The Dallas Cowboys entered training camp with concerns at the WR position. Not only did they send Amari Cooper packing in the offseason, but they lost Cedrick Wilson in free agency AND expect Michael Gallup to miss time as he recovers from offseason ACL surgery.
In all, the Dallas Cowboys are expected to start the season sans three of their top four receivers from last year. Which, in itself, isn’t an insurmountable hill to climb but those that succeed usually do so on the backs of proven veteran free agent additions and/or a highly drafted rookie. The Cowboys did neither.
The WR position just went from bad to worse and now the Dallas Cowboys have to find a way to adapt their offense.
What the Cowboys did was sign a fringe free agent receiver in James Washington and draft a third round receiver from South Alabama. Not exactly what call an even swap.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, the ugly situation just got worse when James Washington went down to a significant foot injury that could keep him out the next 10 weeks.
With a fully healthy roster, Washington looked like he was no higher than WR4 or even WR5 in the pecking order. But to start the season, he was expected to do some heavy lifting and help bridge the gap until Gallup could return. Now he’s out even longer than Gallup, making his role on the team darn near pointless.
The way things stand, the Cowboys top three WRs look like CeeDee Lamb, Jalen Tolbert, and Noah Brown. Not exactly a murders row of downfield playmaking. The depth challenging them is largely developmental, and while that does hold some hope by way of potential, it’s not something you want to bank on at any point this season.
Luckily the Dallas Cowboys have some workarounds that can help them survive being ultra thin in the WR ranks.
Solution 1: Run Heavy
The Dallas Cowboys could alter their identity to be a run-heavy team early in the season. This would reduce the number of possessions and keep games within reach. It could feature 11 personnel which uses their suspect WRs as blockers and decoys, or it could load up the box with heavy personnel and do things “the Cowboys way” like Jerry and Stephen have been clamoring for.
Is this wise? Not really. When you look at the defensive lines Dallas plays early, running the ball would play to many of the defenses strengths. This would have to be a match-up specific strategy.
Solution 2: 12 Personnel
Trotting out two tight ends (12 personnel) is a simple way to cover for WR losses without becoming one-dimensional. Dalton Schultz has proven to be a good pass-catcher in the middle of the field and on screens, so he can be leaned on more early in the season.
The second tight end position is a little more tricky. We aren’t sure what we have at TE2 yet. I’ll assume Jake Ferguson wins the spot based on the pre-draft prospect crush I had on him, but he’s a rookie and shouldn’t be expected to do too much as a Day 3 selection.
Solution 3: 21 Personnel
Jerry and Stephen alluded to this in Oxnard earlier but the idea of getting both Tony Pollard and Ezekiel Elliott on the field at the same time could help alleviate the loss at WR. Both have tremendous hands and Pollard has shown the ability to run routes and catch balls from the slot position.
Certainly not, as general rule, RBs running routes out of the slot position is not very fruitful method of attack (less EPA impact than WRs or TEs lining up in the slot), but hey, beggars can’t be choosers and I can think of worse things than giving TP the ball more often.
As you can see, none of this is ideal or a cure-all, but if used together and used strategically it could help cover the massive losses the Cowboys have at the WR position. One thing is clear, the next man up blueprint isn’t a responsible attitude to take when you go this deep into your depth chart – strategy needs to be applied.