After the way that the 2022 season ended for the Dallas Cowboys, one of the areas that is in need of some retooling is the wide receiver room. This issue was in need of some work even prior to the start of this past season. Neglecting an obvious need essentially all season long isn’t exactly how championship teams tend to operate. Sure, the Cowboys sniffed around Odell Beckham Jr. for a little bit but instead, moved on to signing another veteran wideout named T.Y. Hilton. It was great to see Hilton flash on his first catch with the team on a 52-yard bomb on 3rd and 30, but in three games with Dallas his production was limited to seven catches for 121 yards.
Looking at the wide receivers not named CeeDee Lamb, the drop off from the number one wide receiver to the number two was enormous. Going by the numbers, Noah Brown was essentially the number two guy all season long. His stats for 2022 were 43 receptions for 555 yards and three touchdowns. Having this much of discrepancy from number one to number two shows the lack of not only quality play from the position, but the overall depth. That isn’t knock on Noah Brown, but he simply is not a number two wideout on an NFL roster. Brown is more of number four or five, and that is a guy who can catch passes from time to time, but is best used as a blocker in the ground game or as a special teams guy.
Stats aside, the perceived number two receiver behind Lamb is Michael Gallup. To be fair, Gallup is just now over a year post ACL injury, and historically speaking it is not until season number two that players are close to prior form. Even though Gallup appeared in 14 games in 2022, it was obvious that he is still working his way back from a serious knee injury. The positive takeaway from Gallup’s season is that he was on the field for a good portion of it, and he’s had 14 games to workout all of the kinks both physically and mentally. With the majority of the 2022 season under his belt post injury, and a full offseason ahead of the 2023 season, the thought of a bounce back season is viable. The franchise is literally banking on this to happen because of the five-year, $57 million dollar contract they gave him shortly after the injury had occurred.
Regardless of how Gallup plays going forward, it was evident by the team’s play throughout the year that CeeDee Lamb simply needs some reinforcements. What better way to accomplish this feat than by drafting a wide receiver in the early rounds of this year’s NFL Draft.
Let’s take a look at three options that the team should consider when it is their turn on the clock:
Jordan Addison, USC (formerly at Pittsburgh)
As a member of the 2020 recruiting class, Jordan Addison was rated as a four-star recruit and believe it or not, his offer list wasn’t as large as you may think. There were some of the top programs involved in recruiting him, like Notre Dame and South Carolina, but he ended up joining the Pittsburgh Panthers. In his freshman season, he appeared in 10 games and flashed plenty of ability by catching 60 balls for 662 yards and four touchdowns. 2021 is where he put the college football world on notice by catching 100 passes for 1,593 yards, and 17 touchdowns. After a season like that, he was rewarded with the Biletnikoff Trophy as the nation’s top wide receiver. Oddly enough after 2021, he decided to leave Pitt and take his talents to USC because he reportedly felt that the move would take his talents to another level. With the Trojans, he would catch 59 balls for 875 yards and eight touchdowns. It was a quality season, but a dip in production from the year prior. With three years of college football under his belt, he totaled 219 receptions for 3,134 yards and 29 touchdowns.
If there is one thing in particular that stands out about Addison, it is his route running ability. The way he runs routes arguably puts him atop of this year’s class in that department. This stems from the savvy timing of when he throttles down and when he accelerates. When he does this, it creates plenty of separation which makes the job of the quarterback that much easier.
When he has the ball in his hands, his run after catch ability is at a high level. This ability isn’t because of his speed but more due to being quick and twitchy as a ball carrier. Addison has the ability to play both inside and out which gives coaches plenty of room to be creative with how they choose to deploy him. He isn’t a big bodied wide receiver, but he shows good effort and willingness to get out and block when needed.
The knock on Addison has more to do with his slight build more than his ability. Due to his lack of size, he isn’t going to out muscle anyone and isn’t a physical player because of this. Aside from the questions about his size, Addison at times can suffer from concentration drops which can be frustrating as he has tremendous hands.
He is arguably the most pro-ready wide receiver in this class, and can come in right away and make a difference. His versatility, and run after the catch ability makes him an intriguing option. If he can be coached up on those concentration drops that he suffers from on occasion, then he will become a quality player at the NFL level.
Parker Washington, Penn State
Just like Addison, Parker Washington was a member of the 2020 recruiting class. However, his rating coming out of Richmond, TX varied depending on which scouting service you follow. He was rated as a four star by 247 Sports, but only a three star by ESPN. Similar to Addison, Washington didn’t have a ton of offers on the table but was offered a scholarship by Wisconsin and Kentucky to name a couple schools. By the time his recruitment was complete, he would sign his letter of intent to Penn State. As a three-year player in the Big Ten conference, Washington would tally 146 receptions for 1,920 yards, and 12 touchdowns. His best overall season would come during his sophomore year of 2021, where he would catch 64 passes for 820 yards, and four touchdowns. These stats may not jump off the page, but the quarterback position has been a known weak spot for the Nittany Lions in recent years. Even with those issues, Washington was still consistent presence in Happy Valley.
From an on-field perspective, Washington is a good slot player that possesses tremendous run after catch ability which is good for a player that understands how to get open. This part of his game makes him very quarterback friendly. Even though he isn’t going to blow by anyone, he does have adequate speed to get the job done. Typically players that have been featured in the return game are known as speedsters, but because Washington is very slippery and creative with the ball in his hands, it makes him a very dangerous return man. Although he is not tall for the position, he is tremendous at high pointing the ball. Due to being built like a running back, he also is very strong and can be deployed in various ways on the field.
Speaking of being built like a running back, this may cause him to be limited to playing in the slot at the NFL level. Being a slot receiver at the professional level means he will need to be more technical in his route running. For having the unique build as he does, he will need to become a more reliable blocker. These areas are more of a coaching thing over anything else, and if he can get up to par with these weaknesses then he will have a chance to have a good career at the next level.
Jalin Hyatt, Tennessee
Yet again the 2020 recruiting class features another quality wide out, Jalin Hyatt. Of the three players mentioned in this piece, Hyatt came out of high school as the most hyped member of this trio. He was a four-star player by all the major recruiting services, and was ranked as the 33rd best wide receiver in this entire class which is interesting because he weighed just over 150 pounds when he entered college. Before deciding on what school to attend, he had offers that featured the likes of Michigan and Miami. He originally committed to Virginia Tech, but decided that Tennessee was the better fit and enrolled with the Vols. As a three-year player at Tennessee, he caught a total of 108 passes for 1,769 yards and 19 touchdowns. Of those three years, his most recent one in 2022 was by far his best season. He ended up with 67 receptions for 1,267 yards and 15 touchdowns en-route to being named the winner of the 2022 Biletnikoff Award for being the top wide receiver in the country. By winning this award, he was the first to ever do it while playing for University of Tennessee. That fact alone shows how great of season that Hyatt had in 2022.
The first thing that comes to mind when anyone talks about Jalin Hyatt is how explosive he is. The speed he possessed was not only on display on the gridiron, but also on the track as well. He once ran a 10.46 100-meter dash, and also a 21.14 200-meter dash. Converting these numbers into yards, puts Hyatt in the 4.3 range for his 40 time. That would already put him up there with the fastest players in the NFL today. In addition to his all-world speed, he is a good route runner. He used leverage and timing to his advantage which paired with his speed helped create separation from defenders. Combining his speed with his route running ability has made him the best vertical threat in the entire draft class. A lot of vertical threat type of receivers will suffer from concentration drops, but this isn’t the case with Hyatt. Two very underrated aspects to his game include how good he is at the scramble drill by giving his quarterback at target to throw to, and he is a willing blocker which is surprising due to his frame.
The biggest knock on his game is that he is a smaller player. This is not much of a surprise because he weighed about 150 pounds when he arrived in Knoxville. Since then, he has added about 30 pounds. Even with the weight gain, he still weighs around 180 pounds which is considered small at the NFL level. Due to his size, he also lacks strength and physicality. Aside from the obvious questions about his size and strength, the scheme he played at Tennessee under head coach Josh Heupel isn’t exactly NFL friendly. Due to the spread offensive scheme in college, there more than likely will be a learning curve for Hyatt when he arrives on an NFL roster. Prior to the 2022 season, his career numbers weren’t exactly that impressive which leaves many to wonder if he is a one-year wonder.
Regardless of where the pundits stand on the one year of productivity question, Hyatt possesses athletic ability that very few have in their tool box. If he can continue to get stronger, and learn to have a much more diverse route tree then chances are he has a shot to be a good player in the league. It may take a little time for him to adjust to the professional game, but even if he strictly runs go patterns until figures out the rest, he will still be an effective player for the team that ultimately drafts him.