With Dallas Cowboys training camp in Oxnard rapidly approaching, much has already been said and written about one of the first moves the team made this offseason - trading Amari Cooper to the Cleveland Browns for a fifth-round pick. What exactly the Cowboys will be missing with Cooper in the distant AFC North is hard to quantify, as his inconsistent ability to play as a true number one receiver was part of the reason Dallas decided to move on.
CeeDee Lamb is also unproven as the team’s new top receiver, but his ability to create separation and yards after the catch is a great starting point to accent Prescott’s strengths. It turns out, this was also a consistent part of Cooper’s game that puts him in exclusive company with some of the game’s elite receivers.
Since 2019, there are 8 WRs with 300+ routes in single man coverage who have won their route at least 50% of the time.— Timo Riske (@PFF_Moo) July 10, 2022
M. Evans 55.6%
D. Adams 54.0%
AJ Brown 53.9%
Diontae Johnson 51.5%
J. Jefferson 50.8%
A. Cooper 50.1%
Cooper winning against man coverage allowed Prescott to get the ball out of his hands quickly and efficiently during his time with the Cowboys. Also, thanks to Pro Football Focus’ metrics, we see that Prescott was near the top of the league in not taking sacks when Cooper, or any of his receivers, ran a “positive” route.
Lowest:— Timo Riske (@PFF_Moo) July 10, 2022
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The Cowboys have given Prescott more protection up front with first-round pick Tyler Smith, but waited until the third round to add a receiver in Jalen Tolbert. With Lamb, Michael Gallup, James Washington, and Tolbert, the Cowboys pass weapons fall nicely into tiers that suit the West Coast influence that Mike McCarthy has brought to the team.
All of these receivers have the speed and athleticism to be vertical threats, which could also help the Cowboys be more successful against some of the zone coverages they saw late in the 2021 season. Defensive trends may be harder to notice than those on offense, but these coverages caught on around the league last year when some of the league’s top offenses like Kansas City struggled against it.
If many of Cooper’s splash plays were unscripted throws against man coverage, the potential for Lamb to make even more plays within the flow of Moore’s offense is there.
There’s still a need for a receiver that thrives on scramble drills and late-in-the-down separation though, and with Cooper on the field the Cowboys have had this player in Gallup. When he returns from ACL injury, Gallup is projected to be a regular part of the offense, but one that’s already seen defenses key on him as a big play threat.
Which WRs were covered by the opponent's best CB most often in the last two seasons?— Timo Riske (@PFF_Moo) July 9, 2022
Mike Evans 39%
DeAndre Hopkins 36%
Marquise Brown 35%
Rashard Higgins 34%
Courtland Sutton 33%
Adam Thielen 33%
James Washington 33%
Davante Adams 33%
Michael Gallup 33%
Some surprising names
The Cowboys were in the midst of wasting a year of Prescott’s career with well-below average talent at receiver when they traded for Cooper in 2018. Their current situation at receiver doesn’t feel as dire, but this offseason has been a rebuild on the fly to keep a window that Cooper, Gallup, and Lamb were supposed to open with Prescott entering his prime.
All of the Cowboys pass catchers will have the benefit of practicing against Dan Quinn’s defense, but training camp will also be a time for names further down the depth chart to prove themselves. With the amount of clutch plays that Cooper made as a Cowboy, there’s a wide open slot to be filled with eager players like Simi Fehoko or T.J. Vasher ready to make the most of opportunity.
Every move the Cowboys have made this offseason will be scrutinized this season when the results play out on the field, but their answer to moving on from Cooper is the most pressing as they look to repeat as NFC East champions.