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How realistic are Amari Cooper’s lofty expectations for the Cowboys receiving corps?

The Cowboys will need a lot to go right to make history.

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at Detroit Lions Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

On Tuesday, Amari Cooper was speaking with the media when he revealed his lofty goals for the Cowboys offense in 2020. The newly-signed star receiver expects his team to do something they’ve never done before: have three receivers go over 1,000 receiving yards.

Not only has this never happened in franchise history, but it’s only happened five times in the history of the NFL. The first such instance was the 1980 Chargers, led by the legendary Don Coryell and his at-the-time revolutionary Air Coryell offense. The 1989 Redskins, led by Joe Gibbs, did it next. June Jones and his Run-N-Shoot offense led the Falcons to accomplishing the feat in 1995, while Peyton Manning’s 2004 Colts and Kurt Warner’s 2008 Cardinals were the only teams this century to post three 1,000 receiving yards offenses.

Between those five teams, they held a combined 51-29 record but with a 5-4 record and only one Super Bowl appearance; that was the Cardinals, who lost to the Steelers in one of the most exciting Super Bowls of all time.

So meeting this expectation of Cooper’s wouldn’t be any strong indicator of a team destined for a Super Bowl, but it would still be incredible. And after adding CeeDee Lamb, who had 1,000 receiving yards the last two years in college, to a receiving corps that already features Cooper and Michael Gallup, both of whom went over 1,000 yards last year, the expectation has been set.

But could this actually happen? The Cowboys came as close as they ever have in the Dak Prescott era just last year. Cooper had 1,189 yards, Gallup posted 1,107 yards, and Randall Cobb came up short with 828 yards. That was in spite of the fact that Cobb saw as many targets as Jason Witten and only 12 more targets than Ezekiel Elliott. While Elliott, Tony Pollard, and Blake Jarwin should all see some targets as well this year, it’s not unrealistic to expect Lamb’s target share to outpace that of Cobb.

That was the case the only other time the Cowboys have come this close to achieving such a feat. It was in 2012, which was coincidentally the final year Jason Garrett called plays for the offense. Dez Bryant led the team with 1,328 yards while Witten, at the time still a legitimate receiving threat, had 1,039 yards. Miles Austin came oh-so-close with 943 yards, and had he not repeatedly missed time during games with hamstring injuries, Austin may have crossed the threshold and made history.

Each of those three pass-catchers in 2012 saw over 100 targets, which made sense given they were the three best weapons in the passing game for Dallas. The next three leading receivers were Kevin Ogletree, Felix Jones, and DeMarco Murray. Last year, by contrast, only Cooper and Gallup saw 100+ targets, and Cobb and Witten tied for third most targets with just 83.

It seems that the best way to ensure the Cowboys reach this lofty goal is by throwing at least 100 passes each to Cooper, Gallup, and Lamb. With Kellen Moore’s proclivity towards spreading the ball around, along with Mike McCarthy’s philosophical preferences for airing it out in general, that shouldn’t be too much to ask for.

The one concerning thing, though? McCarthy’s teams never really got close to three 1,000-yard receivers. In fact, McCarthy’s offenses in Green Bay only had two 1,000-yard receivers three times in 13 seasons. They did so in consecutive seasons from 2008 to 2009, and then again in 2014.

In 2008 and 2009 the Packers featured one of the NFL’s best receiving tandems at the time in Greg Jennings and Donald Driver, but never really had a potent third option. In 2008, their third highest receiver was rookie Jordy Nelson with 366 yards, and in 2009 it was tight end Jermichael Finley with 676 yards. Over the next couple years, though, age led to the decline of both Jennings and Driver.

By 2014, Nelson had come into his own, as had Cobb, and both experienced breakout 1,000-yard receiving seasons. But in a bit of repeated history, rookie Davante Adams came in third with 446 yards. An injury to Nelson the following year kept him out, and he never quite recovered afterwards, while Cobb’s numbers started to trend downwards until his arrival in Dallas in 2019.

All of this is to say that McCarthy has never really had three top tier receivers at the same time. While Nelson, Cobb, and Adams all developed into great receivers later on, it took time to get there. Given that all were second-round picks, that’s to be expected. But McCarthy now has two receivers coming off 1,000 yard seasons and a first-round rookie receiver who many thought was worthy of a top ten pick.

Despite working with two of the greatest quarterbacks ever in Green Bay, the Cowboys offer McCarthy the best set of weapons he’s ever had. And with Prescott coming off the best year of his career to date, in which he topped Aaron Rodgers’ career best in passing yards by a significant margin, Dallas seems to be in the best position it’s ever been to hit 1,000 receiving yards by three receivers.

The pieces are all there, and it’s entirely up to the coaches and players to follow through on it.

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