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Football

The Cowboys Can’t Replace Amari Cooper, But the Draft Is Their Best Chance at Trying

Dallas can't find a plug-and-play top receiver, but they can find a quality starter in a deep draft class. Here's who could be on the list.
By Jeff Cavanaugh |
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Treylon Burks is one name the Cowboys could draft as Amari Cooper's replacement. Did we mention he plays for Jerry Jones' alma mater? Butch Dill-USA TODAY Sports

Amari Cooper’s trade to the Cleveland Browns and Michael Gallup’s contract extension means we now know what two-thirds of the Cowboys’ starting receiving corps looks like. CeeDee Lamb is coming off a 1,100-yard season while Gallup’s new deal means he’ll be looked upon to shoulder the majority of the load opposite Lamb even though he’s returning from a torn ACL. Then what?

If you want to dwell on why these decisions went down, I’d encourage you to give a read to this wonderful piece from my friend and cap wizard KD Drummond. Ultimately, it’s the realities of the salary cap that led to the Cowboys shedding Cooper for a fifth-round draft pick plus a swap of sixth-rounders. It’s also why they claimed to be priced out of bringing back Cedrick Wilson. Bringing in ex-Steeler James Washington on a one-year deal became a much more affordable—if far less exciting—alternative.

For the purposes of this article, though, I’m just going to focus on the “what now?” part of the equation. Because with respect to Washington and the re-signed Noah Brown, the Cowboys need a third starting wide receiver, and this deep into free agency, they’re most likely going to use a top-100 draft pick to get that accomplished versus finding one on the open market. Washington could start if need be, and his arrival is the sort of smart business decision teams make to ensure they’re not backed into picking a certain position at a certain spot in the draft (think Taco Charlton). But that’s hardly ideal.

Fortunately for Dallas, this draft class at wide receiver is a really good one for a team in need of a plug-and-play pass catcher. It’s not necessarily littered with guys that I think are going to be legitimate No. 1 receivers, a la Ja’Marr Chase in last year’s crop. But there are a whole lot of guys who can walk in and contribute as they develop into good NFL starters. These are my favorite possibilities and the round I believe the Cowboys would have to pick them:

First Round

Garrett Wilson, Ohio State

Wilson is my highest-graded wide receiver in this class but it’s very close between the top four guys. What I love about him is the Stefon Diggs-type vibes he gives off as a route runner. He’s an explosive mover both starting and stopping and is a natural at creating separation to give his QB an easy window to throw to. The explosive movements also help him after the catch.

Treylon Burks, Arkansas

Some are concerned about the 4.55 40 yard dash Burks ran at the combine or that his jumps in testing were average for an NFL athlete. I’m not. Burks made a ton of big plays for Arkansas and did it without the benefit of high-level quarterback play. He’s raw in terms of the route tree that he has run, but he’s a great fit in the modern NFL with his ability to make plays as a big body down the field and turn screens in to big gains with his awesome after-the-catch ability. And would anyone rule out Jerry Jones making a play for an Arkansas Razorback?

Jameson Williams, Alabama

Speed, speed, speed. Williams makes game-breaking plays running away from coverage on a weekly basis. He’s coming off a knee injury, but assuming a full recovery, he can threaten defenses in a way that none of the other guys listed here can. He’s a weapon with the ball in his hands on jet sweeps, he can win vertically and across the field, and that speed also allows him to be effective underneath.

Drake London, USC

London is a jumbo-size receiver with the footwork to create separation and get off press coverage. At 6-foot-5, he has a huge catch radius and moves much better and more smoothly than you would expect from a guy who is so big. An aggressive runner, he’s also tough to tackle once the ball is in his hands. 

Chris Olave, Ohio State

I wrote the word “smooth” in my notes for Olave no fewer than eight times because it really is the best word to describe him. He’s an outstanding route runner with great awareness of the space he has to work with and where he is on the sideline. He’s a technician that knows how to set up defensive backs to get where he wants to go. The big plays are there, too: he scored 13 touchdowns on 65 receptions last year.

Second Round

Skyy Moore, Western Michigan

To me, he actually belongs with the group above as first-round targets. That’s how big a fan of his that I am. He reminds me of Cooper Kupp as a route runner and after the catch. He’s not the best start-and-stop athlete but he’s able to be so shifty in his routes and change direction at speed that he can beat press coverage with ease and create easy windows to throw to for a quarterback. Those same traits are on display once he’s got the ball. While I think he he can play outside if you need him to, I’d just leave him in the slot and let him eat. 

George Pickens, Georgia

Pickens didn’t play much this year after injuring his knee in the spring, but he’s still got the juice that made him an immediate impact player in the SEC as a freshman. He’s a pretty thin 6-foot-3, but that also allows him to be a quick guy despite being a tall receiver. He’s effective at every level of the field with 4.47 speed, a big catch radius, and a decisiveness after the catch that lets him make the first defender miss on short routes. Pickens is an extremely fluid big wideout.

John Metchie III, Alabama

Jameson Williams gets the headlines with his deep speed, but Metchie was the one who often kept drives alive for the Crimson Tide. He’s an average NFL athlete but a clear student of the game with crisp route-running ability, sure hands, and toughness. Like his teammate, Metchie is coming off of a knee injury, but he is the sort of well-rounded player who will be a No. 2 receiver in the NFL for a decade. 

Jalen Tolbert, South Alabama

“Manipulator” is a word I used often while studying Tolbert. He has the ability change gears during routes that gets defensive backs unsure of what he’s running and leads to separation at all levels of the field. He makes a ton of plays down the field. His game is built on explosive movements and changing tempos.

Jahan Dotson, Penn State

The one guy in this group that I’m probably lower on than the consensus. He’s an explosive player who I think needs to stay in the slot. But when he gets a free release, he’ll find space, and his acceleration is key to getting open and making plays down the field. He’s also a good after-the-catch player who can pick apart a defense like a punt returner in the open field.

Third Round

Calvin Austin III, Memphis 

Austin is a slot-gadget type player at 5-foot-7, 170 pounds. But his 4.32 speed pops on tape, and if you don’t get your hands on him at the line of scrimmage, he’s going to make you look silly. He can take the top off the defense or create problems in the screen game or taking a handoff. 

Khalil Shakir, Boise State

The ball skills stand out when you watch Shakir. He’s another guy that you probably want to play in the slot and get him free releases because that’s when he’s at his most dangerous. He’s a fun watch, too, a player who made a ton of one-handed and acrobatic sideline catches in college.

Alec Pierce, Cincinnati 

Pierce is a 6-foot-3 receiver who can really run. When he is able to win off the line of scrimmage, he can separate deep and make plays on the ball. He’s got a good feel for where holes are in a zone, and he’s sure handed, too. His movements are kind of Mike Evans-ish, even if he’s not quite as big.

That’s a lot of names, which hopefully illustrates the depth of this draft class at receiver and shows that the Cowboys have plenty of options. And while none of them will replace Amari Cooper by becoming the Cowboys’ first receiving option as a rookie, that doesn’t mean the right one can’t combine with Lamb and Gallup to give Dallas a stellar receiving corps. 

I would also advise you to play detective if you want to narrow down this list. Each NFL team leading up to the draft can have up to 30 prospects visit their facility to get to know them better, and so far we know four of the ones coming to Dallas. Treylon Burks and Chris Olave are two of those, which tells you the Cowboys are absolutely interested in the receivers at the top of this class. NFL teams don’t spend these visits frivolously. If a name is on there, the team is either already interested, or they want additional background to get comfortable with him. 

Whichever direction Dallas goes, going into next season without Cooper won’t kill this team. It’s just going to give you another young receiver’s jersey to buy.

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