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Examining what the Cowboys are looking for to round out their wide receiver position group

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It’s anyone’s guess how the team’s WR position group shapes out.

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at Washington Redskins Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

The Dallas Cowboys have one of the top wide receiver trio’s in the NFL. You’d be hard-pressed to find three wideouts in the league as good as the Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, and CeeDee Lamb. Both Cooper and Gallup are coming off 1,100 yard receiving seasons, and the rookie Lamb enters the league as one of the best receivers in college after two-straight 1,100 seasons himself. This group is going to be electric.

After these three ascending stars, there is a huge drop off in talent as the Cowboys have an overabundance of humdrum candidates looking to earn a spot on the roster. But which of these players have the best shot?

Before we take a look at what each of these guys have to offer, it’s important to get a feel for what the Cowboys actually need from the two, maybe three players who land one of the final receiver spots on the squad. Let’s start things off by taking a look at who they relied on last season. Here is a week-by-week breakdown:

From this breakdown, we see the team relied heavily on three main players - Cooper, Gallup, and Cobb; with Tavon Austin being used sparingly as their no. 4 receiver. The team kept a fifth receiver active during most games, but who that player was changed as Devin Smith, Cedrick Wilson, and Ventell Bryant all got the nod at different times.

Initially, Wilson didn’t make the team and was signed to the team’s practice squad. Bryant was released by the Cincinnati Bengals at final roster cuts, but the Cowboys quickly signed him to their practice squad for his special teams ability. When Kavon Frazier went down to injury, Bryant was promoted to the active roster where he played in all 12 of the remaining games for the Cowboys as a key part of their special teams unit. At that same moment, we never saw Devin Smith active again.

While the wide receiver group was relatively healthy for the most part, they did experience a cluster of injuries early in the season. Gallup and Austin each missed two games a piece, including both of them out for the game against the Miami Dolphins in Week 3. Of course, the Cowboys didn’t miss them as they ran all over the Dolphins to a tune of 235 total yards thanks to 100+ yard games by both Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard.

Gallup’s absence was felt the following week as the Cowboys only had 223 yards through the air in a 12-10 loss against the New Orleans Saints. No Cowboys player had more than 50 yards receiving in that game.

The team also got hit with an anemic offense a couple weeks later when both Cooper and Cobb were out against the New York Jets. Cooper started the game, but only played three snaps after leaving with an injury. With Devin Smith shelved on the bench, the Cowboys receiving group was depleted as Cedrick Wilson played 50 snaps, the most in his NFL career. This game was just one of four games last year where Dak Prescott didn’t throw a touchdown pass, but it was the only one against a non-playoff team. Not having two of their starting receivers available undoubtedly hurt the offense.

From Week 7 on, the core four never missed a game, which is rather fortunate considering the collective injury history rap sheet of Cobb and Austin.

So, what can we take from all this?

It’s important to note that the Cowboys relied on their core four with that fifth guy being chosen based on team needs at that given point in time. At the start of the season, players were healthy so they went with the speedster Devin Smith to give them a vertical threat. When one of those core four got hurt, they immediately promoted Cedrick Wilson; however, once they were healthy again - he was made inactive before being placed on injured reserve late in the season. With their main four guys available, they allocated that fifth receiver spot to Ventell Bryant to bolster their special teams.

With a new assortment of offensive coaches, including changing out wide receiver coach Sanjay Lal for Adam Henry, we really don’t know what type of formula will be used this upcoming season, but that won’t stop us from taking a gander.

We know the versatility of the big three allows any of these guys to help cover their bases should one of them get hurt, so there isn’t any real special “type” of receiver needed. That fourth receiver could consist of anything - a speedster, a return guy, a gadget guy, or even another balanced do-it-all possession receiver.

While WR#4 could be a wild card, that fifth receiver is most likely going to have to be able to contribute on special teams in order to make this roster. The Cowboys finished either last or second-to-last in kick coverage, kick returns, and punt returns at least once over the past two seasons under former special teams coach Keith O’Quinn. That’s horrendous. With new special teams coach John Fassel running the show now, he’ll have his own standards for what he’ll be looking for. And he wants his squad to feel like they are meaningful contributors to the team, not just specialist in the kicking game. It will be interesting to see what players earn those key positions as the Cowboys strive to improve this unit.

Now that we have set the table as to what the team could be looking for to round out their wide receiver group, we’ll take a look at some of the prime candidates to earn one of those final roster spots. Stay tuned...