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KaVontae Turpin at WR may actually be a thing for 2023 Cowboys

Who wants more Turpin Time?

NFC Divisional Playoffs - Dallas Cowboys v San Francisco 49ers Photo by Michael Owens/Getty Images

A year ago, KaVontae Turpin wasn’t even on the team. Instead, he was about two thirds of the way through the reincarnated USFL’s inaugural season, starring for the New Jersey Generals en route to eventually winning the league MVP award.

It didn’t take long for Turpin to become a fan favorite in Dallas after that, housing a kickoff and punt return for a touchdown in the same preseason game. While Turpin failed to score a touchdown in the regular season, he was one of the most electric return men in the NFL and was named to the Pro Bowl as a result.

Still, some felt that he could do more. After all, Turpin’s biggest contributions in the USFL came as a receiver, totaling 540 yards and four touchdowns in 10 games. But Turpin only saw the field on offense for 5% of the snaps in 2022, with two targets turning into one catch for nine yards and three carries resulting in 17 yards.

Fans aren’t the only ones who wanted more Turpin Time on offense. The man himself vowed to give the Cowboys “no choice” but to use him more on that side of the ball in 2023. And if the first round of OTA’s is anything to go off, Turpin is at least getting the opportunity to prove he belongs there.

Turpin faces an uphill battle, though. CeeDee Lamb is clearly the top dog at receiver, and Brandin Cooks is expected to step in seamlessly as the number two. Michael Gallup is also another year removed from his ACL injury and should see even more work this season. And the team still has high hopes for Jalen Tolbert, who actually saw 27 more snaps on offense than Turpin despite having a wholly disappointing rookie year.

More than that, though, is the size issue for Turpin. Standing at 5’9” and roughly 155 pounds, Turpin is naturally limited in what kind of routes he can run effectively. There aren’t many receivers at that size who last in this league, and it means Turpin would need a clearly defined role in order to make a real impact on offense.

The good news for Turpin is that this offense is changing, if ever so slightly. Kellen Moore is gone, Mike McCarthy is calling plays, and Brian Schottenheimer is his right hand man in crafting the offense. So now is the perfect time for the Cowboys to carve out a specific role for Turpin, especially since the fan favorite has now had a full offseason to rest. Keep in mind that he played a total of 30 games last year between the USFL and NFL.

So what might that look like? McCarthy and Schottenheimer have both called offenses long enough in this league to give us an idea of how they like to operate, though neither of them have ever had a player quite like Turpin. There are a couple of close approximations, though, that we can draw on to formulate a guess.

For McCarthy, the closest comparison is Randall Cobb, and even that’s not great. Cobb was just an inch taller than Turpin but weighed around 190 pounds, giving him a more ideal frame. Like Turpin, though, Cobb entered the NFL primarily as a return specialist; he caught just 25 passes as a rookie, and that was with several injuries to guys ahead of him on the depth chart.

But Cobb flashed enough skill for McCarthy to increase his usage in 2012, and get creative with it. While Cobb primarily played in the slot that year, McCarthy lined him up in the backfield on nearly 8% of his snaps and gave him 10 carries, which Cobb turned into 132 rushing yards. That became Cobb’s role going forward: a slot receiver who also had the ability to work as a change-of-pace running back.

Schottenheimer, on the other hand, has coached two players that match Turpin a bit better. He was the offensive coordinator for the Rams during Tavon Austin’s first two years in the NFL, for starters. Austin is almost identical in physical profile to Turpin, but he struggled to produce as a receiver. Schottenheimer couldn’t make it work for Austin, but neither could Sean McVay, Kellen Moore, or Matt LaFleur. We can’t lay too much blame at Schottenheimer’s feet on this one.

The other player is Tyler Lockett. At 5’10” and roughly 175 pounds, Lockett is the closest thing to a real life best case scenario for Turpin. Lockett also came into the league primarily as a return specialist, though he saw considerably more action on offense than Turpin did in 2022.

But Lockett’s usage exploded in 2018, Schottenheimer’s first year in Seattle, and Lockett went on to post 1,000 yard seasons the next two years. Lockett has continued to produce at a high level since Schottenheimer’s departure after the 2020 season, but the new Cowboys offensive coordinator was the one to unlock his potential. He did it largely by moving Lockett around between the slot and out wide, and leveraging his great speed by calling crossing routes from the slot and deep shot routes when out wide.

It would be unfair to expect Turpin to become the next Lockett or Cobb, but both players offer up a bit of a blueprint as to how McCarthy and Schottenheimer might approach Turpin’s potentially expanded role on offense for this new season.

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