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Free agent focus 2018: Taylor Gabriel could make Cowboys offense more “Dak-friendly”

The Cowboys need to upgrade the talent level at wide receiver.

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at Atlanta Falcons Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

We’re likely to hear the term “Dak-friendly” a lot this offseason as the Cowboys’ offense tries to upgrade the talent around Dak Prescott. The main focus this offseason has to go to the offensive side of the ball as Scott Linehan hires a new coaching staff and looks for ways to tailor the offense around the skill-set of his quarterback.

One possible avenue is to find speedy receivers that can compliment the skill sets of guys like Dez Bryant. The Cowboys have productive guys but they don’t have that extra gear. It’s about mismatches in this league and speed can kill a defense.

[In this series, come along as we peruse the long list of free agents and focus on players that could be of interest for the Cowboys. Some of these players may, of course, price themselves out of range. However, any time you feel like your team is close like Dallas most definitely does, why not be a little aggressive in the acquisitions department?]

WR Taylor Gabriel (5’8, 165 lbs, 26 years-old)- Atlanta Falcons

2017 stats: 33 receptions, 378 yards, 11.5 yards per catch, one touchdown

Gabriel enrolled at Abilene Christian University, where he walked away with the record for most touchdowns in school history. He placed second in school history in receptions at 215, with 3,027 yards and 27 touchdowns. Though he was a solid collegiate athlete, his size always worked against him and he went undrafted in 2014. Needing receivers, especially a guy who ran a 4.28 40-time, the Browns decided to pick him up.

In his rookie year, he played all 16 games, had 36 receptions for 621 yards and a touchdown. He also accounted for 26 first downs and had 14 plays of 20+ yards or more, averaging 17.3 yards per catch. In 2015, Cleveland signed Brian Hartline and Dwayne Bowe in free agency, putting a damper on Gabriel’s opportunities.

Gabriel was also a product of a quarterback carousel as Josh McCown started eight games, Johnny Manziel started six games and Austin Davis started two games. Gabriel finished the year with 28 receptions for 241 yards in 13 games played. He was cut prior to the 2016 NFL season.

Claimed off waivers a day later by the Falcons, Gabriel put himself back on the map towards the end of the year despite being on a talent-laden Atlanta offense. In week 12, his two-touchdown performance helped the Falcons beat the Cardinals 38-19. A few weeks later, Gabriel caught three passes for 81 yards and a score over the Rams. His role became a bit more significant as the season wore on and he caught three receptions for 76 yards in a Super Bowl loss to the Patriots.

Overall, 2016 was a bounce back year for Gabriel as he caught 35 passes for 579 yards, had 11 plays of 20+ yards or more and caught six touchdowns. In the offseason, the Falcons placed a second-round tender on Gabriel and he was signed a few days before the 2017 NFL Draft.

As the Falcons’ offense struggled at times in 2017, Gabriel saw a drop in production as well. He wasn’t used in quite the same way but until late in the season, the Falcons offense was having some real trouble with their identity. Gabriel caught 33 passes for only 378 yards, and one touchdown. He also only had six chunk plays all season but still managed to keep a good average at 11.5 yards per reception.

In a crowded Falcons’ offense, he’s only been penciled in as a starter a mere seven times in two seasons. He’s got a lot to offer a team like the Cowboys, who really need to find guys that make plays when their number is called. Teams figured the Cowboys’ offense out in 2017 and it was especially inept without Ezekiel Elliott.

The offense doesn’t have the element of speed at receiver though they do have slot guys like Cole Beasley and hopefully Ryan Switzer, but they are more quick change-of-directin guys instead of burners. If they want an offense tailor-made for Dak, it doesn’t mean they have to get rid of Dez, they just need a dose of creativity and more dangerous elements. Taylor Gabriel is not going to get anywhere close to number one money but the right team could pay him to play an important role and he knows how to turn opportunities into production.

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