It hasn’t happened often, but an NFL offense having a trio of 1,000-yard receivers is not unheard of. Is it reasonable to think that the 2023 Dallas Cowboys could join this small list?
Here’s just how rare it is; only five offenses in NFL history have accomplished it. Believe it or not, despite the rise of the passing game in the modern era, three of those five came before the year 2000. The list is:
- 1980 San Diego Chargers: TE Kellen Winslow, WR John Jefferson, WR Charlie Joiner
- 1989 Washington Redskins: WR Art Monk, WR Ricky Sanders, WR Gary Clark
- 1995 Atlanta Falcons: RB/WR Eric Metcalf, WR Terance Mathis, WR Bert Emanuel
- 2004 Indianapolis Colts: WR Marvin Harrison, WR Reggie Wayne, WR Brandon Stokley
- 2008 Arizona Cardinals: WR Larry Fitzgerald, WR Anquan Boldin, WR Steve Breaston
Eleven other teams have gotten close, boasting three players with at least 900 receiving yards in a year. The 2012 Cowboys were one of them; Jason Witten and Dez Bryant each had over 1,000 yards and Miles Austin had 943 for a near miss.
That wasn’t the only time Dallas flirted with a 1,000-yard trio, though. It happened fairly recently in fact, and not in a season that you might have guessed. It wasn’t a year that came with a division title, playoff appearance, or even an 8-8 record. And it’s why the idea of the Cowboys actually producing a trio in 2023 isn’t that crazy.
Nobody remembers the 2020 season fondly. If COVID-19 wasn’t bad enough, Dak Prescott suffered his major leg injury in Week 5 and Dallas limped to a 6-10 record. It was a horrific start to Mike McCarthy’s run with the Cowboys.
But despite new coaches and a missing QB1, the passing offense still racked up over 4,500 total yards. The bulk of that production came from four guys:
- WR Amari Cooper 1,114 yds
- WR CeeDee Lamb 935 yds
- WR MIchael Gallup 843 yds
- TE Dalton Schultz 615 yds
You can see how close Lamb and Gallup were. A few more balls going in their direction instead of Cooper or Schultz might have done the job on its own. But more importantly, Prescott was averaging a ridiculous 422.5 passing yards over his first four games. While that torrid pace probably doesn’t hold all year, imagine how much more yardage accumulates if he plays the full season.
So if Dallas came so close in 2020 despite Prescott missing 11 games, why hasn’t it happened in either of the last two years?
One issue has been a higher focus on the run game. Dallas’ offense jumped from 444 rushing attempts in 2021 to 531 in 2022, with passing attempts going down from 647 to 556. Some of that was due to Cooper Rush playing five games during Prescott’s 2022 injury, but it that doesn’t account for the entire shift.
Michael Gallup’s injuries are another factor. He lost seven games in 2021 and four more last season, plus he clearly wasn’t fully recovered even when he did play. Guys like Cedrick Wilson and Noah Brown saw more use and more balls went to Dalton Schultz, who has never been much of a high-yardage target.
Obviously, injuries still hang over any projected scenario in football. But let’s play with the idea that Prescott, Gallup, Lamb, and Brandin Cooks all stay healthy and perform up to their potential in 2023. Can’t you already see how doable this is?
Again, look how close the team was in 2020 even with Andy Dalton throwing most of the passes. Hopefully, Prescott keeps Rush and any other backup QB off the field this year. Now you add Cooks, who’s been a 1,000-yard guy for much worse offenses than this one. You hope that Gallup, still just 27 years old, has finally put the ACL injury behind him.
Another big factor is the 17-game season, something that none of those five 1,000-yard trios enjoyed in the past. Even the 2020 Cowboys might’ve come darn close to it with one more game.
We still need to see what Kellen Moore’s departure does to the offense. Mike McCarthy has already preached an increased run focus this offseason, but he’s still a West Coast guy at heart. If the passing game is humming like it was in early 2020, they’ll have a hard time moving away from it.
Remember, the 2021 Cowboys had 4,963 yards of passing offense in 16 games. The pie is big enough for this to happen; it will come down to distribution and three top receivers staying healthy enough to eat their share.
Of course, ultimately we don’t care if there’s a 1,000-yard trio so long as the Cowboys win games and perform well in the playoffs. It’s a trivia fact, but it’s a fun one nevertheless. And if it does happen, it means Dallas’ offense will have been relatively unstoppable this season. Pair that with another strong defensive year, and those postseason dreams become far more realistic.