Who Takes Over At Slot Receiver?

FRISCO, Texas – The major moves are done, for the most part.

Sure, talent acquisition is 365 days a year, as the Cowboys’ front office likes to say. But with the 2022 NFL Draft in the rearview mirror, the roster that’s about to work through OTAs is the one that will open the season in September, with perhaps one or two exceptions.

That’s an interesting thought, because there are several roles within this team that don’t look settled – at least not yet.

Today, we’ll take a look at the slot receiver position.

What’s The Issue: As the NFL has shifted to a more pass-centric style, the three-receiver set featuring a slot receiver has become commonplace around the league. The Cowboys are no different. They played 811 snaps in 11 personnel last season, sixth most in the league and 67% of their total offensive snaps, according to Sharp Football.

The grouping mostly featured Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb and either Michael Gallup when healthy (he missed nine games with injuries) or super-sub Cedrick Wilson. That dynamic must change this season. Cooper’s now in Cleveland, Wilson’s now in Miami and Gallup (February ACL surgery) might not be ready for the start of the season.

Who Can Fix It: Here’s how the Cowboys dispersed the slot snaps among its regular receiver rotation last year, according to Pro Football Focus:

  • Wilson: 500
  • Lamb: 320
  • Cooper: 279
  • Noah Brown: 57
  • Gallup: 36 (in seven starts)

With Lamb expected to move into Cooper’s flanker spot, and Cooper and Wilson no longer on the roster, there’s clearly an opening for slot snaps when the Cowboys go three wide. Gallup, who signed a new five-year contract in March, has mostly been an outside receiver but did get some work in the slot during training camp. Brown hasn’t played much there, either. Last year’s fifth-round pick, Simi Fehoko, played some slot at Stanford and will compete for a roster spot again after playing only seven snaps on offense as a rookie.

It’s quite possible that the role will get filled, at least partially, by someone new to the roster.

Outside Considerations: This spring the Cowboys have signed James Washington, who hit free agency after four years with the Steelers, and drafted Jalen Tolbert in the third round out of South Alabama.

Dallas could look for additional receiver depth in post-draft free agency, but the more likely route might be to see how the current group develops in offseason practices and training camp.

Best Guess: Tolbert will be someone to watch as the offseason progresses. Primarily an outside receiver early in his college career, he lined up all over the formation last year as South Alabama offensive coordinator Major Applewhite installed more of a pro-style system. And the Cowboys are confident that Tolbert has the skill set and the approach to help the passing game right away.

“I think that’s something that Coach (Mike) McCarthy loves about my game is that my versatility showed up on tape,” Tolbert said.

It’s also worth noting that McCarthy wants every receiver to know all three positions so the offense can exploit matchups and make adjustments in the event of injury. Like last year, multiple players – even Washington, who played more outside with the Steelers — could move into the slot depending on the situation.

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