One of the most intriguing battles in Cowboys training camp so far has been and will continue to be at wide receiver. Depending on how you choose to view things, the WR room has either six guys competing for two spots or seven guys fighting for three.
Just under two weeks of preseason work (including two games) remain. At the end of the journey, the Cowboys will likely have to part ways with a player they’d love to keep, a sign of the solid bottom-roster building.
The top of the food chain in this battle is etched in stone. Bank on it. Set your clock by it. Tattoo it on your forehead.
Amari Cooper (6’1”/210, age 25, 5th year)
Michael Gallup (6’1”/198, age 23, 2nd year)
Randall Cobb (5’10”/192, age 28, 9th year)
Not a lot to explain here. A Pro Bowl talent recently acquired for a 1st round pick (Cooper), an emerging contributor (Gallup), and a $5M free agent (Cobb) brought in specifically to replace the departed Cole Beasley. Barring injury, or some unforeseen scandal of epic proportions, those three guys are in the boat.
Tavon Austin (5’8”/192, age 29, 7th year)
Austin was no lock to make the team when training camp began, considering his injury history and very cuttable contract. To this point the injury bug has yet to bite, Austin has turned in a great camp, and the similar style players the Cowboys brought to the camp to compete with Austin (Jon`Vea Johson, Reggie Davis) haven’t done much to unseat him. Austin really just has a skill set that is unlike anyone else’s on the roster. His uniqueness gets him on the team. Ultra quick/fast, adept at the jet sweep, orbit motion stuff the Cowboys like to use. Excellent return man, and can even work out of the backfield in a pinch. Tavon Austin is in the boat.
Devin Smith (6’1”/199, age 27, 4th year)
Often injured in his short career, Devin Smith is finally healthy and showing flashes of the talent that once made him the 37th overall selection in the draft. Smith has come on of late as one of the stars of camp and is the Cowboys’ leading pass catcher (6 rec, 78 yard, 1 TD) through two preseason contests. Smith has impressed with his ability to get open deep, something that seems to be a point of emphasis under new offensive coordinator Kellen Moore. In the absence of the hobbling Amari Cooper, Smith has been taking reps with the first unit, and it appears a roster spot is his to lose. Smith’s only detractor might be his age, but for a team that is primed to win now, the Cowboys may just go with the best player without projecting too far down the road.
Cedrick Wilson (6’2”/200, age 24, 2nd year)
A 2018 6th round selection for the Cowboys, Wilson spent the entire 2018 season on injured reserve. Save for a concussion protocol setback, Wilson is now healthy and putting together a solid camp. Of the men battling for a WR spot, Wilson is probably the most well-rounded, pure receiver of the bunch. However, down-roster wideouts typically need to contribute on special teams. Wilson did return punts at Boise State, but it’s unclear if he is an NFL caliber return man. What he may or may not offer on a coverage unit is still a mystery as well.
Running Out of Chances
Reggie Davis (6’0”/170, age 23, 1st year)
Seemingly brought in as direct competition for Tavon Austin, Davis needed to come up big as a WR and punt returner. He has done neither to this point, including an ugly muffed punt vs Los Angeles. Reggie Davis needs a miraculous couple of weeks to make the team.
Jalen Guyton (6’1”/212, age 22, Rookie)
Guyton has had his moments but hasn’t done enough to get himself into the conversation for a roster spot. A pretty impressive size/speed combination, Guyton is a guy that the Cowboys would probably like a year or two to develop on the practice squad.
Jon’Vea Johnson (6’0”/192, age 23, Rookie)
Two weeks ago he was in the boat! Johnson was routinely making big plays down the field in practice and looked to be one of the frontrunners to make the club. Unfortunately, when the live ammo started ricocheting around the stadium, Johnson shrunk in the moment a la Lance Lenoir. A handful of drops in-game situations have really put Johnson behind the 8 ball. There is still time, but he needs to come up big.
Noah Brown (6’2”225, age 23, 3rd year)
Brown has spent the entire camp on the PUP (Physically Unable to Perform) list. Brown does not have a 2019 training camp to impress coaches, but he does have two seasons in the organization, and actual NFL game experience. Brown possesses a skillset and body type unlike any other pass catcher on the roster. Somewhat of a WR/TE hybrid, Brown might be the only guy of this group who can confidently be called upon to seal an edge in the run game or do the dirty underneath work as a pass-catcher. Kellen Moore might have a creative plan for the unique 3rd-year wideout, but will familiarity be enough to keep Brown around?
Two preseason games remain for the Cowboys, but the August 29th finale vs the Tampa Bay Buccaneers looms large in this competition. With quarterback Mike White all but proving himself unworthy of playing time, these receivers could possibly get a whole 4 quarters of Cooper Rush and a passable offensive line unit to prove themselves.
The mention of Mike White introduces another scenario. The Cowboys almost certainly cannot justify retaining Mike White on the 53 man roster considering what he has put on tape. If the team opts not to bring in a veteran at the QB position and just rolls with Dak Prescott and Cooper Rush, what is to be done with the extra roster spot? The Cowboys have shown in recent seasons that they almost always designate 25 roster spots to the offense, 25 to defense, and 3 to special teams. If the Cowboys don’t opt to retain extra offensive linemen, would they consider keeping a 7th wide receiver on the final 53?
With just under 2 weeks remaining until the ominous Sept. 2nd roster cutdown date, it should be a lot of fun to watch the Dallas wide receiver room battle it out for the remaining spots.