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Is Michael Gallup, not CeeDee Lamb, the Cowboys next star wide receiver?

The Cowboys could have a star in the making, and it might not be who you think it is.

NFL: Washington Redskins at Dallas Cowboys Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Amari Cooper became the second-highest paid wide receiver when he signed a five-year, $100 million deal this offseason with the Cowboys. He’s one of the most fundamentally sound route-runners in the NFL and at times is virtually impossible to cover.

CeeDee Lamb was the Cowboys first-round draft pick and was the most productive college wide receiver over the last three seasons combined. He caught all 30 of his downfield targets greater than 20 yards, and nobody in college football had more 40+ yard receptions over the last two years. And when you listen to all the buzz in camp, all signs are pointing to this team scoring them one heckuva playmaker on offense.

Then, there’s Michael Gallup. He’s just a third-round pick and is making $750,000 this season. On paper, he’s just the other guy sandwiched between two star receivers. But luckily, football isn’t played on paper, and when it comes to what’s happening on the football field, Gallup has established himself as a legit receiving threat in the league after a breakout season last year. But what if his breakout season hasn’t happened just yet?

To illustrate this, we’re going to highlight a couple other third-round wide receivers who, like Gallup, took positive steps from year one to year two, only to breakout even more in year three en route to a Pro Bowl season. The players we’re talking about are the Detroit Lions Kenny Golladay and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Chris Godwin. Both of those players went from good to great this past season, and just like that are recognized as top 10 receivers in the NFL. Let’s compare these two with Gallup over the first few years of their careers.

From this you can see how closely those three compare through the first couple years. If anything, we can even say that Gallup was slightly ahead of them after the first two seasons. Even more impressive is that Gallup’s second-year yardage total was achieved in fewer games as he missed two games last year after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery. Combine that with the idea that he’s likely to regress to the mean on his heavy drop numbers, and there are certainly plenty of reasons to be optimistic about an even better season from Gallup.

Oh yeah, and he’s got a head coach that loves to throw the ball a lot, so there’s that, too.

The only thing that stands in his way of a big season are those two guys mentioned in the beginning of this article. There is only one football to go around, so how Dak Prescott chooses to distribute the targets remains to be seen. Last year, Gallup had 20% of the team’s total receiving targets, trailing Cooper by only six targets. While Lamb is now in play as well as an expected increase in chances for Blake Jarwin, the team still has nearly 30% of last year’s targets up for grabs with the departure of Randall Cobb and Jason Witten.

During Gallup’s rookie season, fans were left wondering what could’ve been had Prescott been more on target with some of those moments Gallup was wide open down the sideline. For that reason, people expected things to get better, and boy did they as Gallup took an impressive jump in both receptions and yards. But even last year could’ve been better had he not had so many drops. One could make a compelling argument that the Prescott and Gallup combo haven’t reached their full potential just yet. That’s scary to think about.

While they mystery of how the football gets distributed around the field is a surprise fans will just have to wait for, one thing is for sure - anyway you slice it, it’s going to be an abundance of riches for the Cowboys passing attack. And as far as who’s the next receiving superstar? Well, if things continue at the pace they’re going, it might not be who we expect it to be.