The Dallas Cowboys have arguably the best receiving corps in the NFL, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to do. If the Cowboys want to stabilize the most important unit on their roster, they’re going to need some mid-round investments.
Luckily for them they are positioned nicely to address it and may only be one mid-to-late round draft pick away from stabilizing their pass-catching group for the long-term.
2021 is the perfect time for the Dallas Cowboys to draft a slot receiver
It’s not that this 2021 Draft class is abnormally deep at the slot position, but rather that the Dallas Cowboys are perfectly situated to add one. Even though the roster has Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb, and Michael Gallup populating the top WR ranks, there seems to be an upcoming vacancy at the slot position inside.
Gallup, on the last year of his deal, is expected to depart next offseason. He’s a legit starting outside receiver who is going to garner a lot of interest on the market – especially if he breaks out like we expect him to in 2021.
And I think everyone agrees, Lamb, the returning slot WR, is a prototypical outside receiver. He’s great inside, of course (as most good route running receivers are), but using him inside is almost like feeding your dog prime rib. A much less “special” option would do just fine. Because of this, it’s fair to assume Lamb will be moving outside as soon as Gallup departs, if not sooner.
As I just alluded to, the slot position itself is an easier position to fill than the outside posts. Since he’s not pushed against the sideline like the X and Z receiver, the slot WR is afforded a duel release and generally just has more room to work with on the field. As such he’s much harder to cover and has a much easier time creating separation.
Finding someone to work the slot is considerably easier than finding a starter on the outside. It doesn’t require a top-75 pick to find a high impact difference maker at slot. And oftentimes, the slot receiver can make all the difference.
According to a 2019 article from PFF, players lining up in the slot accounted for 32% of all targets, 32% of all receiving yardage and over 34% of all receiving touchdowns in the regular and postseason. In a league that uses 3WR sets more often than any other personnel package, the slot receiver is often the highest earner in EPA (expected points added) and therefore the highest producing option on the team.
Note: Cole Beasley was Dallas top EPA weapon before he left to Buffalo. If your slot receiver isn’t, you’re probably using him wrong.
Of Pro Football Focus’ top 10 graded slot receivers last season (WRs who took majority of their snaps inside) none were drafted in the first round. Six were drafted somewhere on Day 2 while four were drafted on Day 3 or undrafted altogether (see also: Cole Beasley and Jakobi Meyers).
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The Dallas Cowboys could very well choose to address the inside “slot” with their first pick in the Draft. Owning the No. 10 pick, they are likely to see one of the top-3 WR draft prospects or TE Kyle Pitts. Pitts, who is an elite pass-catcher and has taken 36% of his snaps from the slot or spread out wide, translates as a “big slot” in this discussion.
But if the Cowboys opt to go defense early and often, they could just as easily find their slot of the future in the later rounds of the draft. Given their stable of pass-catching talent (to include Cedrick Wilson, Blake Jarwin and Dalton Schultz), they have an entire year to groom their slot receiver before they need him in 2022. And if they have a player ready to slide into that top-3 spot right away, it could make their decision easier regarding Michael Gallup.
It’s a good time to be looking for a slot receiver if you’re the Dallas Cowboys. Late-round solutions exists and the Cowboy have a year to develop them