The Dallas Cowboys wide receiver group is among the best in the NFL, and, yes, that’s before CeeDee Lamb has even taken a snap. Their top trio of Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, and CeeDee Lamb is arguably the best in the NFL heading into the 2020 season. The talent they bring to the top of the depth chart is unquestioned after Cooper and Gallup went for more than 1,000 yards receiving in 2019, and Lamb was selected 17th overall. While the top half of the depth chart is written in stone, where does that leave the rest of the depth chart?
The Cowboys have several players who will be vying for roster spots when the team begins their on-field work in the next week or two. It’s a good mix of NFL veterans and players with a year or less in the NFL for the Cowboys to choose from.
Coming into the NFL in the 2015 NFL Draft as an original draft pick of the New York Jets, Devin Smith is the most veteran member of the bunch. Injuries derailed his career in New York, and he landed on the Cowboys roster last season. Smith made a few plays for the team, but he only played in four games as, once again, injuries took a toll. After a breakout three catches for 74 yards and a touchdown against the Washington Football Team (man that feels weird to write), he caught two passes the next week and was targeted just once against New Orleans. He didn’t play another snap for the rest of the season.
Smith’s injury history has been the most significant reason he hasn’t been able to catch on in the NFL. His speed and downfield ability were apparent last year, but for a player to develop, they have to be on the field. It appears that Smith has the inside track to the number four wide receiver spot with experience playing on the outside and offering a deep threat ability that is unique to the rest of the receivers vying for a roster spot.
Though Devin Smith has the most years in the NFL, it’s Noah Brown with the most game experience vying for one of the final roster spots at wide receiver. Smith has played in just 18 games in his five years since being drafted. Noah Brown played in 21 games over the 2017 and 2018 seasons before sitting out 2019 due to injury.
Brown will be an interesting case study for this training camp. He’s going into the final year of a rookie deal he signed under the former coaching staff. Jason Garrett and Scott Linehan liked Brown’s blocking ability. That, combined with his capabilities on special teams, often gave him opportunities for playing time with the offense that other seventh-round draft picks might not get.
Generally, you wouldn’t see his name pop up on the stat sheet with many targets or receptions, but his impact on the running game is undeniable. In 2018, Brown showed an ability to get open against Washington.
What’s intriguing about his game is his ability to combine his size with his reliable route running. Like CeeDee Lamb, Brown could be an option in the slot if the team needed Brown to take some snaps. Brown’s ability could allow him to back up at all three wide receiver spots and give the Cowboys quality snaps. However, with a new coaching staff in town, there’s no telling how much value they’ll place on Noah Brown’s blocking ability.
Speaking of size and slot wide receiver play, let’s talk about Cedrick Wilson. Wilson, like Devin Smith and Noah Brown, has had to miss time due to injury. After a torn labrum early in training camp his rookie season, Wilson was placed on injured reserve and missed all of 2018.
Wilson made the roster in 2019 and was active for six games. He caught five of eight passes for 46 yards with two first-down receptions. Wilson has some ability to get open down the field but hasn’t had many opportunities to make an impact in the passing game.
Wilson is another player that needs more time on the field to continue to develop his NFL game. Like Brown and Lamb, Wilson’s a guy that could backup at both outside receiver positions and in the slot.
Ventell Bryant came in last season as the replacement for Noah Brown. A bigger-bodied receive that they could deploy to help block in the running game. Much like Noah Brown, though, when teams saw him coming into the lineup, defenses could sit on the run, because that was generally his only purpose. He did have a touchdown reception week 13 in the Cowboys loss to the Buffalo Bills. But other than that, he didn’t get much run.
Kendrick Rogers and Aaron Parker are two undrafted free agents the Cowboys picked up after the draft. In a typical season, they’d have just as much a shot as anyone to make the roster. However, with the abbreviated offseason and no preseason games, there will be less opportunity for them to make an impact that might keep them on the roster.
They certainly have the talent and through practice could force their way onto the roster, but it seems more likely that the Cowboys go with some experience on the depth chart, and Rogers and Parker end up on the practice squad.
Though we’ve yet to see a practice at this point, it would a surprise to see the Cowboys not go with a veteran-heavy group on the wide receiver depth chart after CeeDee Lamb. Given the problematic transition that often comes with a rookie wide receiver’s first year in the NFL, having a player or two that can help alleviate the stress of that transition would be wise. Of course, that’s not to say that Lamb will struggle, but leaving yourself some insurance on the roster and versatility on your depth chart makes sense.
If week one were tomorrow, these are the six wide receivers they’d take to Los Angeles to face the Rams in week one.
- Amari Cooper
- Michael Gallup
- CeeDee Lamb (Slot)
- Cedrick Wilson
- Devin Smith
- Noah Brown
Indeed, a lot could change, and injuries and positive COVID-19 tests could upset the applecart, but these six are the best options for the Cowboys to start the 2020 season.