Stop me if you’ve heard this one before... Jalen Tolbert is having an incredible camp!
It was one of our favorite storylines last summer as there were many reasons to be excited about the Dallas Cowboys third-round draft selection from a year ago. Tolbert had an assortment of traits that made him one of the more balanced receivers coming out of college. He had the college production to back it up as he was coming off two-straight 1,000-yard seasons. And his savvy route-running ability would make you think it wouldn’t take long for him to get on the field at the NFL level.
The stage was set and right away Tolbert became a fan favorite. It felt like we couldn’t go a day in camp without seeing a video of him burning Jourdan Lewis deep or making a great catch across the middle while covered by Trevon Diggs. He showed nice footwork, good tempo, and the chemistry he was already forming with Dak Prescott was very pleasing to the eye. When you combine all of that with his high character, it was hard not to have those Michael Gallup “third-round steal” vibes all over again.
Jalen Tolbert had a really good training camp and made most of his plays in Oxnard with Dak Prescott throwing him the ball. Dak going down week 1 could’ve played a role in Tolbert being a non factor.— Ernie (@es3_09) February 5, 2023
[ : Cowboys Fan Club - YT] pic.twitter.com/doGiTPb7H8
What in the world happened?
We’ll admit, we might’ve gotten a little overzealous with some of our first-year expectations, but nothing could’ve prepared us for the two-catch, 12-yard season where we repeatedly saw him made inactive as a healthy scratch for half the season.
Not sure what to make of the wide receiver depth of the Cowboys this season? Rabblerousr and I break down the wide receiver position group (and tight ends) on the latest episode of The Star Seminar, so make sure to check it out! And also make sure to subscribe to the Blogging The Boys podcast network wherever you get your podcasts so you do not miss any of our shows! Apple devices can subscribe here and Spotify users can subscribe here.
The Tolbert mystery was compounded even further when you take into account that the Cowboys offense was absolutely starving for receiver contribution. With no Amari Cooper anymore and an underwhelming return of Michael Gallup post-knee surgery, the opportunity was plentiful for someone to step up and make plays, but outside of Noah Brown, the receiving production for the Cowboys was crickets. Here is how the WR leaderboard looked after the contributions of CeeDee Lamb, Gallup, and Brown.
- T.Y. Hilton = 7 catches for 121 yards, no touchdowns (only three games)
- Simi Fehoko = 3 catches for 24 yards, no touchdowns
- Dennis Houston = 2 catches for 16 yards, no touchdowns
- Jalen Tolbert = 2 catches for 12 yards, no touchdowns
- KaVontae Turpin = 1 catch for 9 yards, no touchdowns
Those numbers are pathetic. Granted, Hilton joined the party late, so his contribution would have been greater had the front office not taken so long to realize they had a problem, but for the Cowboys not to have a single wide receiver outside the main three to catch one measly touchdown is absolutely crazy. Even in a field of underperformers, Tolbert struggled to see the field, and when he was on the field, he couldn’t even stay on the right side of the line of scrimmage.
This year will be different. It’s clear that the game moved too fast for Tolbert last season as he became overwhelmed at times. Part of that is on the Cowboys for expecting a lot from him, but part of it is also on him as he just didn’t make the leap in competition, both on his own team and against the opposition. With some veteran mentorship and another camp, the coaching staff has praised him for his performance in camp this year. Seeing an improved player who is capable of being a factor in the passing game is once again on the table.
But this year will be different for another reason. The Cowboys traded for a proven veteran pass-catcher in Brandin Cooks. This is a guy who’s had six 1,000-yard seasons, including the most reason one where he caught passes from Davis Mills and had no additional help in the receiving room to take some of the defensive pressure off of him. Now, he’ll join a team that features Dak Prescott at quarterback and a guy named CeeDee Lamb lining up alongside him. And let’s not forget Gallup who will be at full health this year and is no stranger to 1,000-yard seasons himself.
The big three of Lamb, Cooks, and Gallup will command a lot of targets. With three good receivers at the center of the offense, that doesn’t leave much room for anyone else. In fact, if you looked over the last decade when the Cowboys had three good receivers who stayed healthy during the season, the WR4 was practically invisible.
Injuries can present themselves as we’ve seen Cedrick Wilson Jr. (Gallup hurt) and Brice Butler (Dez Bryant hurt) play larger roles, and it’s very good to have a fourth receiver on the roster who can step up and fill the void. But that’s likely what it would take for Tolbert to make any type of noticeable impact. Don’t get us wrong, nobody is going to be complaining if the big three stay healthy and have strong seasons as that will be a recipe for success, and Tolbert can still have a meaningful season in a smaller role. It’s just worth mentioning that he likely won’t have the same opportunities as last year and even with some solid growth, it’s probably going to be a quiet year for the former South Alabama Jaguars star.