ARLINGTON, Texas – What a difference a year makes, as they say.
Look at Taco Charlton, all of a sudden a legit NFL defensive end is breaking out.
Look at Maliek Collins, now healthy, a legitimate training camp MVP.
Look at Devin Smith, wasn’t even playing football last year.
Look at Kerry Hyder, played in just seven games last year after a torn Achilles robbed him of his 2017 season.
Look at Tony Pollard, a college kid at the University of Memphis where he was a specialty player then and now the Cowboys’ starting running back with Zeke withholding services.
And now look at . . . wait on it . . . wait on it . . . look at what a difference a year has made with the Cowboys’ entire wide receiver corps.
Talk about a makeover. This fixer upper might make Chip and Joanna envious.
This time last year, here were the wide receivers on the Cowboys’ season-opening roster:
Starter Terrance Williams.
Starter Deonte Thompson.
Nickel receiver Cole Beasley.
Rookie Michael Gallup.
And here were the other receivers on the roster throughout training camp, including Lance Lenoir, Noah Brown, K.D. Cannon, Marchie Murdock, Mekale McKay, Ricky Jeune, Noah Brown, Cedrick Wilson (IR) and Dres Anderson, with Brice Butler added to the 53-man roster for five games during the season. Why two of those guys, Jeune and Anderson, if you’re like me, you have no recollection of.
That was the “committee” the Cowboys boldly went forward with into the season, insisting the sum of the parts would be sufficient enough to make up for the loss of Dez Bryant.
Now then, let me give you my top six receivers most likely to be on this roster come Sept. 8 when the Cowboys meet the New York Giants in the season opener:
With the Cowboys retaining the rights to Noah Brown by placing him on PUP for at least the required first six weeks of the season.
Good gosh, not one season-opening starter from last season still here. Not one guy in the top three from last year still on the team. And one of those guys from last year’s initial top six, Austin, missed nine games last year.
So we’re looking at serious refurbishing of a position group. As you know, two of my current top three were not even here at the start of last year, Cooper playing the first seven games with the Raiders and Cobb spending his first eight seasons in the league with the Green Bay Packers.
Now Gallup did eventually move into the starting lineup for nine games his 2018 rookie season. But my other two who are making a serious run at this 53-man roster, Smith and Wilson, didn’t even play a single regular-season down of football last year, Wilson spending the entire season on injured reserve and Smith out of football, still rehabbing after tearing the same ACL for a second time in 2017.
Some reclamation project.
Look, Cooper still is nursing what’s been labeled an intrinsic muscle strain, but all indications are he’ll be ready to go come the season opener. And in just nine games last year after being traded to the Cowboys, the guy ended up in the Pro Bowl.
As for the others, just take what you saw Saturday night here at AT&T Stadium in the Cowboys’ 34-0 beatdown of the Houston Texans.
Gallup, in just three series of play, nearly had two touchdown receptions. The first was on a third-down Dak Prescott scramble from 12 yards out on a catch in tight quarters as he properly was working his way back towards the quarterback.
And he should have had another one a series later on a great catch and then balancing act while finishing his run into the end zone, only for the play to be called back for offensive holding.
“You know when Dak breaks out of the pocket you just try to find an open spot, so that’s what I did,” he said.
Great, but this is nothing new. This guy has been playing at a high level all training camp.
“He’s showing up in these games,” head coach Jason Garrett says, then finishes his assessment off with, “he’s getting better really every day and every week.”
Or as Prescott says, “A lot of good things are going to come from him.”
Then take Cobb. The crafty vet had a one catch for 10 yards, but he’s been quite noticeable this summer in camp and brings a different dimension to the slot receiver position. A bigger target. Can get down the field.
Austin had one catch for 22 yards. He can still run. And he can play out of the slot or outside.
Then the two newcomers who have impressed these past couple of weeks. Can’t imagine the Cowboys won’t keep Smith. He led the Cowboys Saturday night with six catches for 79 yards. This guy can still scoot. And he has really solid hands. There is a reason he was a second-round pick of the Jets in 2015 coming out of Ohio State. And as it stands, he is the Cowboys’ leading receiver after three preseason games, with 12 catches for 157 yards and one touchdown. Truth be known, he should have two TDs had quarterback Mike White not underthrown him against the Niners or not seen him wide open from the 4-yard line across the back of the end zone.
The other day when I asked Dak if Smith has got something, he said, “Oh yeah, he’s got something.”
And then Saturday night, he said, “All you’re seeing is a guy getting his confidence back . . .Devin is a great player.”
Then there is Wilson, shoulder surgery landing him on injured reserve right from the start of his rookie training camp last year. He too has been building momentum toward making the 53-man roster. He had three catches for 37 yards against the Texans, giving him six for 73 in the two games he’s played.
Plus, the Cowboys have been using him on punt returns, too, and he knocked off a good one here against the Texans, showing his speed on a 32-yarder.
Then, on top of all that, let’s not minimize the ability of Pollard to catch the ball out of the backfield, and even fullback Jamize Olawale. And if not for a ticky-tack block in the back on Jason Witten, when he just finished a guy off by pushing him away, Pollard would have been credited with a 24-yard gain to the 2 on a screen pass.
Not trying to get ahead of ourselves here. Granted, this still is preseason, just one more game to go, here Thursday night against Tampa Bay.
But come on, you gotta agree, a wide receiver upgrade is upon us.