One of the biggest mysteries heading into the 2022 season for the Dallas Cowboys is what their passing game will look like minus Amari Cooper and Cedrick Wilson. With Cooper being traded away to the Cleveland Browns and Wilson taking his talents via free agency to the Miami Dolphins, the Cowboys now have to figure out some way to replace that lost production. Hopefully, that’s where Jalen Tolbert comes into play.
Nobody expects a small-school prospect from South Alabama like Jalen Tolbert to step in immediately on Day 1 and replace a player of Amari Cooper’s caliber. That’s just wishful thinking. But, it’s much more reasonable to believe he can play a versatile role like Cedrick Wilson early on as a rookie. In fact, the way he’s already being utilized in practice makes it look as if that’s exactly the type of role he’s being groomed for.
During his four years with the Cowboys Cedrick Wilson played a role for the team on offense and on special teams. Playing both on the outside and in the slot, Wilson accumulated just 67 catches for 837 receiving yards and eight touchdowns. the majority of that production coming in 2021 when he took on a larger offense role. And he was also a special teams contributor, particularly as a punt returner.
An early battle with the injury bug prevented Wilson from being more productive with the Cowboys in his first few years, but he was able to finally show his talent last season and ended up being an integral offensive cog. While many fans may shrug their shoulders now that he’s in Miami, others who fully understand his worth and what he brought to the table over the last few years will miss him dearly.
Thankfully the Cowboys could have a similar player already on the roster in Jalen Tolbert. Like Wilson, he is expected to play a versatile role on offense as an inside/out WR and be a main contributor on special teams. And it looks as if the Cowboys coaching staff could be zeroing in on him to become the primary punt returner as CeeDee Lamb’s replacement in 2022.
WR Jalen Tolbert, a rookie third-round pick, had a very strong practice. It began with him seeing more live work at punt returner than anyone. RB Tony Pollard eventually rotated in as well, but based on spring, there is a real chance Tolbert leads Dallas in punt returns. pic.twitter.com/70GfkpVEcE— Michael Gehlken (@GehlkenNFL) June 14, 2022
It’s probably important to remember these are just practices and there will more than likely be a number of players who are looked at as potential punt returners. Having said that, it also could very well be Tolbert’s job to lose. In fact, Mike McCarthy has already commented on how he’s looked “pretty natural back there” when addressing the press a few days ago.
Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy on rookie WR Jalen Tolbert’s work at punt returner: “I think he’s done a nice job with the limited reps he’s had.” Missed portion of OTAs with hamstring strain. “He seems pretty natural back there.” pic.twitter.com/ywmnNG2thB— Michael Gehlken (@GehlkenNFL) June 16, 2022
There’s no doubt there are high expectations for Tolbert heading into the 2022 season. Dak Prescott will probably target him early and often while Michael Gallup is still out recuperating from last year season-ending knee injury. But what type of role he’ll end up playing as a rookie is still undetermined. It could very well be something similar to what Cedrick Wilson played, especially after Michael Gallup returns.