The Dallas Cowboys will have a major advantage if they’re willing to move their receivers around
When the Dallas Cowboys selected CeeDee Lamb with their top pick in the 2020 draft it offered up a mountain of possibilities. Lamb was widely regarded as the top WR in this receiver-rich draft. His prospect grades forecast him as a future Pro Bowler and his advanced skill set indicated it won’t take long to reach that elite status.
He joins an already talented receiving corps in Dallas that features Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup. Cooper is a proven No. 1 WR and Gallup is on the cusp. With three legit star receivers capable of playing all three spots (X, Z, and slot), the Dallas Cowboys are in a unique position heading into the season: they can play them interchangeably in order to exploit match-ups.
Oftentimes teams are limited as to how much they can move their receivers around. X, Z, and Y all demand different skill sets and finding players capable of playing all three is a rarity. The fact that the Dallas Cowboys appear to have three elite WRs capable of playing anywhere could be a decided advantage for them going forward.
Now, moving a No. 1 WR inside to take snaps in the slot is nothing new in the NFL. Most of the top receivers in the league take a sizable portion of their snaps from the slot. Chris Godwin took 518 snaps inside, Michael Thomas took 252 snaps inside, DeAndre Hopkins and Tyreek Hill both took 342 snap inside, and Tyler Lockett took 719 inside. All of these WRs are bona fide No. 1s and all were used inside to exploit match-ups.
Up until now the Dallas Cowboys have been laggards in this trend, only deploying Copper inside for 159 snaps and Gallup for 96 snaps. But they may be changing in 2020…
With a new head coach on board, things appear to be changing in Cowboys Land. Tapping into Kellen Moore’s creativity, all while embracing NFL analytics and trends, Mike McCarthy has the blueprint he needs to create match-ups. As long as he’s willing to move his receivers around he can get just about any match-up he wants since most CBs don’t shadow receivers these days.
CeeDee Lamb will still likely be the primary slot receiver in Dallas in Year 1. The inside position offers the biggest advantage since it allows the receiver to break in any direction and often goes against a lesser skilled coverage player than if he lined up on the outside.
Lamb was pretty successful inside last season at Oklahoma. He caught 25 balls from the slot for a whopping 6.11 yards per route run (best in college). So while he lined up outside most of the time, he’s no stranger to the inside and has a track record of making some major damage from the slot position.
With all of that said, Lamb is more than capable of playing outside at either spot. He has the size, physicality, and nuance needed to make an impact on the boundary. Such a move would give Amari Cooper a chance to move inside more often than before. Since the day he was acquired I actively lobbied for Coop to get as many snaps inside as possible. His size, quickness, and route-running ability make him an unstoppable weapon inside.
The Dallas Cowboys used 11 personnel 67 percent of the time last season (12th in the NFL) and figure to increase that percentage significantly in 2020. Three interchangeable receivers is a walking cheat code and the Cowboys seem more than willing to use it.
One key advantage the Dallas Cowboys have this season is the ability to move all three of their receivers around to exploit match-ups.