(Football season is finally approaching. After a long offseason, the Cowboys are set to depart for training camp on July 25. During this final month before they begin practice in Oxnard, Calif., the staff of DallasCowboys.com is going to preview the 20 biggest questions facing the Cowboys heading into 2019.)
FRISCO, Texas – Everything changed for the Cowboys’ wide receivers – and really, the entire offense – when Amari Cooper arrived via trade from Oakland last October.
Cooper gave quarterback Dak Prescott a sure-fire No. 1 option in the passing game. He helped settle a crowded rotation. The Cowboys won seven of their final eight games to win the NFC East.
This year, Randall Cobb’s arrival helps offset Cole Beasley’s free-agent departure to Buffalo. Cooper’s back, coming off a Pro Bowl appearance. But what about the rest of the group?
The Cowboys currently have 12 receivers set to go to training camp, a talented mix of established veterans and young players. Usually the team keeps anywhere from five to seven on the initial 53-man roster. It’s among the most competitive groups they’ve got.
So, how will this wide receiver rotation shake out? That’s the next installment in our 20 Questions series.
Mickey Spagnola: Can assure you how half of this depth chart will shake out. No. 1 Amari Cooper. No. 2 Michael Gallup. No. 2A Randall Cobb as the highly versatile slot receiver. After that, TBD. Right? The candidates are many, and this will be like one of those All-Comers track meets, maybe in more ways than one with the amount of speed the Cowboys have collected. If Allen Hurns proves fully recovered from his gruesome ankle injury in the Seattle playoff game, just being a veteran will give him a leg up on one of the possible three remaining vacant receiver roster spots. After that, may the best man win – maybe the fastest – between Tavon Austin, Lance Lenoir Jr., Noah Brown, Cedrick Wilson, Devin Smith, Reggie Davis and rookie free agents Jon’Vea Johnson and Jalen Guyton. The majority of these guys can scoot. Now it’s who can make plays, and certainly Johnson turned some heads this offseason. But let’s see what happens when the pads come on. And who can contribute on special teams, often the determining factor for the fifth and a possible sixth receiver on the 53. Whatever you do, don’t sell those rookies short.
Bryan Broaddus: The great thing about training camp is that players will find a way to either make the squad or cut themselves. The talented and mentally tough will survive while the others will look for a place to hide. Training camp is tough on receivers due to how much they have to run during practice, and unless you’ve gone through that along with the amount of pressure there is to perform at a high level, it makes it difficult. I see three locks for spots barring an injury: Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup and Randall Cobb. The rest will be in a fight for two or three spots. It’s a good mix of veterans and rookies all with different skill sets, which will give the staff an opportunity to sort out the best fits for their scheme. How this all will shake out is anyone’s guess, but I promise you that the other two or three that are on the roster will have earned it.
Nick Eatman: Oddly enough, I think the wide receiver position starts at the running back spot. If you can tell me what kind of role Tony Pollard is going to have on this team, then I think I can start to answer the receiver position. I say that because of Tavon Austin. To me, the Cowboys drafted Pollard to do the things they hoped Austin would provide last year. If Pollard is the slot receiver/jet sweep runner/screen pass/occasional deep ball player they are counting on, then I don’t know if Austin will have a spot. And then that opens the door for other receivers, particularly the speedy ones such as Reggie Davis, Devin Smith and perhaps Jon’Vea Johnson. I think one of those three guys finds a way to make the team if Austin doesn’t. I also link both Noah Brown and Jalen Guyton in a similar role, with only one of them likely making it. Obviously, lots can change between now and the start of the season, but if I had to make a prediction now … give me Cooper, Cobb, Gallup, Hurns, Brown and Johnson, with Davis or Smith on the practice squad.
Rob Phillips: Mickey makes a good point about this group’s best skill. As wide receivers coach Sanjay Lal told us, “There’s speed all over the place.” Lal has been in the league over a decade and this is among the most competition he’s had. Michael Gallup is my pick for a breakout season playing alongside Amari Cooper. He got better and better down the stretch last season and played his best game against the Rams in the playoffs. Cobb can give this team a real run-after-catch threat from the slot. Let’s say for argument’s sake there are three open spots left. I usually give the nod to veterans like Allen Hurns and Tavon Austin. Provided Hurns continues to make a strong recovery from last year’s ankle injury, he’s such a steady player who can line up at any receiver spot. Watch out for Jon’Vea Johnson. He’s an outstanding athlete and he carries himself like a player who expects to be here. Had a very impressive offseason with the team after the draft.