Jalen Tolbert was hardly one of the stars in the Dallas Cowboys’ Week 2 beatdown of the New York Jets. But despite low numbers overall, the second-year receiver made a meaningful contribution that hopefully forecasts bigger and better things to come.
After only being targeted once for no catches in the season opener, Tolbert finally got on the board with three catches for 18 yards last Sunday. With Brandin Cooks inactive from a knee injury, Tolbert got an increased offensive share as the second-most targeted wide receiver after CeeDee Lamb.
With the Cowboys passing game flowing easily through Lamb, plus a run-focused attack once Dallas established a comfortable lead, there wasn’t much work to be had for the receivers. But it’s noteworthy that Tolbert, not Michael Gallup, saw the uptick in opportunities and production in Cooks’ absence. Gallup was only targeted twice against the Jets and had one three-yard catch.
Without a high-volume passing attack so far this year, it’s been hard for any Cowboys wideouts to shine outside of Lamb. But what made Tolbert’s performance impressive was more the timing and quality of the catches, not what shows up in the box score.
With Dallas only up 7-0 in the second quarter, Dak Prescott kept going to Tolbert on a scoring drive. Two second-down catches helped set up easy 3rd-and-short conversions, and later he found Tolbert for a 7-yard first-down. In a methodical 14-play drive, Tolbert was one of Prescott’s favorite targets.
On his catches, Tolbert showed the ability to power through contact, adapt when Prescott was scrambling, and adjust to a low-thrown ball. He gained tough yards against a strong Jets defense at a point when New York was still very much competing.
Again, the game soon got out of hand and the receiving opportunities dwindled. But even without getting another catch, Tolbert helped later by drawing a pass interference call in the endzone that led to Prescott’s touchdown pass to TE Luke Schoonmaker just before halftime.
After no-showing as a rookie, Tolbert entered 2023 just trying to prove he could contribute. The Cowboys sorely missed Cedrick Wilson last year as reliable WR depth and Tolbert appears to be filling that void now.
Future games are going to give all of these receivers more to work with than the last two. Even with Cooks probably returning to action this Sunday in Arizona, Tolbert stands to get more targets when some opponents force the Cowboys to open up the offense. And with 15 games to go, this likely won’t be the last time has has to step in for one of the top three.
But even with the small sample we saw against the Jets, Jalen Tolbert showed why he’s on this team and a primary backup. The skills that made him a third-round pick in 2022 were on display, and it appears he’s put the rookie issues completely behind him. It’s a positive sign, because the Cowboys will almost assuredly need more from him over the course of a long season.