As the Dallas Cowboys get ready for the 2023 NFL season, the wide receiver position is easily one of the hottest topics. A big move in March cemented the starting positions, but the rest of the depth chart remains up in the air. As it stands, wide receiver should present plenty of intrigue and some of the most intense battling between prospects at this year’s training camp.
CeeDee Lamb and newly-acquired Brandin Cooks form the clear top two going forward. Lamb emerged as one of the elite wideouts in football last year and Cooks, who Dallas picked up for a fifth-round pick from Houston, is looking to be set free after a torturous season in the Texans‘ woeful offense.
Even the Cowboys’ WR3, which is essentially a starting job in the modern NFL, would seem to be wrapped up ahead of camp. Michael Gallup still needs to prove he’s all the way back from his 2021 ACL injury, but Dallas expressed their faith by restructuring Gallup’s contract this offseason and pushing more dead money into future years. Gallup will get every opportunity to return to his former place as a key offensive piece and one of Dak Prescott’s favorite targets.
The issue now is who will back up this established trio? Between unproductive former mid-round picks and a stable of dark horses, Dallas’ group of prospects is full of question marks. With former depth fixture Noah Brown now gone, it’s time for a younger player to step up and claim a significant role.
One would hope that Jalen Tolbert, the Cowboys’ third-round pick in 2022, will be that guy in his second season. We’re accustomed to seeing immediate results from third-round receivers; Gallup and Terrance Williams come to mind over the last decade. But Tolbert was a non-factor last year with just two catches for 12 yards, only active for eight games.
This was especially disconcerting given Dallas’ issues at WR last season. With Gallup’s struggles and an injury to veteran free agent James Washington, immediate playing time was there for the taking. But for whatever reasons, Tolbert clearly wasn’t trusted by the coaches and was practically redshirted.
If Tolbert couldn't step up in a time of need, you’d have liked to see Simi Fehoko take advantage of the opportunity. The 2021 fifth-round pick still wasn’t ready even in his second year, though, appearing in just five games with only three catches. Now entering a critical third season, Fehoko has to find a niche if he wants to stick around.
Tolbert and Fehoko would be the logical “on-paper” choices to fill the depth chart. So would KaVontae Turpin, who is here for his return prowess but was the USFL MVP in 2022 for his play as a receiver and overall offensive weapon. But despite being active for all 17 games last year, Turpin only got four touches on offense and only one of those was through the air.
We’re all hoping that offensive problems, including any lack of creativity or proper utilization of these players, followed Kellen Moore out the door. Now that Mike McCarthy and Brian Schottenheimer have taken over Dallas’ offense, perhaps these guys will get better chances to contribute.
First, though, they have to fight off the other roster hopefuls at receiver. One of those will be a fresh face in seventh-round rookie Jalen Brooks, who hopes to be more impressive with pads on than he was at the scouting combine. Brooks’ low speed measures in Indianapolis kept him from being a higher pick, but the “Underwear Olympics” don’t always tell the story of how a guy will perform on the field.
Another prospect is Dennis Houston, an undrafted rookie last year who became one of the biggest names of the summer. Houston was on the official roster for the first two weeks, playing 60 total offensive snaps, before heading to the practice squad. If he builds on last year’s camp and preseason hype, Houston could easily push for the WR4 job.
Antonio Callaway should be a very interesting figure in this year’s camp. A fourth-round pick in 2018 by the Browns, Callaway had a productive rookie year with 43 catches for 586 yards and five touchdowns. He lost that momentum in 2019 with suspensions due to marijuana use and other legal issues. Callaway hasn’t appeared in a game since 2020 but was added to Dallas’ practice squad last November, and now they’re bringing him back for a chance to resurrect his career.
Of course, someone else could emerge from the pack this summer. Just like Houston last year, a new undrafted rookie like Jalen Moreno-Cropper or David Durden could be a surprising survivor at final cuts. We’ll certainly be dissecting every nugget of information coming out of the team’s upcoming camps and OTAs, and especially training camp, to see who’s making noise.
That said, don’t forget that it may be nothing but noise. Jalen Tolbert was getting massive hype early in last year’s camp and felt like a shoo-in for an impactful rookie season, only to disappear completely when it mattered. And as Noah Brown’s six-season run in Dallas proved, being a special teams contributor matters greatly on the bottom half of the WR depth chart. A guy might put up some impressive preseason performances, but it may not matter if he can’t help on kickoff and punt units.
It also remains to be seen if the Cowboys are truly done adding talent at receiver the offseason. There’s been talk of them potentially re-signing veteran T.Y. Hilton when we get closer to camp, or perhaps some other veteran for depth and insurance against Gallup’s comeback. If the Dolphins wind up releasing Cedrick Wilson after June 1st, Dallas could easily be interested in bringing him home.
Even if there are no more free agent signings, the Cowboys will have no lack of excitement at the wide receiver position this summer. The top three may be solidified, but it only takes one injury for those fourth and fifth guys to suddenly become critical offensive components. No matter who among the contenders you’re rooting for, we’re all hoping for improved firepower in Dallas’ offense this season.