3 dynamic weapons the Dallas Cowboys could add to maximize Dak Prescott

Glendale, Arizona, USA; Arizona Cardinals wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins (10) against the New England Patriots at State Farm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

• Trade for DeAndre Hopkins: The Arizona Cardinals WR is being shopped and could immediately bolster the Cowboys' receiving corps.

• Sign Odell Beckham Jr. in free agency: The former Los Angeles Rams WR comes with injury concerns, but he could inject new life into Dallas' passing attack without breaking the bank.

• Draft Jaxon Smith-Njigba: The 2023 NFL Draft is low on receiver talent, but Smith-Njigba is the one who could conceivably make a big impact from Day 1.

Estimated reading time: 10 minutes

After the Dallas Cowboys‘ disappointing loss playoff loss to the San Francisco 49ers, it was clear that the team's offseason guiding light needed to be surrounding Dak Prescott with weapons to attack defenses.

Those placing the lion's share of the blame on Prescott's shoulders are ignoring the mental and physical load he routinely had to overcome to lead the Cowboys to success.

Without even getting into Precott's pre-snap mental load to set protection and make checks at the line of scrimmage, Dallas' pass-play design often felt formulaic. Much to the chagrin of Cowboys fans, the team targeted hitch routes 101 times in 2022 — the fourth most in the NFL — and it's not like offensive coordinator Kellen Moore and company were looking to play to Prescott's strengths, as the Mississippi State product finished dead last in PFF passing grade (55.0; minimum 25 targets) when targeting hitch routes in 2022.

While hitch routes have their place (every team uses them), relying so heavily on them is problematic because they don't result in many big plays, as the receiver often catches the ball with little or no momentum while facing the line of scrimmage. This was a big reason (in addition to the pass catchers' overall lack of speed) why the Cowboys ranked 28th in yards after the catch per reception in 2022 (4.7; including postseason).

In addition, Prescott was severely lacking playmakers outside of Tony Pollard and CeeDee Lamb. While Dalton Schultz proved to be an effective security blanket for Prescott, defenses didn't fear his ability to create big plays or take over the game — Schultz ranked 39th among 42 tight ends with at least 35 targets in yards after the catch per reception (3.3). Outside of Lamb, Pollard and Schultz, Prescott had to rely on Michael Gallup (returning from a torn ACL the year before), Noah Brown (a better blocker than receiver), Ezekiel Elliott (a once-great running back whose athleticism continues to wane with every touch) and two rookie tight ends (Jake Ferguson and Peyton Hendershot, who were bright spots but not nearly good enough to be relied upon).

That's just not going to cut it against the crème de la crème in the NFL, as evidenced by the fact that Prescott's open receiver percentage (53.2%) ranked 26th in the NFL among QBs with at least 100 passing attempts.

Even though I'm bearish on the idea that replacing Kellen Moore with Brian Schottenheimer at offensive coordinator while head coach Mike McCarthy takes over play-calling duties will lead to better results, the Cowboys at least deserve credit for acknowledging that the offense needed tinkering.

Now, with Phase 1 of “Operation Build Around Dak” completed, the Cowboys should look to inject some more talent into their passing offense, and it seems they are well on their way in that regard, as the Dallas Morning News' Michael Gehlken reported that Cowboys are focused on adding “another dynamic weapon” on offense.

And with that in mind, here are three dynamic weapons the Cowboys could acquire to maximize Prescott and complete their passing offense.

Trade for DeAndre Hopkins (or Stefon Diggs, or Kyle Pitts, or … you get the point)

When there's smoke, oftentimes, there is also fire, and there's been a lot of smoke around the Cowboys potentially seeking a trade for a prominent pass catcher to team with Lamb.

The two primary names being floated around are Hopkins and Diggs, as the former is being shopped by the Arizona Cardinals for as little as a second-round pick, while the latter's brother — Cowboys cornerback Trevon Diggs — has advocated for Dallas to trade for the talented Buffalo Bills receiver.

Given that the Bills are already lacking pass catchers with Diggs in the fold, it would appear unlikely that they'd deal their All-Pro receiver without overwhelming trade compensation in return — the kind that would likely eliminate Dallas from bidding.

Hopkins' price, on the other hand, seems to be right in the Cowboys' wheelhouse, and he recently stated that he'd be willing to rework the last two years on his current deal, making the possibility of acquiring him even more enticing.

Although Hopkins' presence wouldn't improve the lack of speed among the team's pass catchers, he would provide the Cowboys with a reliable playmaker who can consistently win against tight man coverage. Dating back to 2020, Hopkins' 2.05 yards per route run ranks inside the 88th percentile among NFL wide receivers.

Hopkins accomplished this feat inside an offense that refused to move him around to create advantageous matchups. Since 2020, Hopkins has aligned as the Cardinals' left outside wide receiver on 78.2% of his snaps. Compare that to his final three seasons with the Houston Texans, when Hopkins spent only 49.8% of his snaps aligned as the left outside receiver. With the Cowboys, Hopkins would be moved around the formation far more often to help create advantageous matchups for him and Lamb — a much better environment to produce at a high level.

In addition, Hopkins' reliability would be a boon for Dallas' butter-finger tendency in the passing game, as the Cowboys dropped the ninth-most passes despite finishing 25th in passing rate last season. Since 2020, Hopkins has dropped only four passes for a 1.7% drop rate on catchable targets — second best in the NFL over that span. Hopkins excels at high-pointing passes while displaying some of the strongest hands in the league.

Moreover, Hopkins excels at creating late separation, as he has mastered the ability to use subtle physicality, deceptive body language and “late hands” to get open just as the ball is arriving at its target. This gives quarterbacks confidence that they can throw Hopkins' way even though he appears covered because they know he will either create that late separation or win in a contested-catch situation — something Prescott sorely needs outside of Lamb.

Ultimately, adding Hopkins would also be a boon for Lamb, as defenses wouldn't be able to continually tilt their coverage toward the talented Oklahoma product on passing downs with another legitimate No. 1-type wide receiver in the offense alongside him. It would also take pressure off Gallup, allowing him to go back to the No. 3 receiver role he thrived in before Amari Cooper was jettisoned from the Cowboys last offseason.

The only real worry about adding Hopkins is age; he will be 31 years old when the 2023 season kicks off. That leaves some to question how much Hopkins has left in the tank, but what gives me confidence is the fact that his skill set has never been reliant on high-end athleticism, which should enable him to age more gracefully than most 30-plus-year-old wideouts.

Sidebar: Don't rule out Pitts as a potential big-name trade target for the Cowboys. Atlanta Falcons head coach Arthur Smith appears to value tight ends with more blocking prowess than Pitts' uniquely talented pass-catching prowess, creating an opportunity for the Cowboys to acquire a young (22 years old), inexpensive (around a $9 million cap hit in 2023), field-stretching tight end to replace Schultz in the offense.

Sign Odell Beckham Jr. 

The flirtation between Beckham and the Cowboys began last year when the team was initially looking to improve its receiver corps in advance of a playoff run. Unfortunately, Beckham opted to sit out the entire 2022 season to fully heal from the torn ACL he suffered in the previous year's Super Bowl, forcing the Cowboys to turn to veteran receiver T.Y. Hilton, who they signed in December.

Now that the offseason has arrived, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has repeatedly reiterated the team's continued interest in the LSU product, keeping hopes alive that the two sides can agree to a deal.

While everyone can acknowledge that Beckham is a premier receiver talent, many question whether he's become injury prone and unable to replicate the athletic feats that enabled him to dominate defensive backs for much of his career — two ACL tears since 2020 will do that. Unfortunately, I'm not a doctor and can't speak to his ability to return to his previous self after the latest injury (though, I will say he looks pretty good to my untrained eye in rehab videos). All I can do is point out that the last time Beckham laced up the cleats, he was the kind of “dynamic weapon” that the Cowboys are looking for this offseason.

During the Los Angeles Rams‘ run to a Super Bowl victory, Beckham was a key cog to the offense's success, especially in the playoffs, finishing with the fifth-highest receiving grade (84.7) on the back of 21 receptions from 25 targets for 288 yards and two touchdowns. Beckham showed off his elite route running and ball skills (four for four on contested catch opportunities) throughout Los Angeles' playoff run, and he was on pace to arguably be the Super Bowl MVP before a torn ACL ended his day early.

Ultimately, if the Cowboys' medical staff signs off on a potential Beckham addition, then his projected three-year, $33 million contract shouldn't dissuade the team. A Lamb-Beckham-Gallup receiver trio could compete with some of the NFL's best, and it would give Prescott enough weapons to systemically destroy top defenses with even more regularity in 2023 and beyond.

Draft Ohio State's Jaxon Smith-Njigba

Trading for Hopkins (or Pitts) or signing Beckham, in theory, would provide an immediate spark to Dallas' passing attack; however, if the Cowboys opt to stick with their “build through the draft” philosophy, drafting a receiver to complement Lamb may take a little more time. Having said that, Smith-Njigba's skill set is tailor-made to hit the ground running once he enters the NFL.

Measuring in at 6-foot-1 and 196 pounds, Smith-Njigba is an excellent route runner who excels at creating separation against any coverage, ranking in the 93rd or higher percentile in receiving grade (90.7), receiving grade against single coverage (99.9), receiving grade against zone coverage (98.0), separation percentage (88%), separation percentage against single coverage (75%) and yards per route run (3.32) since 2000 among college receivers (min. 20% of snaps).

One problem many will bring up is that Smith-Njigba predominantly excelled from the slot, which just so happens to be Lamb's preferred spot. As such, many believe the Ohio State product's skill set would be redundant in Dallas' offense. However, that's selling both Smith-Njigba's and Lamb's skill sets short, as each possesses the traits necessary to succeed outside in addition to the slot, including the ability to beat press coverage in addition to the route-running savvy to create separation in those situations.

Now, the unfortunate reality for the Cowboys is that Smith-Njigba may not even be available once they are on the clock with the 26th overall pick, especially after the 21-year-old's outstanding combine performance, both in the athletic testing (above) and on-field drills. Nonetheless, never say never, as no one thought Lamb would be available at the Cowboys' 17th overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft.

There are other enticing receiver prospects in the 2023 NFL Draft who could tickle the Cowboys' fancy, but I don't believe they have the skill sets to hit the ground running and substantially improve Dallas' passing offense like Smith-Njigba could immediately, which is why they aren't mentioned here.

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