Entering the 2021 NFL season, few teams present more high-level fantasy football options than the Dallas Cowboys. This can also be an issue, as the lack of a significant skill gap amongst the receivers can confound which wide receiver to target on draft day. On what should be a high-powered offense, which Cowboys wide receiver should you target in 2021 fantasy football drafts?
2020 was a tale of two seasons for the Dallas Cowboys receivers in fantasy
In the first few weeks, ask any manager how they felt about their chances if they rostered a Cowboys wide receiver in fantasy. Then ask them again around Week 8 when they relied on Ben DiNucci rather than Dak Prescott. It’s safe to say their expectations had slightly changed by this point in the year.
No team was hotter than the Cowboys to start the season, and their playmakers on the perimeter benefited from this more than anyone. Thanks to Prescott playing at an MVP level and a porous defense that caused each game to be a shootout, the Cowboys turned to Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb, and Michael Gallup to score the points.
With Prescott under center, the Cowboys’ triumvirate were must-starts through Week 5. Cooper led the trio as the WR8 in PPR. Averaging 17.8 points per game, Cooper caught 39 of his 55 targets for 424 yards and a touchdown. If we just went to Week 4 and removed the game where Prescott played only a half, Cooper was the WR1 in fantasy at 21.3 ppg.
Lamb was a not-so-distant second and arguably more impressive — it was the first five games of his career. He was the WR11 (17.1 ppg) on 29 receptions (49 targets) for 433 yards and 2 touchdowns. While behind Cooper in points, he led him in fantasy points per target at 2.14 to Cooper’s 1.62.
In third, Gallup was a respectable WR33 (11.6 ppg and 2.06 pts/tgt) on 17 receptions (28 targets) for 348 yards and a touchdown.
Following Prescott’s injury, all three receivers saw their hot starts come to a halt
It should surprise no one that, when you go from Prescott to the combination of Andy Dalton, Garrett Gilbert, and DiNucci, it would result in a rather stagnant offense.
From Week 6 on, Cooper was the WR22, averaging 13.4 ppg (-24.8%), Lamb was the WR35, averaging 12 ppg (-30%), and Gallup was WR42 with 10.5 ppg (-9%).
Cooper recorded 53 receptions on 75 targets for 660 yards and 4 touchdowns. Of his 236.8 total points (WR15), 38% came in their first five games. Meanwhile, Lamb caught 45 of 71 targets for 502 yards and 3 touchdowns. Of his 217.7 PPR (WR22), 46% came while Prescott was under center. From Weeks 6 through 17, Gallup hauled in 42 of 77 targets for 495 yards and 4 touchdowns. Of his 173.3 PPR (WR38), 41% came in the first five games.
You can’t help but wonder what could have been. They were firing on all cylinders, averaging 32.6 ppg and 381.4 passing yards per game under Prescott to just 21.1 and 204.9 under Dalton, DiNucci, and Gilbert.
Luckily for fantasy, Prescott is back from his ankle injury, and all three Cowboys wide receivers should pick back up where they left off last season. But what is their value, and which one should you target in upcoming drafts?
Which Cowboys wide receiver should you target in fantasy football in 2021?
While all three receivers will be valuable fantasy assets in 2021, there is a clear separation of value and upside.
Cooper and Lamb both present WR1 upside for fantasy managers
There were concerns last season the addition of Lamb would muddy the waters and take away from the other receivers’ opportunities. After all, it is challenging to sustain three receivers in fantasy with adequate opportunities. However, those thoughts were quickly deemed unfounded. Even with Dalton Schultz and Ezekiel Elliott combining for 160 targets, there were more than enough targets to go around.
The Cowboys were one of just two teams who had three receivers each record over 100 targets. The other being the Pittsburgh Steelers with Diontae Johnson (144), JuJu Smith-Schuster (128), and Chase Claypool (109). Carolina barely missed out as Curtis Samuel ended the season with 97 targets.
If we expect Dallas to return to their aggressive passing attack (61.4% and 639 attempts), then both Cooper and Lamb bring WR1 upside. Cooper is currently going ahead of Lamb in ADP, primarily based on his early-season performance of 2020, which helped drive off the inconsistency narrative surrounding his game. He is one of the best route technicians, and the chemistry with Prescott is evident.
With that being said, I would not be surprised to see Lamb end the season as the WR1 on the Cowboys for fantasy in 2021. His display of body control and nuances, despite being a rookie, showed how special of a player he is.
Both Lamb and Cooper will clear the 1,000-yard mark and come close to 7 touchdowns. It’s honestly hard to go wrong with either Cowboys wide receiver. If you want to wait a round or so later for Lamb, he does become a slightly better value.
Gallup is a risky wide receiver in fantasy for 2021 but should be considered at his ADP
While he is the third wide receiver on the Cowboys in 2021, he shouldn’t be overlooked in fantasy drafts. Value is predicated on opportunities. Gallup is in line for another 100+ targets and is a home run hitter for the Cowboys’ offense. While he was third in yards per target (8.02), he led the team in yards per reception at 14.3 and aDOT (average depth of target) at 11.84, compared to Lamb (9.26) and Cooper (8.75).
Yes, his catch percentage is naturally lower (56.2% in 2020), which hurts in PPR formats. Yet, when they connect, they tend to be substantial in fantasy points. Gallup led the team in points per reception at 2.94, with Lamb second (2.67) and Cooper third (2.54). He is currently ranked as a WR4 in PPR formats despite his WR23 and WR38 finishes in 2019 and 2020, respectively.
While his upside is tempting, there are risks to his style of play. Consistency will never be a term we use to describe Gallup. In 2020, he was a WR2 (top 24) only 18.75% of the time. On the other hand, Gallup had 12 weeks as the WR36 or worse. Nine of those were as the WR48 or lower.
Still, it’s worth taking a hard look at Gallup when on the clock. He is a valuable part of what should be a very pass-happy offense. You have to take the good with the bad. As a flex or WR5, it is hard to look past his 100-target floor since only 35 WRs hit this number in 2020.
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