Very few position groups offer the Dallas Cowboys confidence following the disappointment of the 2020 season, but the wide receivers are definitely one of them. In Dak Prescott’s four full games last year, Amari Cooper (401 yards), CeeDee Lamb (309) and Michael Gallup (275) were all on pace to eclipse the 1,000-yard mark for the season.
In addition, Cedrick Wilson had a 100-yard game during that span, giving Dallas five performances where a receiver went for 100 yards before Prescott went down. Needless to say, the receivers were doing their jobs well before the injury to Prescott and continued to do so with Andy Dalton and company.
Even Noah Brown, whose role has centered around his ability to be a blocker in the run game, had a career year. Furthermore, not one of Dallas’ top five receivers missed a game with an injury.
In all, this was a healthy, productive bunch, and with Brown returning on a one-year deal, they are all back as well.
Which Cowboys Wide Receivers Are Returning?
As I said, Cooper, Gallup, Lamb, Wilson and Brown are all set to return in 2021. Yes, scenarios could arise where one of that group becomes a trade chip before we get to training camp, but I’ll get to that later.
Don’t forget about these guys
However, Dallas has other intriguing options under contract that can push for a role on the roster. Malik Turner is a player Dallas claimed off of waivers right before the 2020 season got underway. He’s a special team’s ace with the size to also earn time as a blocker and could push Brown for his spot in 2021.
After opting out last year, Stephen Guidry is also someone who offers a temping blend of size and athleticism. If committed to getting better, Guidry has the physical traits to stretch the field.
Aaron Parker can also push for a roster spot. He’s a more polished receiver than Guidry, with a sturdy frame. After a year on the practice squad, it will be interesting to see how he’s grown as a player.
Which Cowboys Wide Receivers Aren’t Returning in 2021?
Heading into training camp back in 2019, there was a lot of hype surrounding Jon’Vea Johnson. His ability to make plays with the ball in his hands was impressed Dallas enough to make him a top priority when the draft wrapped up.
Unfortunately, issues with drops during camp kept him from earning a roster spot, but he did spend a year on the Cowboys practice squad. Johnson was a bit of an afterthought after they selected Lamb in 2020 but was still able to return to the practice squad for a second year.
However, he was waved this March and picked up by Jacksonville in the early stages of the free-agent period. Chris Lacy was also waived by Dallas this offseason and has yet to find a home.
What Do Cowboys Need at Wide Receiver?
Despite the praise I’ve given this group, it’s possible Dallas could make a move in here in the 2021 NFL Draft. That’s just the nature of the business. I will say that there are a variety of skill sets that can be successful at wide receiver, and the Cowboys possess very few of them.
Where’s the Versatility?
Each of Dallas’ top five receivers has similar measurements. There is no true slot receiver like Cole Beasley, whose short stature makes them tough to keep up with out of their breaks.
There is no blazing speed in the group, nor a six-foot, five-inch mismatch nightmare that makes a living over the middle and in the red zone. I’m not saying the Cowboys need any of those things, but they could be tempted by them, considering Gallup, Wilson and Brown are free agents after this year.
I don’t expect Dallas to target a receiver in the draft, but if one is clearly the best player on our board as Lamb was a year ago, it’s not out the question for them to take them. There are more ways than one to acquire talent for this defense, and the draft isn’t the only one.
Michael Gallup Trade Value and Amari Cooper Contract
A trade involving Gallup could net them a quality defender or a future draft pick that can help in that regard. I’ll add that salary cap space can help improve this defense, albeit it would come next offseason.
Cooper’s contract was structured to give Dallas flexibility, and their unwillingness to restructure his deal has kept that intact. After this season, Dallas only owes Cooper $6M in dead money. Releasing him or trading him after June 1 of next year could save them $20M a year in each of the next three seasons.
The bottom line is there is a lot of flexibility at the position based on future commitments (or lack thereof), and that could come in handy when figuring out how to best improve this roster as a whole.
Cowboys Draft Targets at Wide Receiver?
Another First-Round Receiver?
We could see three receivers drafted in the top 100 picks, and if any are the clear top player available at ten, their name has to be in the conversation. Those players are LSU’s Ja’Marr Chase and the Alabama duo of Jaylen Waddle and DeVonta Smith.
Of course, trading down would be at the forefront of that conversation, but selecting a wide receiver has to be considered if that’s not an option. Waddle is the most intriguing for Dallas because the game speed and explosion he brings to the table is something the Cowboys don’t currently have on the roster.
Day-two options who could add diversity to this group are slot receivers like Ole Miss’ Elijah Moore, Purdue’s Rondale Moore, Louisville’s Tutu Atwell, or Western Michigan’s D’Wayne Eskridge. Michigan’s Nico Collins has impressive size that would easily make him the biggest wide receiver on this roster, and Auburn’s Anthony Schwartz would instantly be their fastest player.
In the likelihood that Dallas waits until day three to consider a receiver. I’ve got several receivers that I am keeping my eye on. North Texas’ Jaelon Darden gives them that lightning-quick slot that the Cowboys haven’t seen since Beasley.
South Carolina’s Shi Smith could also play that role. Florida’s Trevon Grimes and Stanford’s Simi Fohoko bring similar size to what I mentioned with Collins. Tennessee’s Josh Palmer also has the kind of tempting skill set that can be groomed into a serious playmaker.