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Cowboys offense will have hard time replacing this part of Amari Cooper’s game

The pressure is on CeeDee Lamb to step into the WR1 role for Dallas.

Dallas Cowboys v New York Giants Photo by Rey Del Rio/Getty Images

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.

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.

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.

Washington Football Team v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images

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.

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.

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