For as much criticism as the Dallas Cowboys front office receives, and many times rightfully so, they deserve credit for how they’ve addressed the offseason. First, they retained several integral pieces of their defense like Leighton Vander Esch and Donovan Wilson, who were first and second on the team in tackles in 2022. Also, many have been effusive in the praise given to the front office for the two trades they executed in March.
Outside of CeeDee Lamb, the Cowboys needed more inspired production at receiver and were in the market to acquire a proven pass catcher. Dallas traded a fifth- (2023) and sixth-round (2024) draft pick in exchange for Brandin Cooks from the Houston Texans. In his nine-year career, Cooks has eclipsed 1,000 yards six times and is one of the best contract values on the team. Cooks has a skill set that complements quarterback Dak Prescott very well. Cooks runs precise routes, has outstanding speed, and has a reliable set of hands.
Additionally, the Cowboys traded a compensatory fifth-round pick in April’s draft to acquire Stephon Gilmore from the Indianapolis Colts. The former Defensive Player of the Year provides the Cowboys with a decorated veteran with years of experience to play opposite of All-Pro cornerback Trevon Diggs. Gilmore may not have the speed he used to, but he still has tremendous instincts and is a vast improvement at cornerback. Gilmore will bring stability to a cornerback position decimated by injuries in 2022.
Both newcomers, Cooks and Gilmore, are going to be critical factors in the success of the Cowboys’ upcoming season and are in line for big seasons and Big D. Here’s an estimation of how their numbers will shake out.
Earlier this offseason, we projected the statistical leaders for the Cowboys’ offense. Brandin Cooks leads the team in yards per reception with 14.2 yards per catch in that projection. Cooks is still an explosive downfield threat that can separate from defenders. According to Next Gen Stats, Cooks had averaged 2.8 yards of separation last year. With that type of separation and more of an opportunity in a better passing offense, Cooks will have better targets than he did in Houston.
In 2022, 43% of the Cowboys’ passing attempts went to Dalton Schultz, Noah Brown, and Michael Gallup. Gallup wasn’t himself last year after returning from an ACL injury, and there are questions about regaining his form. Brown and Schultz accounted for 30% of the pass attempts last year and are now with the Houston Texans. Let’s propose that Cooks receives 18 percent of the total pass attempts this season using a projected figure of 610 pass attempts from Dak Prescott. That would be 109 targets for Cooks in Dallas’ “Texas Coast” offense.
For his career, Cooks has a catch rate of 65%. With his hands, separation, and the accuracy of Dak Prescott, that number isn’t likely to decline. It may be even better, but for the sake of simplicity, we’ll stick with 65%. The proposed 14.2 average per reception is only the fourth-best average of his career. These figures would add up to 71 receptions for 1,013 yards.
Calculating Gilmore’s numbers is trickier. The Cowboys made the Gilmore trade in the first place to not be in the same vulnerable state they were last year when Anthony Brown got injured against New York. Opposing teams knew better than to test Trevon Diggs, so instead, they opted to attack the other side of the field in Brown’s absence. Unfortunately, Brown’s replacements were uneven in his place. The primary reserves were Kelvin Joseph, Nashon Wright, and DaRon Bland, with Joseph as the infamous example. Joseph was abysmal, allowing a QB rating of 147.9 and a completion percentage of 66%. The Cowboys needed better, and they knocked it out of the park by acquiring Gilmore.
To calculate Gilmore’s stats, use Brown as a sample. In the twelve games Brown started before he was injured, he was targeted 87 times in coverage. That equals roughly seven targets a game in his direction. Let’s use that number and Gilmore’s averages over the last five seasons to approximate Gilmore’s stats for 2023.
Over the past five seasons, Gilmore has been targeted 359 times, allowing a catch rate of 53%. Factoring his 56 passes defended and 13 interceptions in that time, that’s a pass defended per every six targets and an interception per every 27 targets in coverage. Assuming Gilmore is targeted at the same rate that Anthony Brown was per game, that equals 119 targets for 19 passes defended and four interceptions.