The Dallas Cowboys had one of the best offenses in the NFL last season, finishing first in total yards and points scored. Soaring to the top of the offensive leaderboard was spurred by quarterback Dak Prescott's return after a gruesome ankle injury ended his 2020 season.
Prescott helped turn around a passing game that churned out 282.4 yards a game, ranking second in the league. For a unit that likes to run the ball more than most teams, that's an impressive feat by the Cowboys.
It also helped that Dallas had one of the best receiving groups in the game. Wide receivers Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb and Michael Gallup were meant to be an elite trio, but Gallup's injuries paved the way for a bigger role from Cedrick Wilson, who cashed in with a career year. Add in Dalton Schultz's stellar season at tight end and it's easy to see why the offense was so successful through the air.
Much of that has changed heading into the new season. Cooper, who commanded the constant attention of defenses, is gone, as is Wilson. Lamb is now the the No. 1 WR in Dallas, but Gallup suffered a torn ACL injury in December and his status for the first part of the season is unknown. No Cooper or Gallup, at least for the early part of the schedule, means the offense is missing two 1,000-yard-capable receivers.
That leaves just Lamb and Schultz as familiar options in the passing game. The Cowboys need players to step up until Gallup is ready to return to full capacity, which might be later than his return to the field of play. Here are some of the options that could be a big part of the aerial attack early on in the season.
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The Cowboys drafted Jalen Tolbert in the third round, but a receiver coming from South Alabama and making an impact as a rookie early on could be too much to ask. Prior Washington to be one of the go-to guys in the passing game.
Washington had four marginal seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers, but he's got the ability to have an impact. In his best year with the Steelers, Washington had 44 catches for 735 yards and three scores, so he's capable of answering the bell.
Like Gallup, Washington makes the most of his opportunities downfield. Gallup has averaged 15 yards a catch throughout his career and Washington has averaged 14.3 yards per reception. Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has some trouble getting the ball down the field in recent years, something that isn't an issue with Prescott, making Washington a wideout who can take over for some of what Gallup did for the Cowboys' offense. Washington might the answer early as the home run threat in Dallas.
However, it hasn't been a good start for Washington on Dallas, he's been seen with a walking boot in OTAs, so he hasn't been able to get work in yet because of a foot injury. There's time to get healthy and in-sync with Prescott, if that happens, we could see a productive receiver capable of helping ease the loss of Gallup early.
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The Cowboys need to fill the void of Gallup, but it doesn't necessarily need to come from a receiver. As a running back Pollard can be an answer and could be getting more looks in the passing game. Coming out of college Pollard was used more as a receiver than a runner, something that might make his inclusion in the passing game a no-brainer.
During his three years at Memphis, Pollard caught 104 passes for 1,292 yards and nine scores, so he's used to being involved as a receiver. The Cowboys haven't used him as much out of the backfield in the NFL, but it does seem like they are warming to the idea of utilizing him in that role this season.
Without being targeted much as a receiver in Dallas, Pollard does have 82 receptions and two touchdowns in three seasons. Those are numbers that could be in for a substantial boost without Gallup, especially early in the year.
Even when Gallup returns, Pollard should be getting more looks as a receiver. He remains one of the best weapons on the Cowboys and needs to be a bigger part of the offense.
(AP Photo/Michael Ainsworth)
The Cowboys drafted Fehoko in the fifth-round in the 2021 draft, but he never caught a pass as a rookie. Heading into his second year, there are higher hopes for a contribution in the passing game.
Fehoko has been putting in work with Prescott this offseason and it's paying off with first team reps in OTAs. That might be a circumstance of injuries right now, but it can only help Fehoko to get into a rhythm. Fehoko getting extra practice time with the starters will only enhance his chances of making an impact.
The biggest role Fehoko might have with Gallup out is as a red-zone threat. Listed at 6-foot-4, Fehoko has the size to outjump defenders, which could be useful when the field shrinks near the goal line. The Cowboys had trouble with their efficiency last season and Fehoko can help.