It will be a long time before the Dallas Cowboys start making cuts as the bulk will come after training camp and preseason are done. There are currently 90 players on the roster, of course, and that means at least 37 of them won’t find a place on the team come September (although some will probably be on the practice squad). And there will inevitably be some churn between now and then as well. One place where there will be several names that will not wear the Star this fall is wide receiver. The Cowboys currently have twelve under contract.
While “competition” is a Jason Garrett mantra, obviously not all players are at the same risk of being released. And there is the question of just how many the team will carry on the 53-man roster. Given the hoped-for new approach under offensive coordinator Kellen Moore, it is likely they will go a bit heavy here. There is one interesting twist this year in the addition of running back Tony Pollard. He is fully capable of lining up as a receiver, and could be very dangerous in that role.
Given that, just how many should they carry? It would seem likely that six would be a good number, with Pollard a de facto seventh receiver for game-planning and inactive decisions.
So who is in, who is out, and where are the hottest competitions likely to be? Glad you asked.
Amari Cooper, Micheal Gallup, and Randall Cobb are the starters, barring you-know-what that begins with “i”. Cooper and Gallup were both very effective once the former joined the team in mid-2018, and Cobb’s experience will keep him on the roster as the starting slot receiver.
Coming back from injury
Cedrick Wilson was generating a good bit of excitement before he went down in training camp last year. Allen Hurns was not greatly productive before his ugly injury in the playoff win over the Seattle Seahawks, but the coaches like him. And Tavon Austin missed most of the year. Wilson and Hurns will have to show they are fully recovered to have a chance. But Wilson is a very tall receiver at 6-5, and if he is healthy, he might carve out a role as a “jump ball” or red zone specialist.
Austin faces a more problematical situation since the team did not use him very effectively last year when he was available. By “team” I mean “Scott Linehan” and Moore may well have a better idea how to utilize Austin’s speed. However, Pollard essentially duplicates Austin’s skill set, and also is a very good running back as well. It brings Austin’s value to the team into question.
The UDFA speedsters
The Cowboys have something of a tradition of finding successful wide receivers in the UDFA ranks, with Miles Austin and Cole Beasley perhaps the two most notable in recent memory. This year, they have Jon’Vea Johnson and Jalen Guyton vying to be the next undrafted success story - and both of them are real burners. They each posted sub-4.4 40 times in their pro days, which is what likely led to them getting a chance with Dallas. Johnson has already gotten some rave reviews from position coach Sanjay Lal, and both will probably get plenty of opportunities in preseason as the team protects the three starters. There is a good chance both will have a future with the Cowboys, although it may involve the practice squad, but don’t bet against one of them being on the roster when the games count.
What can Brown do for you?
Noah Brown is a returning player from last year’s roster, and that counts for something with the Cowboys. But he, like Austin, is vulnerable to a challenge, especially if the team is looking to find a way to keep Johnson or Guyton. It puts Brown clearly on the bubble. He needs to step up to defend his roster spot.
That leaves three players who have to be considered long shots. Lance Lenoir has hung around for a couple of years, mostly on the practice squad, but has been on the 53-man roster for a total of eight games. He has flashed some in preseason, but has yet to make an impact on the field. A fan favorite in the past, he is going to have to show some substance to his game to have any shot this year.
If there is a real wild card in this group, it is Devin Smith. A former second-round pick of the New York Jets, he suffered two ACL injuries that ended his time with them. What is intriguing and even exciting about him is his stellar college career. In four years he had over 2,500 yards receiving and 30 touchdowns, with an eye-popping 20.7 yards per reception. He was also a track star, so he fits right in with the apparent move to increase the speed of the wide receiving group. Should he finally realize some of the promise of that collegiate performance, he could be a surprise roster addition.
Reggie Davis is the last name in the wide receiver room, and he is the most likely to just be a camp body. He spend a brief time on the Philadelphia Eagles practice squad last year after being signed and cut by a couple of other teams.
Obviously, we don’t even know what we don’t know about most of these players right now, but here is my guess for who will make it out of camp:
- Amari Cooper
- Michael Gallup
- Randall Cobb
- Allen Hurns
- Cedrick Wilson
- Jon’Vea Johnson
Hurns and Wilson have a leg up because of their time with the team, but could well be derailed if their recovery is not complete. If one of them falters, Noah Brown or Tavon Austin will probably get back on the roster, again with a boost from their time with the team. Guyton and Smith will probably be in the conversation in camp, but will get squeezed out by the numbers. I think Lenoir also comes up short, and don’t think Davis has much chance at all.
That is my best guess. The good news is that this looks like a talented and mostly very fast group. It should give Moore and Dak Prescott a lot to work with.