With organized team activities (OTAs) underway, let’s open up our weekly mailbag to answer reader questions. Will CeeDee Lamb reach his WR1 potential in Dallas? What can we expect from Zach Wilson in Year 2?
NFL news and rumors: What do you think of the Cowboys’ WR situation without Amari Cooper?
Despite the national narrative, I’m quite high on the Cowboys’ wideout situation. While they traded Amari Cooper away for the NFL equivalent of a small coffee at Tim Hortons, they did replace him with some solid talent.
I have been high on James Washington since he was a draft prospect and believed he could shine with a change of scenery after being underutilized by the Pittsburgh Steelers. I’m also quite fond of Noah Brown, who I think can step up while Michael Gallup works his way back from surgery.
Gallup, by the way, can be a special player if he fully recovers from his ACL tear. The Cowboys choosing him over Cooper made some eyes roll around the league, but the situation was really a matter of keeping Gallup and tight end Dalton Schultz on the franchise tag.
Given the way the Cowboys run their offense, Schultz shouldn’t be forgotten about in this situation, either. He produced 808 receiving yards and eight touchdowns last season and was effectively a movable chess piece for the offense.
And, no, I haven’t forgotten about CeeDee Lamb, who is very capable of being a No. 1 wideout. Evaluators were nervous about Lamb’s ability to separate from press coverage as a prospect, which is partially why he fell below expectations in the NFL draft. However, since arriving in Dallas, Lamb has killed that narrative and been a consistent playmaker, no matter where he’s lined up. Just because Lamb won’t play the traditional “X” position on every play doesn’t mean he’s not a top-flight wideout.
Last but not least, I do think Jalen Tolbert will make some sort of contribution this season. Remember, Gallup might not be ready for the first part of the season, and Washington is dealing with his own minor woes during the offseason program. Tolbert, along with Brown and undrafted wideout Dontario Drummond, could get a lot of opportunities to make plays early in the season.
Which rookie head coaches do you think will have the worst and best seasons in 2022?
This is a great question. Given the rookie head coach moniker, that means that Doug Pederson of the Jacksonville Jaguars, Lovie Smith of the Houston Texans, Josh McDaniels of the Las Vegas Raiders, Dennis Allen of the New Orleans Saints, and Todd Bowles of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are excluded, as they all have former head coaching tenures under their belts.
That leaves the competitors as Brian Daboll of the New York Giants, Nathaniel Hackett of the Denver Broncos, Matt Eberflus of the Chicago Bears, Kevin O’Connell of the Minnesota Vikings, and Mike McDaniel of the Miami Dolphins.
The rookie head coach with the best setup is easily Hackett. While his team plays in the warzone that is the AFC West, Hackett has Russell Wilson at QB and a plethora of weapons to put around him.
The Broncos’ defense, while undergoing some notable reconstruction, is also pretty talented. Hackett, who I covered in Jacksonville when he was the OC, is a dynamic thinker, a sharp planner, and a phenomenal leader with an exceptional emotional IQ. If anyone can make a quick climb up the win column as a rookie coach, it’s probably him.
To me, McDaniel and the Dolphins are the only other group that has a shot at a playoff berth, and those results will largely hang on the shoulders of QB Tua Tagovailoa. I could see both the Broncos and Dolphins finishing with 10 or 11 wins, but Hackett’s turnaround would be “better” based on Denver’s 7-10 record in 2021.
For the worst record, I think Eberflus is doomed to have that outcome. By design, the Bears have easily one of the worst rosters in recent memory. The salary cap and depth chart were left in shambles, and Eberflus and GM Ryan Poles were asked to pick up the pieces. So, they smartly took their medicine this season in order to regain some monumental offseason footing next year.
The Bears know this is going to be a multiple-year rebuild, and their success will ebb and flow with Justin Fields, who was picked by the previous regime. Look for the Bears to have a solid defense with a band of young talent in place, but the offense will be a work in progress, to be nice. Eberflus’ win total will probably hover between three and five this season.
While Daboll’s roster is similarly bleak in the Meadowlands, the Giants have a better defense and playmakers, on paper, than Chicago. The Giants should be a six-win squad this year.
Are you buying or selling that Zach Wilson will make enough improvement for the Jets to be a more competitive team this season?
I got a close look at Wilson on Wednesday during OTAs at the team’s facility, and I came away with a shoulder shrug of sorts. Wilson got off to a rough start in team drills as his first four passes were as follows: a throw behind Corey Davis, a throw that hovered over everyone, a clear throwaway after being flushed out of the pocket, and another bad misfire.
That said, Wilson rebounded in his second round of 11-on-11 plays, making a trio of nice throws over the middle of the field. He also had some positive moments in the 7-on-7 period, as he continued to target wideouts near the sideline and commit to his chemistry with wideout Elijah Moore. He also had a nice touchdown pass in red-zone 7-on-7 to Ty Johnson.
Wilson only completed 55.6% of his passes last season and had a 9-to-11 touchdown-to-interception ratio as a rookie. Both of those stats are concerning, but Wilson seems to be a lot more confident this year. He wasn’t facing contact or really anything notable during the OTA workout, but he clearly looked the part in the huddle. He also kept his eyes down the field and flashed his trademark athleticism. That said, it was one workout out of 10.
Wilson isn’t at the point where he can raise the performances of others, and I think ultimately, that’s where the Jets want and need him to be.
Still, GM Joe Douglas has done a phenomenal job this offseason with aiding Wilson’s development. The selections of Garrett Wilson and Breece Hall were among the best picks from the first two days of the draft, and both of those weapons should make Wilson and the offense better. The continued growth of Moore and running back Michael Carter, to complement Wilson and Hall, should also help the young QB.
Most importantly, though, the Jets have improved their offensive line with the arrival of Laken Tomlinson, who will team with veteran center Connor McGovern and ascending guard Alijah Vera-Tucker on the inside of the line. Mekhi Becton is a year older, and hopefully, he has matured. George Fant has been a steady presence at either tackle spot during his time with the team.
Overall, the recipe is there for Wilson to make a major jump. That said, I think he’s still a massive projection at this point, especially in June of Year 2.
Jets fans, like Dolphins fans last season, should have tempered expectations for their young QB. Wilson has always been a boom-or-bust projection, and the Jets have set him up to potentially pop if he can hit the next gear in his development.