CeeDee Lamb has earned the throne, but question marks dominate the WR depth chart in Dallas going forward — ones that must be answered if they're to take the next postseason step
FRISCO, TX — Amari Cooper isn't running out of the tunnel in 2023 for the Dallas Cowboys, as he didn't in 2022, either, his trade creating a void that beside CeeDee Lamb that still exists as the offseason calendar gets underway.
Lamb stumbled a bit in his ascension to WR1 before going on an absolute tear — earning another Pro Bowl nod in the process. But while things were going swimmingly for Lamb, production remained uneven in the spots behind him on the WR depth chart.
And, as such, there are questions to be answered over the next several months.
It feels like it was just yesterday when the Cowboys decided to move on from Dez Bryant and opt for a WR-by-committee approach, headlined by Cole Beasley, Terrance Williams and Deonte Thompson (with Ryan Switzer, Allen Hurns, Cedrick Wilson, Noah Brown, Lance Lenoir and K.D. Cannon providing rotational depth).
That experiment ultimately led Dallas to pivot away from it and send a first-round pick to the Oakland/Las Vegas Raiders in exchange for Amari Cooper in 2018; going on to earn two additional Pro Bowl nods (four total in his career) in Dallas. Months before the trade, however, the Cowboys acquired Michael Gallup in the third round of the 2018 NFL Draft.
They added Randall Cobb in 2019, but that stay was short-lived and preceded the acquisition of Lamb in the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft, the superstar receiver having unexpectedly fallen to 17th-overall; and the trio of Cooper, Lamb and Gallup was off to the races.
With Cooper now gone, however, the onus would be on Lamb to step into the role of WR1 and he's done exactly that. The two-time Pro Bowler amassed career bests in both receiving yards (1,359) and touchdowns (9), and he did it despite Dak Prescott being absent five games with a fractured thumb.
The pressure wasn't exclusive to Lamb in 2022, though, because Gallup was also expected to return to form once healthy from a torn ACL suffered in December 2021. But while the former 1,000-yard receiver flashed signs of his greatness from time to time, he never regained a consistent stride on a week-to-week basis (lack of targeting impacted this as well).
Brown began the year on fire thanks to his chemistry with Cooper Rush, but cooled noticeably once Prescott returned, though the two did have shining moments that are, unfortunately, overshadowed by ones that ended poorly (e.g., Jacksonville).
Without Wilson on the roster to stabilize things at WR3/4, a mostly inactive rookie third-round pick in Jalen Tolbert still learning the ropes, Simi Fehoko on injured reserve and James Washington finally returning from injury only to be waived shortly thereafter, it took the addition of T.Y. Hilton to become the cool hand opposite Lamb at the most critical part of the season.
Tolbert and Fehoko will get every shot this offseason, along with Dennis Houston, Antonio Callaway and Dontario Drummond, to prove themselves worthy of making an impact for the Cowboys in 2023. That doesn't mean the club shouldn't address the position with free agency capital, a draft pick or both, though.
Brown and Hilton are both set to become unrestricted free agents, and then there's the elephant in the room, namely Odell Beckham, Jr., who had an extensive visit with the Cowboys in December before the two failed to come to terms on an agreement. Beckham will presumably be healthy this offseason following a second torn ACL, so it makes sense to assume Dallas will again be in the mix for his services (feel free to try and retain Hilton).
Other looming WR free agents include JuJu Smith-Schuster, Jakobi Meyers, Darius Slayton and D.J. Chark — all worthy of discussion at a position of need in Dallas.
It's chandelier-clear that Lamb has ascended and you can bet Gallup having an entire healthy offseason to get back to prime form will see him level up over a rollercoaster 2022 season. But how things look behind those two, when September rolls around, is anyone's guess.