On the offensive side of the ball, the Dallas Cowboys look to be as good as any team in the NFL. Every unit has Pro Bowl players aside from the tight end position. It doesn’t take long before you are amazed by the embarrassment of riches that Kellen Moore has to work within 2020.
While the offensive line often gets the praise as one of the best units in the NFL and Ezekiel Elliott is typically in the conversation as the league’s best running back, it’s the Cowboys wide receiver group that sets the standard heading into the 2020 season.
Yesterday, Pro Football Focus claimed that the Dallas Cowboys have the best wide receiver unit in the NFL.
What a difference a little investment makes at one of the more critical positions on the field.
If you recall just two summers ago, the Dallas Cowboys were rolling into training camp with Terrance Williams, Allen Hurns, and Cole Beasley as their top three wide receivers. Rookie Michael Gallup, Noah Brown, Brice Butler, and Cedrick Wilson rounded out the depth chart, but it was hardly a dynamic wide receiver group.
After a 3-4 start to the season, the Cowboys realized they needed to take advantage of the opportunity the Oakland Raiders presented by trading for Amari Cooper. That move turned the page for the Cowboys offense in 2018 as they finished the season 7-1 and advanced to the divisional round of the playoffs.
Despite struggling on the road and with injuries in 2019, Cooper was still a very productive player. He caught 79 passes for 1,189 yards and eight touchdowns. Strangely, a season where he had nearly 1,200 yards could be considered a down year. But drops and inconsistency will do that for you.
In 2019, Michael Gallup, who showed flashes of his potential in 2018 while fighting his way up the depth chart, took a big step forward in his progression. Gallup wasn’t very efficient on the targets he saw his rookie season but turned that around in a big way in his second year in the league. Gallup had 66 receptions for 1,107 yards and six touchdowns while improving his yards per reception by more than a yard and his catch rate by nearly ten percentage points.
What’s incredible about the numbers Cooper and Gallup put up in 2019, is that they could have been even better. Michael Gallup led the NFL in drops, and Cooper had his issues as well. Had they cut those numbers in half, they both would have gone over 1,200 yards on the season.
And then, as good as this wide receiver duo looks, the Cowboys went and invested in an area that was already a strength when they drafted the best wide receiver in the draft in CeeDee Lamb at number 17 overall.
Lamb comes to the NFL after averaging more than 17 yards per reception during his career at OU and 21 yards per reception in his final season with the Sooners. He was a dynamic player that could win at every level of the defense, often showing physicality and elusiveness that would allow him to break tackles and take short receptions for long gains.
His ability to play every position in the offense, the slot including, will allow him to get on the field early in his career. With the attention that will be paid to Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup, Lamb should see favorable coverages and mismatches in the secondary. He’s too good of a route runner for safeties and linebackers, and he’s too big and physical for most slot cornerbacks. It won’t be long before teams realize they have to pay extra attention to the Cowboys rookie wide receiver, which will open up opportunities for others in the passing game.
Further down the roster, the Cowboys have some interesting options in speedster Devin Smith, versatile big receivers in Ventrell Bryant and Noah Brown, and a player like Cedrick Wilson that could play in the slot and on the outside. There are certainly questions there, and there’s no telling how many players Mike McCarthy will want to keep on his 53-man roster, but they have some intriguing options.
If the 2020 season takes place, the Cowboys offense will be must-see television every single week. With their depth and talent all over the formation, the Cowboys will be able to dictate to defenses what they want to do in both the passing and running game. The Cowboys wide receiver group will be huge for Dak Prescott. Just as important is, they’ll take some of the attention away from the running game and Ezekiel Elliott.
The Cowboys trio will allow them to be in 11-personnel (1 RB, 1 TE, 3 WR) at a league-high rate, which should allow for a more efficient running game with defenses forced to spread out and focus on the weapons on the outside. This will leave fewer defenders in the box for the offensive line and the running game to block. If teams attempt to load the box against the Cowboys, they have the weapons on the outside to take advantage.
Some teams have wide receiver groups that could be in the conversation like the Arizona Cardinals with DeAndre Hopkins, Christian Kirk, and Larry Fitzgerald. Or perhaps the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with Mike Evans and Chris Godwin or Buffalo Bills with Stefon Diggs, John Brown, and Cole Beasley. Then there’s the Houston Texans with Brandin Cooks, Will Fuller, and Randall Cobb or the Cleveland Browns with Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry. While those units look good and will be formidable, none of them compare to the talent the Cowboys starting trio brings to the field.