. CeeDee Lamb took the opportunity to be a No. 1 receiver and ran with it in 2022, and the smart guess is that he’ll be a focal point of the Dallas offense for quite some time.
It would do wonders for front-office anxiety if Michael Gallup looked more like his old self in Year 2 post-ACL tear. But even if that doesn’t happen, the Cowboys atoned for their 2022 offseason of inactivity by trading for a certified playmaker in Brandin Cooks. Combine that trio with Jalen Tolbert, who deserves every chance to improve on an underwhelming rookie season, and the Cowboys boast a perfectly solid group of receivers.
Spring is about the future, though, as we familiarize ourselves with a new crop of draft prospects entering the league. As I look through the receiver options available, particularly in the early rounds of the draft, the Cowboys’ maneuvering seems to make even more sense.
It’s not that this is a bad class. Maybe it’s not as absurdly deep as past years, but there’s talent to be found in 2023. The problem for Dallas is that I think this receiver class is a bit redundant.
My overwhelming takeaway from studying some of these guys is that it’s a good year to need a slot-based receiver. From Jaxon Smith-Njigba to Jordan Addison, to Zay Flowers and Josh Downs, it’s not hard to look at this class and see primarily undersized receivers who thrive with the space and freedom provided by the slot.
By no means is that a knock. The NFL has fallen in love with slot receivers over the past five years, and some of the best wide outs in the league play inside. The problem is that one of those guys is Lamb, and though necessity moved him outside 46% of the time last season, the smart money says the Cowboys would prefer he play most of his snaps in the slot.
That means they need an outside receiver who can separate outside and provide a vertical threat. Even before his leg injury, that was never Gallup’s game, as he’s long been a master of the contested catch.
We know Cooks fits the bill on the field, having spent 76% of his snaps out wide last season. It also makes sense from a team-building standpoint. With Houston paying a sizable portion of his salary, Cooks is now under contract in Dallas for $6 million this season and $10 million in 2024.
What is Cowboys offseason grade after Stephon Gilmore, Brandin Cooks moves?
FOX Sports’ Dave Helman wrote that the Brandin Cooks trade perfectly fit the team and its philosophy. Joy Taylor, LeSean McCoy, Ric Bucher and T. J. Houshmandzadeh grade the Cowboys offseason.
Though the compensations were vastly different, it’s hard not to think about the last time the Cowboys did this. A big chunk of their reasoning for sending a first-round pick to the Raiders in exchange for Amari Cooper was that they viewed the upcoming receiver draft class as underwhelming. To their credit, the two first-round receivers selected in 2019 were Marquise Brown and N’Keal Harry. They ultimately didn’t draft a single receiver that year, setting the stage for them to select Lamb early in 2020.
I wonder if we’re seeing something similar happening here. Without adding Cooks, the Cowboys would be awfully thin without a lot of great options available to them. Sure, Smith-Njigba can likely succeed all over the field, similar to Lamb. But the odds of him lasting until pick No. 26 feel slim.
Sure, Dallas could look at Quentin Johnston, the towering TCU prospect, as well as Tennessee speedster Jalin Hyatt. Beyond that, we’re either talking about undersized options and Day 2 considerations. That’s not to say they can’t pursue that route. Fellow Tennessee receiver Cedric Tillman, Michigan State’s Jayden Reed and Wake Forest’s A.T. Perry could all fill this role. At 6-2 with a 4.46-second 40-yard dash, Ole Miss’ Jonathan Mingo fits the bill as a Day 2 option. Remember, Gallup was the 81st overall pick back in 2018.
The issue there is acclimation. Gallup caught just 33 balls for 507 yards as a rookie. Tolbert, drafted 88th last spring, managed just 89 offensive snaps on the year. That’s fine for a guy developing on the back end of the depth chart, not so much for a guy facing big expectations.
Thankfully, the Cowboys learned their lesson last year and that doesn’t look like an issue anymore. We’ve known for two weeks that Cooks can keep them from reaching early in the draft. My wonder now is whether Cooks buys them the time to avoid spending big-time resources at all.
David Helman covers the Dallas Cowboys for FOX Sports. He previously spent nine seasons covering the Cowboys for the team’s official website. In 2018, he won a regional Emmy for his role in producing “Dak Prescott: A Family Reunion” about the quarterback’s time at Mississippi State. Follow him on Twitter at @davidhelman_.
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