Entering the 2021 NFL Draft, the Cowboys were well aware of the decision they’d have to make at wide receiver in just a year’s time. Michael Gallup’s rookie contract was coming to a close at the same time that Amari Cooper’s big contract had a potential out either by trade or release. As such, the team sought a wide receiver in the draft they could groom to fill the depth chart for whichever player, Cooper or Gallup, they ended up moving on from.
The Cowboys took Simi Fehoko out of Stanford in the fifth round, and a year later they re-signed Gallup and traded away Cooper. Yet Fehoko is hardly on the lips of any pundits or fans when they discuss the Cowboys’ post-Coop receiving corps. What does that mean for Fehoko’s expectations heading into 2022?
What He’s Done
Fehoko had a strong, albeit short, college career with the Cardinal. Standing at 6’4” and 220 pounds, Fehoko was a dangerous deep threat for Stanford. Stepping into the spotlight as a sophomore, Fehoko tallied 566 yards and six touchdowns on the year, averaging a ridiculous 23.6 yards per reception.
That number would drop a bit in Fehoko’s junior season, when Stanford asked him to play a more varied role than simply going deep. He responded well, thriving as the go-to option of the Cardinal’s passing attack. Due to the pandemic, though, Stanford played just six games, leaving Fehoko with an unimpressive-at-first-glance stat line of 574 yards and three touchdowns. Of course, if we extrapolate those numbers to a full season, Fehoko was on pace for 1,148 yards and six touchdowns while averaging 15.5 yards per catch. Not too shabby.
Either way, Fehoko’s limited sample size led to him being selected in the fifth round. With Dallas essentially taking him as a contingency option for their impending Cooper/Gallup decision, Fehoko saw very little action as a rookie.
Fehoko was a gameday inactive in 11 of the Cowboys’ 17 games last year, effectively taking a redshirt year. Of the six games he was active for, only two of them saw Fehoko take the field on offense, where he totaled a mere seven snaps. He primarily played on special teams, but even then Fehoko only played 48 special teams snaps, good for 31% of the total available snaps.
So, what has he done? Truthfully, not much; at least, not anything that was visible to the naked eye. The bulk of Fehoko’s rookie year action took place behind the scenes, on the practice field and in the film room, but he did very little on the field, just as was expected with such a deep wide receiver room.
What He Can Do
Fehoko is quietly entering a perfect situation to take a big step forward. Cooper is gone, as is reliable veteran Cedrick Wilson. Gallup is still here, but is unlikely to return from injury by the start of the regular season. That leaves CeeDee Lamb and Noah Brown as the only returning veterans from last year.
Lamb is expected to become more of a fixture of the offense than he already has been, but Brown has rarely been used as more than an extra blocker on run plays. Free agent signee James Washington is widely expected to command a starting spot, but his cheap contract doesn’t exactly make him a guarantee. Rookie Jalen Tolbert could also be in the mix, but Fehoko himself can attest to how hard it can be to see the field as a rookie.
All of this sets up for Fehoko to legitimately compete for a starting role at either of the outside receiver spots. This is especially true with Gallup’s absence, since Gallup functioned largely as the team’s premier deep threat and Fehoko played an identical role in college. Unlike Washington and Tolbert, Fehoko has experience in the playbook and has already gotten a leg up on building a relationship with Dak Prescott.
That’s not to say any of this is a lock, and the smart money is still on both Washington and Tolbert being the next two men up after Lamb when the season kicks off. But the Cowboys took Fehoko for a reason, and his skill set is undeniably unique. He already saw a considerable uptick in action with the first team during OTA’s as both Washington and Tolbert dealt with nagging injuries, and if Fehoko can carry that over into a strong training camp then there’s really nothing to prevent Dallas from playing him over either of the two newer additions.
Of course, Fehoko’s opportunity is, more than anything, a reflection of how much the Cowboys’ receiving corps changed this past offseason. If he can jump in and perform the way he did at Stanford, the second-year player can keep the position as a relative strength.